Eric Munchel arrested: Man accused of being ‘zip tie guy’ at Capitol riot has Florida tie

A Facebook profile under Eric Munchel’s name said he worked at Doc Ford’s,…

Eric Munchel arrested: Man accused of being ‘zip tie guy’ at Capitol riot has Florida tie
Eric Munchel arrested: Man accused of being 'zip tie guy' at Capitol riot has Florida tie 1

Daniel Connolly

Sarah Macaraeg

Cassandra Stephenson

Travis Dorman

Daniel Connolly

Sarah Macaraeg

Cassandra Stephenson

Travis Dorman

Rachel Wegner
 
| Memphis Commercial Appeal

A Nashville man who had expressed pro-Trump views, had worked in a bar in a popular entertainment district and was accused by online researchers of carrying plastic hand restraints in the U.S. Senate during the Capitol riot Wednesday, has been arrested.

The man, Eric Munchel, 30, was being held in a local Nashville jail Sunday on a federal warrant, online records show. An FBI spokesperson, Samantha Shero, confirmed the arrest. 

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The federal prosecutor’s office in Washington is handling the case. “Photos depicting his presence show a person who appears to be Munchel carrying plastic restraints, an item in a holster on his right hip, and a cell phone mounted on his chest with the camera facing outward, ostensibly to record events that day,” the office said in a news release, which identifies him by his full name, Eric Gavelek Munchel.

His arrest follows extensive online efforts to identify the two men in photos carrying hand restraints in the Senate – one masked, one unmasked. Online researchers identified Munchel as the man who was masked and a Texas man, Larry Brock, as the one who was unmasked. Brock was also arrested, the prosecutor’s office said.

At this point, neither man is charged with plotting to use the hand restraints against people.

Rather, each faces one count of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and one count of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Reporters visited a Nashville apartment associated with Munchel in online records Saturday afternoon, but multiple knocks on the door were not answered. A dog inside the apartment barked and seemed to be silenced and moved away from the door several times. Efforts to reach Munchel by phone were also unsuccessful.

Munchel had traveled to Washington with his mother, Lisa Eisenhart, according to The Sunday Times, a British newspaper. It wasn’t immediately clear if she also lives in Nashville, and efforts by USA TODAY Network reporters to reach her by phone were unsuccessful on Saturday and Sunday. 

Many people are now being arrested in connection to the Capitol riot. The arrests illustrate how people around the nation believed President Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud and acted on them. Trump now faces possible impeachment and other legal consequences for inciting the Capitol riot. Five people died: a police officer, a woman who was shot by police and three others from medical emergencies, authorities have said.

A now-deleted Facebook page with Munchel’s name had shown photos of a young man holding a gun and a flag and shouting at the camera in front of a TV screen that showed Trump. 

Shortly before the charges were announced, The Sunday Times had published an interview with Munchel. The newspaper reported he had driven from Nashville with his mother, a nurse, and that he spoke with a journalist after they allegedly had taken part in the Capitol incident and as they were packing up to drive home.

“We wanted to show that we’re willing to rise up, band together and fight if necessary. Same as our forefathers, who established this country in 1776,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. 

He’s also quoted as saying, “It was a kind of flexing of muscles . . . . The intentions of going in were not to fight the police. The point of getting inside the building is to show them that we can, and we will.”

His mother also expressed radical views, according to the newspaper. 

“This country was founded on revolution,” she’s quoted as saying. “If they’re going to take every legitimate means from us, and we can’t even express ourselves on the Internet, we won’t even be able to speak freely, what is America for?” She goes on to say, “I’d rather die as a 57-year-old woman than live under oppression. I’d rather die and would rather fight.” The article describes her breaking into tears.

The newspaper said the pair were among the crowd that pushed into the Capitol on Wednesday, but they told a reporter they had left as soon as demonstrators talked about stealing laptops and government papers.

The article says, “Eisenhart stressed to me that they had gone into the building as ‘observers’ – both wore bulletproof vests – and that her son had told her not to touch anything.”

The article questions that account, pointing to online researchers who had matched items on the clothing worn by the masked man with hand restraints in the Senate chamber to other photos and videos of an unmasked Munchel and his mother taken in and around the Capitol.

One distinctive emblem on the masked man’s clothes was a “Tennessee blue line” symbol, which suggests support for law enforcement in the state. 

Munchel’s name had circulated heavily online in recent days. One of the first to name him was John Scott-Railton, a researcher at the University of Toronto, who said he shared the information with the FBI. 

