Rachel Marie Powell, a Pennsylvania mom of eight who came to be known as “the bullhorn lady” after she was filmed shouting orders to rioters during the ransacking of the Capitol, has been released on bail by a D.C. federal judge.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell described Powell’s alleged actions on Jan. 6 as “so unpatriotic it makes my straight hair curl,” but said Powell could be fitted with an electronic ankle monitor and confined to her home in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania at all times, pending her trial in D.C.
If she is given permission to leave the house to work, see a doctor, or meet with her lawyer, Powell must wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Howell said.
Powell’s nose and mouth were not covered during the Capitol riot according to video evidence presented in court, Howell noted. Prosecutors pointed out that Powell was previously fired from a job for refusing to wear a mask. But Powell’s lawyer, Michael Engle, insisted his client would follow the rules if set free.
“We appreciate the court giving Rachel the opportunity to return to her family and to be reunited with her children,” Engle told The Daily Beast after the hearing. “Obviously, we have a lot of work to do in order to determine how to best proceed with this case moving forward, but today was a significant step in the right direction for Rachel so she can see her children and address this matter from home instead of being incarcerated.”
Powell, 40, was arrested by the FBI in New Castle, Pennsylvania on Feb. 4, capping off a nationwide manhunt during which the then-fugitive gave a rambling phone interview to Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker. Powell, who sells cheese and yogurt at a farmers’ market in Western Pennsylvania, is facing charges of obstruction, depredation of government property, entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon, and violent entry/disorderly conduct. The government said in a court filing that Powell left her kids alone at home when she joined the Jan. 6 riot.
“The defendant abandoned her children and traveled to the District of Columbia to participate in an act of insurrection,” prosecutors wrote. “She came prepared, armed with earmuffs designed to muffle gunfire and wearing a jacket designed to conceal a weapon. Not content to peacefully demonstrate, she used a battering ram to break into the U.S. Capitol. In doing so, she put the lives of both law enforcement and rioters in jeopardy. Then, she directed her fellow rioters on how best to penetrate the Capitol. By directly encouraging violence and destruction, the defendant fueled a situation that threatened the peaceful transfer of power in the United States.”
On Tuesday, a federal magistrate judge in Pennsylvania ordered Powell released pending trial. In response, the government immediately asked for a stay of the order. Powell was held until Howell handed down her decision on Thursday.
Violently entering the Capitol building is a “very serious” offense that carries up to 20 years in prison, and the government has cell tower data placing Powell at the riot, Howell said during today’s remote hearing. Powell was “enthusiastically” participating in the insurrection, using a bullhorn to give instructions about ways to further penetrate the Capitol, and used a battering ram to smash a window, Howell continued, adding that Powell then gave an interview to The New Yorker “and admitted her involvement in trying to disrupt our constitutional democracy.”
Still, Howell said she caused only property damage and didn’t bring weapons with her to D.C. Further, Powell self-surrendered to the FBI, turned in her passport and, after her Feb. 4 arrest, made arrangements to remove several legally-owned guns from her home, which Howell said also weighed in favor of Powell’s release.
Plus, Howell said, the Department of Justice didn’t object to two members of the Proud Boys who scrawled “Murder the Media” on a door inside the Capitol, being set free on bail. Howell questioned whether Powell, who has no criminal history, has strong ties to her area, and homeschools five of her eight kids, could be considered a greater danger to the community by comparison.
“When the government appeals the decision of the magistrate judge to the district court, it’s a whole new assessment of the evidence by a different judge, so you never know what’s going to happen,” Engle said. “We were pleased [Howell] decided these conditions were appropriate.”
An anonymous tipster first outed Powell to authorities, according to court documents. The FBI was then able to match Facebook photos of Powell wearing a distinctive set of earmuffs with those she was seen wearing at the Capitol.
Powell only recently began expressing extreme political views, in the past posting mostly anodyne missives on Facebook about yoga and organic food. After reportedly becoming influenced by figures such as Infowars founder Alex Jones, who claimed the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has made countless false claims while serving as Donald Trump’s personal attorney, her tone changed.
“It isn’t to [sic] late to wake up, say no, and restore freedoms,” Powell wrote on Facebook last May.
In a search of Powell’s home and car, agents found three "go bags" containing, among other things, ammunition, zip ties, rope, duct tape, knives, throwing stars, and two loaded magazines for an AK-47. They also turned up a number of cell phones that appeared to have been smashed to pieces in what prosecutors believe may have been an attempt by Powell to destroy evidence.
“It’s crazy,” a neighbor of Powell’s told Pittsburgh CBS News affiliate KDKA. “We’re Republican but we’d never do something like that. Biden’s the president right now. Live with it. Get over it.”