While the nation watched in horror, Courtney Brooks got to work.
On Jan. 6, the day Congress met to certify the results of the November presidential election, outgoing President Donald Trump spoke to a sea of supporters, urging them to “fight like hell” or risk losing their country. They did, resulting in numerous deaths and the first invasion of the U.S. Capitol building since the War of 1812 .
Several North Texas real estate professionals attended the rally-turned-riot by way of a private jet. Brooks, a McKinney activist, led the effort to expose them.
A former Democratic candidate for Collin County Commissioners Court, Brooks said she is “appalled” by those Realtors’ actions and wants them to lose their jobs. She hopes the FBI charges them “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I'm a military wife, and my husband and I think that the insurrection was the most un-American thing that we've seen in a long time,” Brooks said. “And I just wanted them to pay the price for their actions.”
Brooks may be getting her wish.
Friday, Frisco real estate broker Jennifer "Jenna" Leigh Ryan was arrested by the FBI, which also executed a search warrant at her Carrollton residence. She returned home later that day and asked Trump for a pardon during an interview with CBS-DFW.
Ryan is charged with disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. She had previously told FOX 4 News that she did not believe she would be taken into custody.
Other North Texans who participated in the Capitol attack have also faced consequences, such as an attorney whose livestreams of the riot got him fired, according to The Houston Chronicle. Some have been arrested, including an Air Force veteran whom The New Yorker reported entered the Senate chamber wearing tactical gear and carrying zip-tie handcuffs.
Many of the Trump supporters, fed a steady diet of lies about November's vote by the president and his enablers, stormed the Capitol yearning to be part of a historic revolution they thought would deliver the country from a stolen election. (There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, according to the U.S. Justice Department.)
Like them, the North Texas Realty Three believed they were standing up for a man who needed their help, but critics say they were merely sucked into a shared delusion.
The New ‘Civil Rights Movement’
Brooks didn’t act alone as she turned to social media to expose the three North Texans who joined the events at the Capitol. Her friend Hava Johnston, a Realtor and former Frisco City Council candidate, helped to uncover the trio’s identities. The day after the rioting, Johnston said she recognized her former colleague Brian Miller in a picture and easily learned the names of the women he was with.
Katie Schwab, Ryan and Miller were all pictured flying on a private plane to attend the pro-Trump rally. They posted videos from the flight onto social media, chatting as if they were headed to a Ted Nugent concert, backstage passes in hand.
Miller, a U.S. military veteran, told the Observer he was excited to head to the nation’s capital.
“This is going to be compared to something like the ‘60s, you know, where you had … the civil rights movement,” Miller recalls thinking. “For me, I felt I was going to be a part of history, you know, in a way where hey, if this was Trump’s last hoorah, I got to be at his last rally. That was why we were there: Because we all believe that it was stolen.”
Neither Ryan nor Schwab responded to requests for comment. Miller said he also reached out to them at the Observer's request and both declined an interview.
But unlike the civil rights movement, which sought to secure equal rights for the nation’s oppressed Black minority, Jan. 6 was a rebellion led by an embittered white majority; some even proudly carried Confederate flags. Most insurrectionists continue to tout Trump’s claims that the election was rigged, despite the nation’s top election officials calling it “the most secure in American history.”
To Miller, though, even President-elect Joe Biden should want to have the legitimacy of the election results fully investigated to know whether he won “fair and square.” Yet Miller said Democrats like Brooks are harassing him for his political views, attempting to “cancel” him and endanger his livelihood. Some commenters online have called on his brokerage to cut ties with him; Miller also said strangers have been showing up to his family members’ house.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before … I never thought that people could go out and be this crazy,” he said. “We’re real people, too. We all have lives that we want to live and enjoy and be successful, just like anybody else.”
Brooks denies harassing the three, saying she merely sought to identify insurrectionists who attempted to overthrow the U.S. government.
