NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The FBI on Wednesday arrested a North Kingstown man for allegedly participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, becoming the second Rhode Islander charged in connection with the riot.
Bernard Joseph Sirr, 47, was arrested by FBI special agents and officers with the R.I. Joint Terrorism Task Force following a raid of his North Kingstown home on Wednesday. He faces five federal felony and misdemeanor charges, including obstruction of law enforcement, engaging in physical violence in a restricted buildings or grounds and act of physical violence in the Capitol grounds.
According to a sworn FBI agent affidavit, law enforcement said they have video showing Sirr participating in the so-called “heave! ho!” effort to infiltrate the Capitol, which involved a group of attackers trying to push through a line of Capitol Police.
Sirr “can be seen repeatedly engaging in an assault against law enforcement officers guarding the United States Capitol,” FBI special agent Brendan Fogerty wrote in the affidavit.
While Sirr’s case is out of U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., he appeared Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Providence to be processed in the jurisdiction where he was arrested. Standing over six feet, he was brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg shackles, wearing shorts and a plaid shirt.
He was released with a series of conditions, including having to relinquish 12 guns that were found in his home, handing over his passport, and staying out of Washington except for court appearances. He is expected to appear in court in D.C. as early as next week to be arraigned.
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Sirr works as a nuclear facilities engineer for the R.I. Atomic Energy Commission, a state agency that operates Rhode Island’s only nuclear reactor, located at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus in Narragansett. According to the state’s payroll transparency portal, he made about $85,000 last fiscal year working in the Nuclear Science Center.
In a comment to The Boston Globe, the facility’s assistant director Jeff Davis downplayed the severity of the charges, saying “if he participated in the protest that’s OK.”
“This is someone I worked with for years and I have a sense of his character,” he told the newspaper. “We don’t see him as a threat.”
R.I. Department of Administration spokesperson Laura Hart, however, distanced the administration from the comments, saying “Jeff Davis is speaking for himself and not representing the agency.”
Hart later said Sirr had been placed on administrative leave with pay.
He is now among more than 800 people who have been arrested for participating in the Jan. 6 riot, over 250 of whom face charges of “assaulting or impeding law enforcement,” according to the Justice Department. He is the second Rhode Islander arrested, along with Timothy Desjardins of Providence, charged last year with using a table leg to hit law enforcement officers who were guarding the Capitol.
According to Fogerty, Sirr repeatedly engaged in a violent assault against multiple law enforcement officers in a “narrow point of entry in the Lowest West Terrance of the Capitol,” which is known as the “tunnel.”
The FBI reviewed YouTube video that they say shows Sirr marching with a group of people in a so-called “stack” before entering into the tunnel at about 3 p.m. on Jan. 6. The video shows Sirr at the front of a police line, “pushing rioters who are assaulting police officers,” according to Fogerty.
“Sirr is seen with the group of rioters as they continue to assault members of law enforcement,” Fogerty wrote. “During this portion of the video, the group of rioters can be heard chanting ‘heave! ho!’ in unison as they move back and forth together as a team against the police.”
FBI agents said they were able to identify Sirr after photos of him wearing a tan and black baseball hat with an image of a snake similar to the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag surfaced on the internet following the attack. They later located a social media account tied to Sirr, which showed him wearing the same hat.
“The FBI subsequently interviewed an individual who is familiar with Sirr and sees Sirr on a regular basis,” Fogerty wrote, adding the person shown photos of Sirr at the Jan. 6 riot and “identified the subject as Bernard Sirr.”
FBI later confirmed Sirr was on leave from his job from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7, 2021.
His arrest comes just one day after a former top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchison, gave explosive testimony to the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack in which she said former President Donald Trump knew the crowd was armed and wanted to join their march on the Capitol as Congress prepared to certify President Joe Biden’s election win.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook