Newport News — At the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week, media footage captured a man wearing a sweatshirt referring to a Nazi concentration camp.
“Camp Auschwitz,” read the black shirt, just above a skull and the World War II death camp’s notorious gate inscription: “Work Brings Freedom.”
The sweatshirt was widely discussed on social media, CNN and other news outlets in the days after the riot.
Federal authorities identified the man as 56-year-old Newport News resident Robert Keith Packer. He was arrested by the U.S. Marshals on Wednesday on federal charges pertaining to entry into the U.S. Capitol, according to U.S. District Court documents.
He’s one of several dozen people who have been charged after a mob supporting President Trump breached the Capitol on the day lawmakers were voting to certify the presidential election.
An FBI affidavit filed in Packer’s federal case Wednesday asserts that a photograph inside the building shows that Packer “knowingly and willfully joined a crowd of individuals who forcibly entered the U.S. Capitol” that day to impede government business.
The picture, included in the agent’s affidavit, shows a man believed to be Packer in a crowd in which another man appears to be “displaying a shard of the broken nameplate” from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
While wearing the Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt isn’t a crime, the FBI affidavit makes clear that the shirt — and the media attention surrounding it — played a role in the investigation by leading agents to Packer.
The Nazis murdered more than a million people at the Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945, with the victims overwhelmingly Jewish. The inscription at the concentration camp’s gate, the affidavit said, was “Arbeit macht frei,” which roughly translates into “Work makes freedom.”
Historians say the gate inscription at Auschwitz was designed to falsely lead those inside the complex to believe they were going to a labor camp rather than to their deaths.
“The sweatshirt ... appears to be a symbol of Nazi hate ideology,” FBI Special Agent Paul J. Fisher wrote in the federal affidavit.
The agent wrote that he compared media images of the man in the sweatshirt at the Capitol on Jan. 6 to Packer’s Virginia driver’s license, and “confirmed” them to be the same person.
Fisher added that a witness recognized the man as someone who routinely visits a store “near Newport News.” That witness provided the FBI with surveillance footage of a man entering the store on Dec. 11 while wearing the black sweatshirt.
The FBI conducted surveillance on Packer’s Hidenwood home on Monday, including running the license plates of a car in the driveway, the affidavit said. The Marshals arrested Packer on Wednesday morning, court records show.
He’s charged with entering the Capitol illegally and committing disorderly conduct once inside.
The first federal statute outlaws knowingly “entering or remaining” in a restricted government building “with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” — whether that be by disorderly conduct, blocking movement or “engaging in any act of physical violence against any person or property.”
That charge is typically a misdemeanor but is considered a felony — with a punishment of up to 10 years — if it involves a dangerous weapon or results in serious bodily injury.
The second statute outlaws “willfully and knowingly” engaging in disorderly conduct at the U.S. Capitol or grounds with the “intent to impede, disrupt, or disturb the orderly conduct of a session of Congress or either House of Congress.”
That includes with either “loud and abusive language,” obstructing other people’s movements, “engaging in physical violence,” or “parading, demonstrating or picketing” inside the Capitol buildings. That charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months behind bars.
The case is assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather in the District of Columbia.
After his arrest, Packer had a remote hearing Wednesday afternoon before Norfolk U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Miller, telling the judge that he planned to hire his own attorney.
During the 10-minute initial appearance hearing, federal prosecutors did not ask that Packer be held pending his next court appearance on Jan. 19.
Miller then issued a personal recognizance bond — meaning that Packer didn’t have to post money for his release — along with the special condition that Packer stay out of D.C. while his case proceeds.
Though he initially was being held at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail, jail records indicate he was released by Wednesday afternoon.
The Daily Press could not reach Packer at his Hidenwood home in recent days.
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No one answered the door at his house Monday, with neighbors saying several media outlets had been by over the weekend to try to speak with Packer. On Tuesday, there were four “No Trespassing” signs on the home, one on the door and three in the windows.
Neighbors said they don’t know Packer well, other than to wave and say hello — saying he “kept to himself” but seems friendly enough.
“He’s always been nice to me,” said a neighbor of his mother’s in Hampton, where Packer grew up. He added that Packer would often fix his car “and wouldn’t ever charge me a dime.”
“From what I know of him, he is a good guy,” added Joseph Ashley Masters, another neighbor of Packer’s mother. “You go boy, express your feelings. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and he’s just showing his.”
Court records show that Packer pleaded guilty to forging public documents in Norfolk in 2005, and was sentenced to a year to serve. He was found guilty of a third DUI offense in Williamsburg in 2007, landing six months of active time. He has a host of lower level traffic-related and driver’s license charges over the years.
He was ordered to appear by virtual hookup for the federal charges on Jan. 19.
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org