Inside a DC jail's 'Patriot Wing,' where Capitol riot defendants sing the national anthem and act like prisoners of war — but struggle to cope with being locked up
- Around 40 Capitol riot defendants facing serious charges are held together in a DC jail.
- They call it the "Patriot Wing."
Every night at 9 p.m, they stop what they're doing to sing "The Start-Spangled Banner."
"Some of them are in their cells and some of them are out in the common area, but whatever it is that they're doing, they stop and they sing," Cynthia Hughes told Insider.
Hughes' nephew is one of roughly 40 Capitol riot defendants held without bail in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Hughes requested that Insider not name her nephew.
That group is being housed in a separate section of the sprawling Central Detention Facility in southeast Washington, DC, located just a few miles away from the building they were accused of storming.
To most people, that section is called the Correctional Treatment Facility. But to many of the defendants, their supporters, and even some Republican lawmakers, it's the "Patriot Wing."
It houses the defendants facing the most serious accusations in relation to the insurrection.
Many are accused of assaulting police officers or carrying weapons on Capitol grounds. Its residents have included Jacob Chansley, the "QAnon Shaman" who was sentenced to 41 months in prison this week; Kyle Fitzsimons, who was photographed wearing butcher's workwear at the Capitol; and Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a US Army reservist who prosecutors said sported a Hitler mustache to work.
As the defendants await their trials together, they appear to have formed a tight-knit group, creating nightly rituals and organizing group activities.
Insider reviewed multiple legal filings and spoke to sources familiar with the jail conditions for this story. The Washington, DC, Department of Corrections did not respond to Insider's multiple requests for comment.
An homage to the 'Hanoi Hilton'
In an October 26 court hearing, the attorney Stephen Brennwald recounted the moment he heard the defendants sing their nightly rendition of the national anthem while on the phone with his client, Thomas Sibick. (Sibick is charged with several counts, including robbery and assaulting a police officer, per court documents seen by Insider.)
"I heard them myself," Brennwald said, Law & Crime reported. "It was literally this herd mentality. They're literally singing, most of them off-key, literally singing the song, almost cult-like. It was pretty scary actually."
But Hughes, who said she speaks to her nephew daily, said the singing is "what gets them through."
Greg Hunter, an attorney for two other defendants at the jail — Jeff McKellop and Kyle Fitzsimons — told Insider the singing was an homage to the "Hanoi Hilton" prison in North Vietnam, which held American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.
The late Sen. John McCain, who was held there, recalled in 2013 a cellmate standing up to the Vietnamese guards by singing "The Star-Spangled banner": "To witness him sing the national anthem in response to having a rifle pointed at his face — well, that was something to behold."
For many of the Capitol riot defendants — described by some GOP politicians as "political prisoners" — singing the national anthem is a similar act of defiance, Hunter said.
The group had also formed a close bond, Hughes said: "They're very solid in there. They're very united. They have a prayer group. They have a Bible study group."
She also said many detainees still "feel very strongly about the election" and continue to support former President Donald Trump, though they are "frustrated" he hasn't sufficiently backed them in return.
The defendants are each assigned a one-man cell, but they get to mingle in communal areas, Hughes said. To stay occupied, they also organize events, most recently arranging a Halloween DIY craft contest, she said.
They even have their own newsletter, Richard Barnett, who left the jail in April, told News4 Washington. "We would all contribute to it and pass it cell to cell," he said.
Patriot support groups and fan mail
The defendants are being propped up by a sprawling public support network who send donations, greeting cards, and gifts on a weekly basis, Hughes said.
A loyal fan base is also congregating on several Telegram channels seen by Insider. The supporters on one channel called the Patriot Mail Project share recordings of daily prayers for the defendants.
According to the channel, one of the defendants, Kyle Fitzsimons, thanked the group for their gifts, saying: "I have been receiving mail from the patriot mail project. It is nice to hear from strangers."
Earlier this month they also got a visit from GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who tweeted this photo from the jail:
—Marjorie Taylor Greene (@mtgreenee) November 5, 2021
'It's not a Club Med'
Several of the defendants have complained about the conditions in the wing.
Some raised concerns through their lawyers, citing threats from guards and standing sewage. Others claimed they were denied the right to conduct religious services, according to court papers seen by Insider.
Defendants have also complained about the food.
In February, a lawyer for Chansley — the "QAnon Shaman" — told a court that his client had lost 20 pounds in jail because he couldn't eat any food that wasn't organic. A judge subsequently granted a request to serve him organic food in the facility.
Hughes said her nephew told her the food was "not nutritious" enough, saying meals usually consist of cheese or baloney sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and crackers.
In an email sent to Insider, the attorney Joseph McBride, who represents two defendants in the wing — Ryan Nichols and Christopher Quaglin — called the conditions of the confinement "reprehensible, unconstitutional, and a clear violation of human rights."
One complaint taken seriously last month was from the Proud Boy member Christopher Worrel, whose attorney accused jail officials of deliberately withholding urgent medical treatment after Worrel was left with a broken wrist for four months.
Worrell was eventually released on home detention, but his case prompted the US Marshals Service to initiate a surprise investigation into the jail. It uncovered serious problems in an older part of the jail complex, but not in the wing where the January 6 defendants were held.
Greg Ehrie, a vice president of the Anti-Defamation League who worked for the FBI for 22 years, told Insider that out of all the facilities he'd been to, he would describe the DC jail as "an average American facility."
"I've been to better facilities, but I've also been to worse," he said.
Michael Jensen, who works at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, told Insider: "We can't forget that many of the defendants who are in the wing have never been to prison before."
"So they're not going to be happy with the situation. It's not a Club Med, it's not a five-star hotel. It's not supposed to be. It's jail."
Hughes, meanwhile, worries about how the defendants' lives will look after their trials.
"I mean, how do you go back to the person you were before January 6, 2021?" she said.
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