Two days after the riot, Ryan issued a statement condemning the bloodshed, stating that “hatred and violence toward each other are not going to solve our country’s issues.” But days earlier, she made several social media posts that seemed to point to her participation in the riots.
In one photo, a beaming Ryan stands before a broken Capitol window while flashing a peace sign. She sports a red, white and blue scarf and bobble hat, which is also stitched with the numbers “45” in reference to Trump, the 45th man to hold the office.
Although it’s unclear whether she actually destroyed federal property, Ryan says she was planning to in one livestream video.
“We’re all going to be up here; we’re going to be breaking those windows,” she says.
In another video, Ryan speaks to her followers while in the process of storming the Capitol, squished among a swarm of self-described patriots as they shove their way inside.
She chants “USA” above a high-pitched beeping from what was likely the Capitol’s security system.
“You guys, can you believe this? I am not messin’ around,” Ryan says to the camera in an odd stew of profanity, religion and business advertisement. “When I come to sell your house, this is what I will do. I will fuckin’ sell your house. USA! USA! USA!
“Here we are, in the name of Jesus, in the name above all names. In the name of Jesus,” she continues.
In another video, Schwab admits her own involvement.
“I went into the fucking Capitol building. I made my movement; I stood my ground,” she says, adding that they were now "taking the other side.”
The next day, Schwab’s brokerage, Century 21 Mike Bowman Inc., announced on Facebook that she was no longer associated with the firm.
Prior to her arrest, Ryan ran her own Frisco-based real estate company, but she told CBS-DFW on Friday that the ordeal has "taken her business." Days before, she also tweeted that her upcoming self-help book had been dropped by her publisher.
In a video posted to Facebook on Sunday, Miller said he had been visited by the FBI but that they didn't charge him with anything.
‘Prelude to War’
By alerting Brooks to the identities of the North Texans, Hava Johnston said she did her civic duty. Those who attended the riots are "domestic terrorists" who need to be held accountable for their actions, she said. Even if they weren’t directly involved in the Capitol’s ransacking, their mere presence makes them complicit.
Many protests have been held at the nation’s capital, she added, including demonstrations against the Vietnam War and marches for women’s rights. None have ever turned as violent as the one on Jan. 6, she said.
“Their intent was not was not a peaceful protest,” Johnston said of Trump’s supporters, “at least not the people that were up there swarming like a bunch of cockroaches on a Twinkie.”
Before the Capitol siege, Ryan and Miller had gone their separate ways, with the former returning to her hotel room. From there, she livestreamed herself saying that she thinks she sees her friend on the news as people begin to scale the building.
“They’re climbing the walls,” Ryan says to the camera. “That’s probably Brian right there; he’s got the white cowboy hat on. We’re going to go down there and we’re going to sit in those — we’re going to go move them out of their chairs. We’re going down there because we’ve had it and we’re not here to play around.”
Miller, who still works with Mersaes Real Estate in Garland, vehemently denies ever breaching the Capitol. He said he hung around on the sidelines with other veterans and Trump supporters, many of whom were “old ladies” and “people in wheelchairs.” In fact, he suspects the building was actually infiltrated by extreme activists.
(Some Republicans have also claimed that Antifa was to blame for the violence. The FBI has said there is no evidence linking anti-fascist activists to the uprising, according to The Hill.)
Rather than contribute to the violence, Miller said he was trying to serve as a sort of documentarian, capturing on his cell phone one of the most momentous days in American history. Yet Miller said Facebook eventually scraped his livestreams depicting violent content, some of which showed protesters clashing with Capitol police. The loss of the videos was upsetting because of their historical value, he said; they could have been used as evidence in investigations of the day’s events.
The people who intended to harm lawmakers are “terrorists” and should be arrested, Miller said. He also said he feels bad for the woman who was fatally shot, fellow veteran Ashli Babbitt, but she shouldn’t have been trying to get inside to destroy the Capitol.
