Before Brandon Straka was storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, he was a hair-dressing, #WalkAway-tweeting MAGA influencer—taking in tens of thousands of dollars in government pandemic money.
According to The Daily Beast’s review of records from the Project On Government Oversight’s Covid Tracker, Straka is one of at least nine individuals facing charges stemming from the Capitol riots who received special coronavirus funds through small business loan programs over the last year. And Straka is far from the only notable insurrectionists among the group.
Collectively, these business owners took in more than $227,000 from three small business relief initiatives—the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or Disaster Assistance Loans—and they are facing charges ranging from entering a restricted building to assaulting police officers with a deadly weapon.
Straka, the founder of the #WalkAway movement that encourages Democrats to vote Republican, has more than half a million Twitter followers and claims to have been a devoted Democrat before Donald Trump’s election. But a 2019 review by Gay City News found that Straka—who is gay—never once donated to a Democrat and only once voted in a Democratic primary since 2004.
Straka is charged with impeding a law-enforcement officer during civil disorder, knowingly entering restricted grounds, and disorderly conduct with intent to disturb a hearing before Congress.
Another high-profile loan recipient, Dominic Pezzola, is facing some of the stiffest charges of any insurrectionist. Pezzola, a member of the far-right Proud Boys, broke a window into the Capitol and was one of the very first rioters to breach the building. He also stole a police officer’s riot shield and is facing 11 charges, including obstructing Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman from doing his job.
Pezzola, who is the owner of D Pezzola Flooring, received $12,502 in PPP funds. He potentially faces 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But Pezzola’s jail time may still pale in comparison to Julian Elie Khater.
Khater and another man are charged with nine counts, including using bear spray against three officers. Among those officers is Brian Sicknick, who lost his life the day after the Jan. 6 attack.
According to court documents, all three officers were temporarily incapacitated by Khazer using bear spray against them, with one officer reporting scabbing underneath her eyes for weeks. While Sicknick’s cause of death remains a mystery, news reports have indicated it may have been a result of the bear-spray attack, meaning Khazer could still face additional serious charges.
But before Khazer was a violent insurrectionist, he was the former co-owner of a smoothie and acai bowl franchise, Frutta Bowls, which received $10,000 as part of the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
Another small business owner, Scott Kevin Fairlamb—the owner of Fairlamb Fitness in New Jersey—also faces some of the most serious charges from Jan. 6. Fairlamb, a former ultimate fighter, is accused of punching a police officer in the head and is staring at multiple felony charges, including assaulting an officer and carrying a dangerous weapon in a restricted building.
On top of storming the Capitol, Fairlamb also has a brother in the Secret Service who once led Michelle Obama’s security detail. When their father, retired New Jersey State Trooper Preston “Jay” Fairlamb Jr., died in a motorcycle accident in 2012, the then-first lady attended Preston’s memorial service.
But before Scott Fairlamb was allegedly assaulting a police officer on Jan. 6, he received a $53,300 Disaster Assistance loan, which he’s supposed to pay back, plus a $1,000 direct payment through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which he’s not.
Overall, the biggest loan recipient was Paul Westover, the founder and president of a tech headhunting company near St. Louis, Search Ingenuity. Westover took in $78,000 through a Disaster Assistance loan, $19,300 in PPP funds, and $2,000 from an EIDL advance—in total, $99,300.
A bio on the Search Ingenuity website says Westover has generated approximately $1.2 million in fees from tech recruiting, has six children, and has been married to his wife for more than 25 years. “Work hard, play hard,” his bio concludes.
Westover is facing four charges, including a felony count of impeding law enforcement officers.
Also among the business owners who received PPP funds is the man responsible for one the most iconic images from the Jan. 6 riots: Richard “Bigo” Barnett.
Barnett was the man kicking his boots up on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, and he is charged with seven counts, including disorderly conduct in a government building with a dangerous weapon. (Barnett had a cattle prod on him at the time of the insurrection.)
But before Barnett became famous for reclining in Pelosi’s chair, he got a $9,300 PPP loan for his independent contractor work on windows.
The Daily Dot previously reported on Barnett receiving a loan, and noted his rhetoric against socialism and big government didn’t square with the government handout he received.
Businesses may be able to have some or all of their PPP loans forgiven, as long as they spend the money on things like payroll, rent, supplier costs, and other qualifying expenses. Economic Injury Disaster loans are also forgivable, but the Disaster Assistance loans are supposed to be returned. However, there’s no guarantee these individuals will meet the terms of their low-interest, government loans and pay the money back—especially if they’re in jail for their roles in the Jan. 6 attack.
Other insurrectionists who took money during the pandemic include: Roberto Minuta, the owner of Casa Di Dolore Tattoo Parlor ($12,200 in Disaster Assistance loans and $1,000 in EIDL payments); Troy Ebert Faulkner, the owner of Faulkner painting ($5,000 in EIDL payments); and Edward Hemenway, who received $1,000 in EIDL money for an unknown occupation.
After his arrest, Hemenway claimed a police officer shook his hand after he entered the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Sorry,” Hemenway said he told the officer.
“‘It’s your house now,’” the officer replied, according to Hemenway, offering him half of a hug.