MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Tennessee man who had expressed pro-Trump views and was accused by online researchers of carrying plastic hand restraints in the U.S. Senate during the Capitol riot Wednesday, has been arrested.
The Nashville man, Eric Munchel, 30, was being held in a Nashville jail Sunday on a federal warrant, online records show. An FBI spokesperson, Samantha Shero, confirmed the arrest.
The federal prosecutor’s office in Washington is handling the case.
“Photos depicting his presence show a person who appears to be Munchel carrying plastic restraints, an item in a holster on his right hip, and a cell phone mounted on his chest with the camera facing outward, ostensibly to record events that day,” the office said in a news release, which identifies him by his full name, Eric Gavelek Munchel.
His arrest follows extensive online efforts to identify the two men in photos carrying hand restraints in the Senate – one masked, one unmasked. Online researchers identified Munchel as the man who was masked and a Texas man, Larry Brock, as the one who was unmasked. Brock was also arrested, the prosecutor’s office said.
At this point, neither man is charged with plotting to use the hand restraints against people.
Each man faces one count of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and one count of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Reporters visited a Nashville apartment that online records associated with Munchel Saturday afternoon, but multiple knocks on the door were not answered. Efforts to reach Munchel by phone were also unsuccessful.
A now-deleted Facebook page with Munchel’s name had shown photos of a young man holding a gun and a flag and shouting at the camera in front of a TV screen that showed Trump.
Shortly before the charges were announced, British newspaper The Sunday Times published an interview with Munchel. The newspaper reported he had driven from Nashville with his mother, a nurse, and that he spoke with a journalist after they allegedly had taken part in the Capitol incident.
“We wanted to show that we’re willing to rise up, band together and fight if necessary. Same as our forefathers, who established this country in 1776,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
“It was a kind of flexing of muscles,” he’s quoted as saying. “The intentions of going in were not to fight the police. The point of getting inside the building is to show them that we can, and we will.”
Munchel’s name had circulated heavily online in recent days. One of the first to name him was John Scott-Railton, a researcher at the University of Toronto, who said he shared the information with the FBI.
Fulton County, Georgia, court records show Munchel stood trial for misdemeanor battery charges in 2015. According to Patch, a hyper-local news site, the Sandy Springs Police Department captain said Munchel and another man were accused of assaulting a man and woman in 2013. Records on the final disposition of the case weren’t immediately available.
He was also arrested in 2014 on charges of possession of marijuana and speeding, for which he negotiated a plea that diverted his sentence, publicly available Fulton County Superior Court records show. Those records also state there are no judgments against Munchel.
Steve Smith, owner of Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk, a bar and concert venue on Nashville’s heavily visited Broadway Avenue, confirmed Saturday that a person named Eric Munchel previously worked at the establishment but was terminated 60 days ago.
Smith did not know how long Munchel was employed at the bar and declined to share the circumstances of his termination.
Plastic zip ties
The presence of plastic hand restraints in the Capitol raises ominous questions that go beyond free speech. Law enforcement officers use flexible plastic restraints to conduct large-scale arrests in riots and similar situations. Different styles of these restraints are known as zip ties, flex cuffs or flexi cuffs.
“The images of this man in the Capitol in pseudo-military garb with flexi cuffs evokes the summer plot to kidnap the Michigan governor,” said Ari Weil, a former director of the University of Chicago’s Militant Propaganda Analysis team. “But it’s very unclear if he had plans in this case.”
While the extreme right has included people with military experience, historically, Weil said, it also includes those who play at being soldiers.
“They don’t have that actual real-life experience, but they like trying to be like a soldier in this way,” said Weil, who studies terrorist organizations, extremist propaganda and online behavior.
Weil also noted the information produced on Munchel, thus far, shows no connections to other people, whereas the Michigan plot is alleged to have been hatched by a cell of extremists.
Weil said the trend of mounting threats shows the gravity of the presence of zip-ties in the Senate chamber. In the run-up to Wednesday’s riot, many affiliated with far-right ideologies posted online about “… what they were willing to do and several posting real threats. And that wasn’t taken seriously,” he said.
“But there’s also the bigger context to consider,” Weil added. “A year of protests at state capitols, a plot to kidnap two different governors in the U.S. and in fact on Wednesday, there were similar protests on state capitols. This should be taken quite seriously.”
Plastic hand restraints have shown up in at least one pro-Trump political rally outside Washington, too.
On Saturday, about 100 people, many of them armed and dressed in paramilitary gear, gathered for a “Patriot Rally” outside the state Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, as legislators met inside.
That rally ended peacefully, the The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported, but one armed protester who carried zip ties visibly attached to his backpack told a photographer he brought them “just in case.”
Follow reporters Daniel Connolly Sarah Macaraeg on Twitter: @danielconnolly, @seramak
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