A Jan. 6 rioter who prosecutors argued was a key instigator of the violence that led to the takeover of the U.S. Capitol was convicted of multiple felonies on Friday, alongside four co-defendants.
Authorities long pointed to Ryan Samsel as the man whose actions were a tipping point that turned a rowdy pro-Donald Trump protest into a downright violent riot, with him being one of the first—and possibly the first—person to push through barricades and throw them at officers at what is known as the Peace Circle.
Samsel, a 39-year-old barber from Pennsylvania, was convicted Friday on federal assault charges and for obstructing the confirmation of the 2020 presidential election. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June, and Samsel could spend multiple years in prison.
Investigators said there were photos and videos that showed Samsel was the rioter responsible for knocking a U.S. Capitol officer unconscious after hurling a barricade at her and knocking her to the ground, where she hit her head.
That action is believed to have cleared the way for a wave of rioters to flood into the U.S. Capitol. While other rioters swarmed the group attacking the officers, prosecutors said Samsel and four other men—who didn’t know each other prior to Jan. 6—continued their violence, fighting with officers as they encouraged others to push ahead.
“These are the defendants who started it,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra F. Foster said in her closing arguments. “There is little doubt that this moment ignited a fire that lasted around the Capitol for hours… They started the Capitol breach. Now they must take responsibility.”
Even prior to his arrest, Samsel quickly gained notoriety in viral videos from the riot, where he was seen assaulting officers and speaking with Joe Biggs, a leader of the Proud Boys, moments before charging the barricades. He was also captured on camera speaking briefly with Ray Epps, which led to a slew of baseless pro-Trump conspiracies theories that Epps was a federal agent seeking to purposefully cause chaos at the Capitol to entrap Trump supporters.
Samsel’s encounter with Biggs played a prominent role in a seditious conspiracy trial for the Proud Boy leader, which ended with him being sentenced to 17 years in federal prison.
Samsel never took the stand in his defense, and neither did his co-defendants. They were James T. Grant, 31, of North Carolina; Paul R. Johnson, 38, of Virginia; Stephen C. Randolph, 34, of Kentucky; and Jason B. Blythe, 28, of Texas.
Officer Caroline Edwards did take the stand, however, testifying about how she was attacked and knocked unconscious by Samsel—awaking to terror all around her as she and her colleagues were overrun.
Edwards said she was first hit in the jaw, then knocked into a stairway railing, and then to the ground, where she hit her head.
“I landed with my head on the stairs,” Edwards testified, according to NBC News. “The lights were on, but no one was home.”
Samsel was arrested in Jan. 2021 and has remained in custody ever since, largely because of recent assault convictions.