Roque Planas contributed reporting.
The message popped up on Katya Brock’s phone just after 10 a.m. one morning in September: “Do the right thing and kill yourself already.”
She was alarmed, but no more so than she had been by all the other messages: “I have better things to do than speak to a whore”; “Nobody loves you”; “Narcissistic whore.” Her ex-husband, Larry Rendall Brock Jr., had been sending them like clockwork for three years. A court had ordered the couple to communicate through a specialized portal while their contentious divorce was finalized. Larry often used it for threats.
“The stuff that he writes to me is brutal. You grow thick skin and try to filter it, but it’s hard,” said Katya, who shares a 6-year-old son with Larry. Katya said her ex-husband views women as “disposable” and has abused her throughout their four years of marriage and additional three years of separation.
Larry, a 53-year-old Air Force veteran, is one of the hundreds of insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 and is now facing federal charges. He sported a combat helmet, a bulletproof vest and carried zip-tie handcuffs. His threats to Katya also went beyond those messages ― HuffPost uncovered numerous 911 calls from their home for domestic disputes, including one in 2016 in which Larry was described as making a “terroristic threat of family/household,” according to a police summary of the call.
Larry’s history of abusive behavior is part of an alarmingly common trend among the rioters who have been arrested so far for their roles in the insurrection. After reviewing police reports and court filings, a HuffPost investigation found that at least nine insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol have a history of violence against women ― ranging from domestic abuse accusations to prison time for sexual battery and criminal confinement.
Experts have linked extremism to violent misogyny in recent years, especially in the wake of mass shootings in which the perpetrators had a history of violence against women. These violent behaviors exist on a spectrum ― and, of course, not all abusive men turn into killers ― but violence against women often begets more violence, sometimes deadly. Three people died as a direct result of the violence at the Capitol, and more than 140 law enforcement officers were injured during the riot. Two U.S. Capitol Police officers have died by suicide in the aftermath.
“We still, in this day and age, treat violence against women as a personal or family issue, as opposed to a troubling indicator of someone who could become more violent,” said Bridget Todd, communications director at feminist organization UltraViolet.
The details in many of the cases are shocking and disturbing. Guy Reffitt, a 48-year-old from Wylie, Texas, was arrested and charged with unlawful entry for rioting at the Capitol. Reffitt, described by federal prosecutors as a member of two far-right militia organizations, the Three Percenters and the Texas Freedom Force, wore a combat helmet and other tactical gear during the insurrection.
In 2018, police responded to a domestic disturbance at Reffitt’s home during which he and his wife were physically fighting. Reffitt and his wife, Nicole Reffitt, were both drunk, their children were present and he had a gun, according to the police report. At one point, Reffitt pushed his wife onto a bed and started choking her until she almost lost consciousness, the report states.
Reffitt admitted to police that he put his wife into a chokehold and pulled her to the ground. When the cop asked how long he had choked his wife, Reffitt responded that “he had trouble remembering but he said not long because he loves her,” according to the police report.
Nicole Reffitt confirmed to HuffPost that the physical altercation did happen, although she couldn’t recall specific details. “Guy has a very high respect for women. He has two daughters. He’s a gentleman when it comes to opening doors. We’re from the South so, you know, he wouldn’t walk through a door before a lady,” she said.
The FBI also charged Reffitt with obstruction of justice for threatening to kill his family if they turned him in to law enforcement for his participation in the Capitol riot. “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors. … Traitors get shot,” Reffitt said, according to the FBI complaint. Reffitt’s 18-year-old son alerted the FBI to his dad’s presence at the Capitol.
We still, in this day and age, treat violence against women as a personal or family issue, as opposed to a troubling indicator of someone who could become more violent.
