The FBI had already received an anonymous tip that James P. Mault breached the Capitol building during the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., when the 29-year-old joined the Army this summer.
Mault, who most recently served as a specialist in the 82nd Airborne Division, was also interviewed by FBI agents on Jan. 18 in his home state of New York, months before he re-enlisted after a break in service.
Background screenings, to include checking the FBI’s Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization file, were conducted, but officials didn’t see any red flags, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Gabriel J. Ramirez said in an email to Army Times.
“The Army was unaware of any involvement Spc. Mault may have had in the incidents on January 6 or of any information disqualifying him at the time of his enlistment,” said Ramirez. “This screening includes identification checks and verification, criminal background checks, a sex offender query, fingerprints sent to the FBI, local police checks, and checks of local court documents.”
During his Jan. 18 interview with FBI agents, Mault admitted he attended the Jan. 6 rally, but denied wrongdoing. He said he had been caught up in the crowd as the mass of people pushed him closer and closer to the Capitol, according to a federal criminal complaint.
The complaint was unsealed after Mault was finally arrested Oct. 6 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and charged with several federal offenses, including assaulting, resisting or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon or inflicting bodily injury.
“Mault claimed to have no choice but to move forward because of the press of people behind him,” the complaint stated. “Mault ended up right next to an entrance to the Capitol Building but denied entering the Capitol Building. Mault also denied assaulting anyone or damaging property.”
Later, though the complaint does not state when, FBI agents reviewed body camera footage from a D.C. police officer that showed Mault spraying a chemical agent at officers on the afternoon of Jan. 6.
Screenshots included in the criminal complaint showed Mault spraying the chemical agent while wearing a hard hat covered in union-themed stickers.
“Mault received a small canister of a chemical agent from an unknown male in the crowd,” the complaint reads. “Mault then pointed the canister with his left hand in the direction of law enforcement officers.”
Mault’s hard hat, which helped identify him, carried a sticker from Mault’s union, Ironworkers Local 33 of Rochester, New York, according to the complaint.
“Mault claimed that he wore his hard hat from work because he was aware of ANTIFA attacking Trump supporters after events in Washington, D.C., and the helmet would provide some level of protection,” the complaint reads.
Mault was a prior-service soldier, having been in the New York Army National Guard from 2016 to 2020, according to 18th Airborne Corps spokesman Col. Joe Buccino. Mault re-joined active duty as a combat engineer, Buccino added.
“We really don’t know about what happened,” Buccino said of the circumstances that allowed Mault to re-enlist. “It’s not something we’d have any visibility on.”
Background checks for new recruits occur during the enlistment process, before troops arrive at their first unit. The checks even include a tattoo screening for symbols or brands that are extremist, indecent, sexist or racist.
But Ramirez, the Army spokesman, said there was nothing that would have prevented enlistment in Mault’s file.
“The Army will continue to work with the FBI and other entities with inputs into the pre-screening process to obtain relevant information to inform Army enlistment decisions,” Ramirez said.
More than 600 individuals have been arrested across the country for crimes related to the breach of the Capitol building and the riot, according to the Justice Department.
As of this article’s publication, 75 people charged after the riot — 12 percent — have military experience, according to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. That number includes 70 veterans, two National Guard troops, two reservists and one active duty service member.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.