“If you’re going to go into the Capitol and you’re going to try and attack our senators … I don’t feel any sympathy whatsoever,” he said. “Because you know what, this is my country, too.”
Although Miller may not have been in a fighting mood, his associates seemed to be.
Jezebel reported that in one of Ryan’s livestreams, she talks excitedly of going to “storm the Capitol,” calling it “a prelude to war.” But Miller said the former phrase was just a figure of speech that they employed to illustrate the event’s large number of attendees.
“When you’re storming the beaches of Normandy in World War II, that's storming the beach — when you got rifles in hand and you're going to get killed and everything else, knowing you're trying to take back a piece of the country, so you can go back and win the war,” he said. “We were not there to storm the Capitol.”
Semantics aside, “the storm” is often used in the world of QAnon, which the Wall Street Journal reports is a far-right conspiracy theory that posits a “deep state” cabal of satanic pedophiles — including Hollywood stars, Democratic politicians and journalists — is out to destroy Trump.
The Texas Republican Party has also adopted “we are the storm” as its official slogan, according to The Texas Tribune.
Birth of the Patriot Party
Although she’s cast herself as a victim of the media, Ryan said in a Wednesday Instagram post that she’s been interviewed by Fox News and The New York Times, remarking what "awesome news" it was for her. She also sat down with a Spectrum News journalist after the riot in an attempt to explain her side of things.
Ryan initially told the reporter that she hadn’t entered the Capitol — except she may have gotten “her feet in there, or right in the threshold.”
But in another video from Ryan's livestream, she is seen pushing her way into the building before eventually declaring that she's gone "far enough." Then, two Trump supporters let her in on a tip.
"I don't think they're spraying people until they hit those wooden doors," a man says.
"If you push hard enough, they'll budge," a woman replies.
"OK, let's just stand here," Ryan says, which she does for around a minute before turning back.
Later, the same Spectrum journalist posted an interview clip in which Ryan says she’s part of an effort to create a new political faction, the Patriot Party. The real estate broker also vows to never vote for another Republican and says she plans to run for office herself.
“So whomever is out there that really wants to help set me up in that way, let me know where we’re going, because I’m ready to serve my country,” Ryan says. “And we’re going to do the Patriot Party and say goodbye to people that are binding together against the people.”
Despite her efforts to expose Ryan, Johnston said she suspects that a political action committee with deep pockets, like the hard-right Empower Texans, may end up funding the political hopeful and others in the Patriot Party. One of that PAC’s megadonors previously backed Dallas hair salon owner Shelley Luther's campaign for state Senate. Like Ryan, Luther painted herself a martyr after she was jailed for breaking a governor’s mandate that closed her business and countless others to slow coronavirus' spread.
The Patriot Party will likely become the party of Trump, Johnston said, and she thinks the Capitol rioters have been brainwashed by their leader. Brooks agrees with that assessment; she said Trump supporters call him their “savior,” and that he’s become a cult figure to people in need of mental help. Regardless, she said she is working to identify more North Texans who participated in the Capitol attack, adding she's proud of the work she and Johnston put in to expose the insurrectionists.
Although it’s unclear whether the remainder of the North Texas Realty Three will also face legal repercussions, Brooks said she thinks it’s only a matter of time. Federal authorities went after the most serious offenders first, but they’re now making their way to those who played a smaller role. On Wednesday, for instance, the FBI arrested a Midland woman who had posted a video to Facebook bragging about breaking down the door to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, according to CBS-DFW.
Time is running out before Biden becomes president, and it’s unclear whether Trump will attempt to reclaim power in 2024 — or, depending on the results of his impeachment trial, whether he’ll even be able to run for office again. Either way, Brooks said she hopes her mission to out the “spineless” Jan. 6 rioters will help them comprehend the gravity of their involvement.
“I hope that by them seeing the outrage people have for them, that they will realize that their actions were wrong,” she said. “They're listening to somebody that only wants to cause damage to this country.”