Bridget Todd, UltraViolet
Like Reffitt, Mathew Capsel, of Marseilles, Illinois, continued threatening and illegal actions toward women even after he was arrested in Washington on Jan. 6. Two days later, Capsel violated a protection order — one of multiple violations in the past year — that was filed by a romantic partner after a report of violence (Capsel’s partner declined to speak with HuffPost). Capsel was also arrested for “battery, mob action and robbery” in 2012 when he was involved in an incident in which he allegedly hit a woman “3-4 times in the head,” according to a police report. He does not appear to have faced criminal charges following his arrest in that case.
The rap sheets of other rioters are littered with similar charges. A California civil court in 2018 issued a restraining order against Jacob Lewis, another Capitol rioter, to prevent domestic violence, according to court records. The 37-year-old Lewis is better known as the California gym owner who defied COVID-19 safety regulations.
Samuel Pinho Camargo, 26, was arrested for battery in 2016 after he “intentionally caused bodily harm” to his sister, according to a police report. The report states that Camargo broke a door off its hinges and attacked his sister. Both the sister and a witness told police that Camargo has “a history of anger issues” and “a history of him hitting them and leaving bruises.”
Dominic Pezzola, a former Marine, had a shotgun removed from his home after police were called there in 2005 over a domestic dispute. The police report notes that Pezzola had a protection order filed against him at the time. Pezzola, who smashed a Capitol building window with a police riot shield during the insurrection, is a member of the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, which is known for its emphasis on “traditional” masculinity.
Andrew Ryan Bennett, who was seen entering the Capitol chanting “break it down!” and wearing a Proud Boys hat, has a long rap sheet that includes many incidences of violence against women. In 2003, Bennett was arrested after he broke down a glass door at a tattoo parlor and attacked a woman. He later served 18 months in prison for second-degree criminal assault.
Police responded to another incident in 2003 in which Bennett’s mother said her son “was out of control trying to fight” and “had been drinking and was becoming more and more aggressive to her and others,” according to a police report.
In 2009, police responded to an incident of family violence in which Bennett assaulted his sister and almost poured bleach on his 2-year-old nephew. He was arrested and charged with second-degree assault, malicious destruction of property and reckless endangerment. In response to HuffPost’s request for Bennett’s records, one record was withheld because it pertained to a child abuse case.
A woman who grew up with Bennett described him to HuffPost as “reckless” with a “history of being aggressive.” She said he and his girlfriend often got into domestic disputes, including one in 2006 where domestic violence charges were filed and a protective order was put in place.
“I don’t think he sees women as his equals,” said the childhood friend, who asked to remain anonymous out of concern for her safety.
Another Capitol rioter, Edward Hemenway of Winchester, Virginia, was released from prison in 2013 after serving five years on rape, sexual battery and criminal confinement charges. According to court records, Hemenway lured his estranged wife to a hotel in 2004 where he handcuffed her and duct-taped her mouth shut.
The woman, whom HuffPost will not name because she’s a sexual assault survivor, said Hemenway raped her and then “told her that he was going to commit suicide and that he was going to make [her] watch him do it,” the police report states. Hemenway attempted to drink rat poison, but his estranged wife talked him out of it, according to the police report.
Hemenway was also charged with battery and bodily injury, a criminal misdemeanor, in 2002. It is unclear if the victim in this incident was also his estranged wife or someone else.
After rushing into the Capitol building, Hemenway said that a Capitol Police officer greeted him with a handshake, telling him, “It’s your house now,” according to an FBI complaint.
Donovan Ray Crowl, another former Marine and a member of extremist organization the Oath Keepers who is facing felony charges for illegally entering the Capitol, was arrested in 2005 on first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence charges in Champaign County, Ohio, according to a public records search in the Nexis database. Those charges were dropped, however. HuffPost was not able to locate records documenting that incident through any of the law enforcement agencies or the courthouse in that jurisdiction. Defendants routinely move to seal criminal cases that don’t result in conviction.
HuffPost reached out to all nine men for comment except Crowl, for whom we were unable to find contact information. Hemenway declined to comment for this story via his attorney. Lewis responded to HuffPost’s request for comment: “Kick rocks.”
