Skip to main content

NASA intern who posted racist screed on Telegram poised to plead guilty in Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Left: Brandon Cavanaugh's NASA ID card is shown. Right: Brandon Cavanaugh, wearing a red knit hat and carrying a Trump flag, is seen at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

Brandon Cavanaugh (via FBI court filing).

A so-called “Groyper” from California who posted racist screeds to an online chat group months after joining rioters in breaching the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 appears poised to plead guilty.

Brandon Cavanaugh, of Huntington Beach, was seen inside the Capitol among the Donald Trump supporters who pushed through police lines to try to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win.

Surveillance footage showed Cavanaugh in the building for almost 15 minutes, when he climbed a staircase, walked through hallways, and recorded the contents and occupants of a security guard desk, according to charging documents.

FBI investigators identified Cavanaugh as they were reviewing the social media activity of a different, unnamed suspected Capitol rioter. While looking through a private Telegram chat group pursuant to a search warrant in that case, investigators came across Cavanaugh’s account, “Brandon HB Groyper.”

As the probable cause affidavit said, “Groyper” refers to “being a member of the America First movement. Groypers believe they are defending against the demographic and cultural changes that are destroying the “true America,” a white, Christian nation. Groypers attempt to normalize their ideology by aligning themselves with Christianity and traditional values, such as marriage and family. Groypers identify themselves as American Nationalists who are a part of the “America First” movement.

White supremacist Nick Fuentes has also been linked to the Groyper movement.

Statements apparently posted by Cavanaugh to the Telegram chat reflect that racist ideology.

“On March 7, 2021, ‘Brandon HB Groyper’ wrote, ‘I honestly want to kill all n—- lovers / Ruthlessly cut their chest open / Rip out their hearts / And eat it,'” the affidavit says. “On July 30, 2021, ‘Brandon HB Groyper’ wrote, ‘I am done with words I want blood hahah man only in my dreams would I ever get this much satisfaction. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.'”

The Telegram account included a picture of an ID card showing that Cavanaugh, now in his early 30s, had worked for NASA.

“According to CAVANAUGH’s LinkedIn profile, he worked as a Chemical Propulsion and Fluid Flight Systems Engineering Intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from April 2019 to September 2019,” the probable cause affidavit says.

Cavanaugh was arraigned Monday on an information containing a single count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building, a federal misdemeanor that carries a potential six-month jail sentence.

Although he officially entered a plea of not guilty, he is expected to plead guilty to the single count in April. He originally faced four misdemeanors that carried a combined potential of three years behind bars.

In response to Cavanaugh’s request to appear remotely for the plea hearing instead of in person, U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said that he intended to issue his sentence on the same day Cavanaugh pleads guilty. The judge added that it’s his practice to require defendants to be present for sentencing.

“I’m skeptical about claims that someone isn’t able to afford to come back for sentencing when they’re able to come here for, at the very least, a protest,” the judge, a Trump appointee, said.

Defense attorney Nathan Gjesdal said that requiring his client to travel to Washington for the plea and sentencing would be a financial hardship.

“He was employed with Boeing,” the lawyer said. “He lost his job on Jan. 19. He does not have the finances to travel.”

“My office was not retained with a retainer that would include travel costs,” added Gjesdal, who appears to have been privately retained by Cavanaugh.

McFadden relented and agreed to allow Cavanaugh to appear remotely for his plea and sentencing. The judge denied a request, however, from both attorneys for a pre-sentence report from the federal probation department.

He reasoned that Cavanaugh will be pleading guilty to a “petty offense” that doesn’t warrant the probation department’s time and resources.

“I’m not sure of anything probation could add that the attorneys could not would justify the time and expense for probation in a case like this

Both the prosecutors and defense will prepare sentencing briefs, which should provide McFadden with a more complete picture of the defendant.

Cavanaugh, for his part, appears to offer an explanation of his own on a right-wing crowdfunding website.

“I peacefully protested our election outcome and carried the America First flag because I believe in America First and Christian Values and their major role in the preservation of the America we know and love,” a fundraising page on GiveSendGo says. “I have been slandered and targeted by the FBI for my attendance to the event and expressing my First Amendment right. I am now out on bail awaiting my next court date. This is the beginning of a long fight, but when I defeat this case with its slander, I intend to continue my push for these values.”

McFadden set the plea agreement hearing and sentencing for April 7.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: