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Saturday, December 2, 2023
Dec. 2, 2023

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What we know about the Tri-Cities man arrested near Obama’s home with hundreds of rounds of ammo


KENNEWICK — An Eastern Washington man arrested with 400 rounds of ammo near former President Barack Obama’s home had been acting erratically for months.

Few details have been released about Taylor Taranto’s arrest by Secret Service agents but his increasingly agitated social posts had raised concerns in D.C. and Tri-Cities.

The Franklin County Republican Central Committee had grown so concerned that he was barred from participation in the organization that he had once managed the web presence for.

He was booked into the D.C. Metropolitan Jail on Friday evening, according to the jail’s records department. No charges were yet showing.

In a recent Facebook post Taranto had encouraged his followers to subscribe to his Telegram channel for “daily updates while the Federal Government and I viciously war at each other in real-time.”

Taranto, 37, is a former Franklin County Republican Party official and one-time Pasco school board candidate, who is being sued in a wrongful death lawsuit related to the death of a D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer that he allegedly helped attack during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Taranto admitted online to being in the Capitol and also to the Herald during an interview when he responded to a request for comment at 11 p.m. on the first anniversary of the insurrection.

He had not yet been charged criminally for his role in the riot, but the D.C. police department said Thursday he was arrested on a warrant related to his participation.

Court documents for that warrant have not yet been made available. It’s unclear if it is related the the wrongful death lawsuit.

According to NBC News reporter Ryan J. Reilly, who broke the story of his arrest, Taranto had more than 400 rounds of ammunition in his van when he was arrested outside Obama’s home.

He was reportedly stopped by Secret Service agents running toward the home. It’s unclear if he had a weapon at the time.

Messages on his social media accounts show he had recently shared a conspiracy theory posted by former President Donald J. Trump with the address.

Is Taranto from Seattle?

Some initial news stories said the U.S. Navy veteran was from Seattle, however the D.C. police department listed him as “of no fixed address” in a statement sent to the Herald and other news outlets.

Public records show Taranto lived in Pasco until recently. Prior to 2010 he lived in Kennewick. Both are part of the Tri-Cities metro area in Eastern Washington about 200 miles east of Seattle.

This Seattle claim appears to have come from an unnamed law enforcement source.

As recently as April, Taranto was still in the Tri-Cities, participating in a protest against an Easter Day drag show brunch at a Richland restaurant, according to video he posted to his YouTube channel.

The channel also showed Taranto had been traveling back and forth to D.C. to participate in various right wing protests. His YouTube channel and some social media pages have since been taken down.

Why was Taranto in D.C.?

Recently, Taranto was said to be living in his van parked near the D.C. Metropolitan Jail participating in “Freedom Corner,” an ongoing vigil outside the jail in support of Jan. 6 insurrection suspects.

Videos show erratic behavior from Taranto during the vigils. In one video he can be seen sitting in a lawn chair holding a flag, bobbing his head back and forth for several minutes before other protesters block the camera.

He may have been kicked out of that Freedom Corner group. Content later removed from his social media accounts shows friction with other group members and organizers. Others monitoring the group also mentioned he appears to have been on the outs with the other organizers.

He also was spotted at a sentencing hearing for his co-defendant, David Walls Kaufman, in the civil suit earlier this month. Taranto’s behavior, which included refusing to put away his phone inside a federal courthouse, led to him being asked to leave, according to Reilly.

Reilly posted videos to Twitter showing Taranto leaving the courthouse. The reporter had been tracking the lawsuit against Taranto and Kaufman as part of ongoing reporting on Jan. 6 participants.

Reilly has a book called Sedition Hunters coming out in October about the tipsters who helped identify accused insurrection participants.

Taranto appeared to have gone to the Kalorama neighborhood after reposting conspiracy theories about the Obamas’ residence.

The conspiracy theories, posted on Truth social by Trump, claimed that there were secret tunnels beneath the Obama house, that it contained a “War Room” and was funded by left-wing philanthropist George Soros.

What’s his Franklin County GOP involvement?

For more than a year after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the capitol Taranto was still volunteering with the party as its webmaster, he told the Herald in a January 2022 interview.

At some point later that year Taranto was kicked out of the local party over erratic behavior and had shared with party members that he was suffering from PTSD after his military service.

“I want the public to know that Taylor is no longer an active member of the Franklin County Republicans,” Central Committee Chairman Stephen Bauman told the Herald in a statement Friday.

“He was officially removed from the FCRCC by party leadership in 2022 as webmaster and as an active member for his radical and erratic social media posts that did not align with our values,” he wrote.