Bar jobs and a prior assault charge

Steve Smith is owner of Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk, a bar and concert venue on Nashville’s heavily visited Broadway Avenue.

He confirmed Saturday that a person named Eric Munchel previously worked at the establishment but was terminated 60 days ago. Smith did not know how long Munchel was employed at the bar and declined to share the circumstances of his termination.

The Facebook profile with Munchel’s name and likeness stated he worked as a bartender at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, a company with four locations in Florida. The company posted a statement on its Facebook page Friday night acknowledging that “a former employee of ours from 2+ years ago was involved in the recent events at the Capitol building.” The post went on to say that the company has “no affiliation with this employee and their actions were their own.”

Fulton County, Georgia, court records show Munchel stood trial for misdemeanor battery charges in 2015. According to Patch, a hyper-local news site, the Sandy Springs Police Department captain said Munchel and another man were accused of assaulting a man and woman in 2013. Records on the final disposition of the case weren’t immediately available. 

He was also arrested in 2014 on charges of possession of marijuana and speeding, for which he negotiated a plea that diverted his sentence, publicly available Fulton County Superior Court records show. Those records also state there are no judgments against Munchel. 

The meaning of flex cuffs

The presence of plastic hand restraints in the Capitol raises ominous questions that go beyond free speech. Law enforcement officers use flexible plastic restraints to conduct large-scale arrests in riots and similar situations. Different styles of these restraints are known as zip ties, flex cuffs or flexi cuffs.

Ari Weil, a former director of the University of Chicago’s Militant Propaganda Analysis team, studies terrorist organizations, extremist propaganda and online behavior. “The images of this man in the Capitol in pseudo-military garb with flexi cuffs evokes the summer plot to kidnap the Michigan governor,” Weil said. “But it’s very unclear if he had plans in this case.”

While the extreme right has included people with military experience, historically, Weil said, it also includes those who play at being soldiers.  

“You often see them wearing plate carriers wrong. They don’t have that actual real-life experience, but they like trying to be like a soldier in this way.” 

Weil also noted the information produced on Munchel, thus far, shows no connections to other people, whereas the Michigan plot is alleged to have been hatched by a cell of extremists.

Weil said the trend of mounting threats shows the gravity of the presence of zip-ties in the Senate chamber. In the run-up to Wednesday’s riot, many affiliated with far-right ideologies posted online about “… what they were willing to do and several posting real threats. And that wasn’t taken seriously,” he said.

“But there’s also the bigger context to consider,” Weil added. “A year of protests at state capitols, a plot to kidnap two different governors in the U.S. and in fact on Wednesday, there were similar protests on state capitols. This should be taken quite seriously.”

Another man photographed carrying plastic restraints in the Senate chamber wore a helmet without a mask. Online researchers identified him as a former Air Force officer, and the New Yorker magazine reported that he’d admitted to a journalist that he’s the man in the pictures. 

That man, Larry Brock of Texas, echoed Trump’s false claims of election fraud. “The President asked for his supporters to be there to attend, and I felt like it was important, because of how much I love this country, to actually be there,” he’s quoted as saying. 

He said he had found the plastic restraints on the floor and picked them up, the magazine reported. “I wish I had not picked those up,” he told me. “My thought process there was I would pick them up and give them to an officer when I see one. … I didn’t do that because I had put them in my coat, and I honestly forgot about them.” 

Malcolm Nance is a retired Navy counter-terrorism intelligence officer and author of books on national security. He said his 20 years of experience in researching Al-Qaeda and ISIS counter-terrorism operations led to his research on America’s extreme right.

“We started seeing the exact same internal self-radicalization in these pro-Trump forces,” he said. “They view themselves as adjuncts to the campaign, as foot soldiers, in what can only be called his coming insurgency.”

Plastic hand restraints have shown up in at least one pro-Trump political rally outside Washington, too.

On Saturday, about 100 people, many of them armed and dressed in paramilitary gear, gathered for a “Patriot Rally” outside the state Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, as legislators met inside.

That rally ended peacefully, the The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported, but one armed protester who carried zip ties visibly attached to his backpack told a photographer he brought them “just in case.” 

The FBI is continuing to seek tips related to the Capitol riot at www.fbi.gov/USCapitol and 1-800-225-5324. 

Daniel Connolly is an investigative reporter at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis and welcomes tips and comments from the public. Reach him at 529-5296, daniel.connolly@commercialappeal.com, or on Twitter at @danielconnolly.

Sarah Macaraeg is an investigative reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. She welcomes tips at sarah.macaraeg@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @seramak

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