Larry Brock’s divorce attorney, Mark Lister, told HuffPost that Katya Brock’s allegations against Larry are “unfounded,” adding: “I don’t have any evidence presented to me by anyone yet that he’s abused her.”
“I’m not saying Larry’s not an aggressive hothead at times, he’s an old Air Force fighter pilot. That’s sort of the character of those people,” Lister said, adding that Brock can be “verbally caustic.” “He has a tendency to let his mouth run away from him. But it’s not different than any other political group, say a Trump supporter or a [Black Lives Matter] advocate. They let their mouths run away from them and say stuff they shouldn’t say. They say stuff that’s just not true. … But free speech, right?”
Many people rightly see Jan. 6 as a tipping point when Trump’s anti-democratic tendencies and conspiracy-mongering finally provoked a genuine disaster. But it was also the crescendo of his yearslong embrace of misogyny and toxic behavior toward women. Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from harassment to rape, by more than 20 women. He filled his Cabinet and senior staff with accused domestic abusers. A month before the 2016 presidential election, he was caught on leaked audio bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
“Trump validated these men and how they view women by saying what he said on the bus with Billy Bush and by ignoring everything that happened afterwards. He validated their version of toxic masculinity,” said Dr. Miranda Christou, a senior fellow focusing on gender and extremism at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.
Misogyny — and the toxic version of masculinity that Trump represents — is “the glue” that brought the insurrectionists together, Christou said.
When the institution of the military infiltrates social life and that sense of masculinity and what makes you a man depends on that ― depends on the gun on the side of your hip ― that becomes a problem for women.
Dr. Miranda Christou, Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right
Many of the men who stormed the Capitol, including three of the nine identified by HuffPost in this article, are veterans who sported military-style gear such as helmets and tactical goggles during the riot. This is no surprise to Christou, who said sometimes a militarized persona can have dire consequences for women.
“You have forms of masculinity that depend on militarized expressions: the uniforms, the guns, the paraphernalia, the whole idea of the military structure and discipline,” she said. “When the institution of the military infiltrates social life and that sense of masculinity and what makes you a man depends on that ― depends on the gun on the side of your hip ― that becomes a problem for women.”
Larry Brock exemplified it all. After he was arrested on Jan. 10 for storming the Capitol, Katya Brock filed for a protective order against him because she said she’s fearful for her and her son’s safety. “If he was capable of doing something like this ― going to D.C. and rioting ― I don’t know who that person is anymore,” she said.
Police records document Katya’s allegations of violence at the hands of her ex-husband. Law enforcement responded to multiple domestic disputes at the couple’s home, including one 911 call from Katya in 2016 where Larry was drinking and had multiple guns in the house, according to police records. The report states Larry locked Katya out of the house during the argument, while their 20-month-old son was inside.
Katya said her ex-husband often demeaned her for being Russian. She said he also often disparaged gay people and people with mental illnesses and disabilities, especially people with Down syndrome. “Larry calls it a disease,” Katya said of Larry’s attitude toward gay people. “Larry says, verbatim, ‘We need to have a societal cleanse and put all of these defective people on the train.’ You know, like Hitler did with all of the Jews? That was his favorite phrase.”
The Air Force veteran was fired from his job at CAE, a flight simulation company, in 2017 for telling colleagues “that [he] had not killed anyone for a while and regarding potentially shooting members of a particular religion and/or race,” his former manager wrote in a termination letter.
“Misogyny and white supremacy are mutually reinforcing ideologies because they’re all based on that idea of the great replacement,” said Christou, the senior fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. The great replacement is the academic theory that men, specifically white men, feel they are being replaced by immigrants, people of color and women.
Katya, who is currently finalizing her divorce from Larry, said she hopes her story can help other women who are in her situation. “I’ve endured a lot, but if women like me read this maybe it will show them they’re not alone.”
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