The Potluck

Investigation into ‘Storm the Capitol’ rally was closed within a week

By: - January 27, 2022 4:53 pm

A “Storm the Capitol” rally attracted several hundred pro-Trump supporters in St. Paul on Jan. 6. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Last year, the speaker of the Minnesota House promised a broad investigation into a rally at the Capitol in St. Paul where pro-Trump activists lodged violent rhetoric and alleged widespread voter fraud.  

But the investigation called for by House Speaker Melissa Hortman petered out within a week, public documents show. Documents obtained through a public records request show the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s cyber crime unit investigated the complaint — tracking down additional comments on social media and calling one person who made questionable statements — and closed the case a week later.

The Brooklyn Park Democrat called for an investigation into the “Storm the Capitol” rally after some speakers talked about “casualties,” civil war and made veiled threats toward the governor. The rally was held on the same day that a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., briefly delaying the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. 

Hortman said the investigation could lead to criminal charges and would be led by the BCA, which did look into comments made by Alley Waterbury, a Republican Party leader from Plymouth. She warned of casualties and said “I will be the first casualty. I don’t care.” 

Waterbury also warned Gov. Tim Walz “we will come for you” and “do whatever we need to do” because “we have nothing else to lose.” 

Five days into the investigation, a BCA agent and State Patrol sergeant interviewed Waterbury on the phone, and she told them her comments about Walz weren’t advocating violence but were made out of frustration about businesses being closed.

“Waterbury stated she had called everything off,” the BCA report said.

A 59-year-old man named Raul Javier Estrada — address unknown — was also named as being the person who made comments about being on the “threshold of a civil war” because the country is being choked off by “weeds” of communism, socialism and “leftist liberals.” But the report doesn’t indicate the agents talked to him because BCA Investigator Joe Murphy wrote that Estrada’s comments didn’t contain a threat and were political speech.

The case was closed on Jan. 21 because it didn’t meet the threshold for charges, after the BCA consulted with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. At the time, Hortman released a statement saying the First Amendment permits speech that is “false, misleading, and hateful, and it is a high bar for an individual’s speech to cross the line and to constitute criminal activity.”

“The BCA concluded that bar was not met in this case,” she wrote. “Nevertheless, false, misleading, and hateful speech has consequences. It creates an environment of fear and division, can cause harm to individuals targeted by such speech, and it makes it more difficult for us to work together and solve problems.”  

Six House lawmakers attended or spoke at the rally: Susan Ackland of St. Peter; Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa; Mary Franson of Alexandria; Glenn Gruenhagen of Glencoe; Eric Lucero of Dayton; and Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.