“To be crystal clear again, Taranto hasn’t attended a meeting in nearly a year and hasn’t attempted to communicate with party leadership,” he said.

Bauman emphasized that the Franklin County Republican Central Committee “in no way, shape or form condones violence in any fashion. The allegations against Taylor in connection to former president Barack Obama’s home are troubling and we are grateful that authorities were able to stop any violent actions from occurring.”

And he said the committee has “never been involved” in Taranto’s defense and “in no way, shape or form condones what transpired or the violence that ensued during that dark day (Jan. 6).”

“The FCRCC values those veterans who have fought for our freedoms to make this the greatest country the world has ever known. It’s why we hope Taylor Taranto receives the help he needs. He has openly shared with our group that he suffers from PTSD from active military service,” said Bauman.

Are those Taranto’s social media accounts?

Taranto used a variety of social media accounts to post conspiracy theories, memes and videos of himself at right wing political events.

Some of the accounts used his initials, others anagrams of his or his wife’s names and others used a portion of her maiden name. Still others were self-identified as belonging to Taranto on his social media posts.

Many of them were linked to the same email address that Taranto previously used to respond to the Herald. Most of his accounts have been taken down since his arrest Thursday. That’s standard practice by many social media companies to avoid copy cats or idolization.

What is he accused of doing?

Taranto is accused of entering the Capitol and helping Kaufman attack MPD Officer Jeffrey Smith. He and Kaufman are being sued by the officer’s widow, Erin Smith, for $7 million.

In video stills submitted into evidence, Taranto is seen handing Kaufman a weapon of some sort. In court documents it is described as a Ka-Bar TDI Self Defense Cane. The company describes it as “a vital defense tool where traditional weapons are prohibited.” The canes weigh more than two pounds, which is significantly heavier than traditional collapsible aluminum walking canes.

Kaufman was accused of hitting Smith in the head repeatedly with the cane.

Smith died by suicide nine days later as he was scheduled to return to work.

Smith’s widow said in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, published in January 2022, that two medical examiners “have testified that post-concussive syndrome and brain injury were the real causes of (her husband’s) death” because the concussion he suffered led to severe depression and suicide.

Included in the wrongful death lawsuit are photos showing Kaufman, circled in green, struggling with Capitol police, and also appears to show Taranto next to him, in the hoodie and dark colored hat that says “Make Space Great Again” that internet sleuths reportedly used to identify him after the riot.

It is unclear if the officer in the photo with his protective mask raised is Jeffrey Smith.

Other photo shows Taranto walking down the halls of the Capitol building with the cane mentioned in the wrongful death lawsuit, just a few feet away from Kaufman. The photos match pictures of Taranto and Kaufman included in the wrongful death lawsuit. The criminal affidavit does not mention Taranto, however prosecutors did include the same pictures.

Taranto had previously filed a counterclaim asking for $3.5 million and an apology, but that was dismissed.

The case has been slowed after the assigned judge, Florence Y. Pan, was nominated and confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals to fill the seat vacated by new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Kaufman entered a plea deal in his criminal case, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine and $500 restitution. The plea deal, signed in January, also included an agreement from Kaufman to cooperate with investigators in additional cases before his sentencing.

It was Kaufman’s June 13 sentencing in D.C. where Reilly spotted Taranto.

Taranto also appears to have claimed that we was there when Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed while trying to break through a door members of Congress were secured behind.

Taranto is pictured with Babbitt’s family members in several social media posts from the Freedom Corner protests.

Was Taranto trying to be arrested?

Taranto was first identified after outing himself in a video taken in the Capitol building during the attack.

Internet sleuths known as #SeditionHunters used the video to match up photos released by law enforcement in the days after the attack.

A screenshot of the post showed it included the comment: “This is me ‘stormin’ the capitol’ lol I’m only sharing this so someone will report me to the feds and we can get this party rolling!”

Since then Taranto has been asking in his social posts? why he hasn’t been arrested, and making jokes online about the attack.

When asked by the Herald if he could explain what he was doing at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Taranto responded with “no comment.”

He later added that he was unsure what he could say due to the ongoing litigation. He also claimed it was political persecution, and referred to multiple conspiracy theories.

“So far no one has knocked on the door. No one (in law enforcement) has questioned me, to my knowledge. It’s all rather strange,” he told the Herald at the time.

“If I was even remotely linked to what they’re saying, you’d think I’d be in handcuffs right now, and with the way the justice system is working right now, it’s rather ugly.”

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