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Man found near Obama’s D.C. home detained pending trial

Prosecutors say this gun was recovered from the van of Taylor Taranto the day he was arrested near Obama's home in D.C. (U.S. Attorney's Office for D.C./U.S. Attorney's Office for Washington')
5 min

A man who was arrested last month with weapons in his van near former president Barack Obama’s home in D.C. was denied bail Wednesday by a federal judge who found that the potential danger he posed to the public was grounds to keep him detained.

Taylor Taranto, a defendant in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, was in Obama’s Kalorama neighborhood hours after former president Donald Trump shared the address on social media. Taranto, 37, was charged last month with four counts of misdemeanor trespassing, disorderly conduct at the Capitol riot and parading in the Capitol. Prosecutors have since said they plan to bring unspecified felony charges against Taranto.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui’s decision to keep Taranto in jail came after officials debated whether the defendant, who is not charged with a violent crime and has no criminal history, could be held for dangerousness if he did not pose a serious risk of flight or obstructing justice. After being persuaded that dangerousness could be a factor, Faruqui emphasized that Taranto may not intend to harm people if released. But, Faruqui added, should reality contradict that premise, the impact would be catastrophic.

“The risk is if something goes wrong, people get hurt,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison K. Ethen said Taranto opposed the government and openly stated that he does not acknowledge the legitimacy of the U.S. or Washington state constitutions. Ethen also said Taranto posed a demonstrated threat to multiple political figures as well as the public, though he has not been formally charged with such crimes.

Authorities said Taranto has been living out of his van parked across the street from the D.C. jail after coming earlier this year to take up the public offer from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to show Capitol security video to Jan. 6 defendants. Though the FBI had been monitoring Taranto’s online activities for some time, the government only obtained a warrant regarding his involvement in the Capitol riot on June 29, one day after Taranto hosted a live stream in which he said he was driving his van and intended to blow it up at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal facility about 15 miles north of D.C.

Taranto also made “ominous comments referencing Speaker McCarthy,” prosecutors said, including: “Coming at you, McCarthy. Can’t stop what’s coming.”

Law enforcement conducted an “all-hands-on-deck” search for Taranto’s black 2000 Chevrolet van, but they did not locate him before Taranto began another live stream near Obama’s house that same day, prosecutors said.

Ethen said Taranto recorded himself saying he was looking for “entrance points” and “tunnels underneath their houses,” referring to Obama’s and “the Podestas’ house” — an apparent reference to Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, who recently listed a home nearby for sale.

Taranto was pursued by Secret Service agents and arrested. A search of his parked van nearby turned up two 9mm handguns, nearly 600 rounds of ammunition and a machete, court records show.

But Assistant Federal Public Defender Katie Guevara said what the government alleges as “YouTube and Telegram threats” against Obama were mere “glib references to conspiracy theories” that Taranto salaciously said to get attention. Guevara reminded the court that Taranto went to Obama’s house after Trump put the address on Truth Social and didn’t seek the information out on his own.

Guevara also said prosecutors painted Taranto in a false light. Before the bond hearing, prosecutors said that Taranto entered a Takoma Park elementary school on June 18 to watch a Jan. 6-related film. A live stream from the event shows Taranto saying he chose the school because it was close to the home of Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), a four-term Democrat who has been a leading congressional critic of Trump, prosecutors said. But Guevara reminded the court that Taranto attended an event at the school that was hosted by a group called “Make America Safe Again,” which obtained a permit to enter the school, indicating that he did not trespass on the property at all.

“They’re making it look like my client is about to shoot up a school, right?” she said. “That’s not what happened. He attended a local film screening. You may not like the film. But that’s his right.”

Ethen also acknowledged the permit at the start of the hearing, though he added that after learning of the actions taken by that group inside Piney Branch Elementary School, Montgomery County said the group was in direct violation of the use agreement and has since suspended its access to the county’s facilities. Ethen also told the court that the government received additional evidence of Taranto filming children participating in an evacuation drill at Payne Elementary School on Capitol Hill. In the video, Taranto said the children were being evacuated because of a “violent white supremacist out somewhere,” the government alleged.

Guevara argued that the characterization of Taranto misrepresented him as a criminal when in reality he was a Navy veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. Guevara said Taranto watched as people died amid extreme carnage in Iraq. D.C. jail has only made him more triggered, she argued. Since being booked in jail, he had been “savagely attacked” by another person.

“For someone who has experienced trauma, this is the ultimate retraumatization,” she said. Faruqui said despite the outcome of Taranto’s case, the hearing was proof that he was a victim of the government’s inability to provide him services to cope with post-traumatic stress.

“You have to pay the price of our failure for not protecting one of our most vulnerable populations — our veterans,” Faruqui said to Taranto.

Sitting in an orange jumpsuit, Taranto looked up and slowly nodded.