A Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune has become the latest North Carolina resident charged in connection with the riot at the U.S. Capitol — and the first to be on active military duty at the time he committed his alleged crime.
Newly unsealed documents filed in the federal courts of Washington, D.C., show that Sgt. Dodge Dale Hellonen was arrested Wednesday at Camp Lejeune on the misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry into the Capitol. He made his initial federal court appearance in Wilmington.
Two other Marines who were Hellonen’s companions on Jan. 6, 2021, when an angry mob stormed the building to stop congressional certification of former President Donald Trump’s defeat to Joe Biden, also have been charged with unlawful entry in the case, records show.
They are identified as Cpl. Micah Coomer, who was arrested near the Marine base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Sgt. Joshua Abate, who was taken into custody at Fort Meade, Md.
Hellonen is originally is from Michigan; Coomer from Indiana; and Abate, from Virginia.
“We are aware of the investigation and the allegations,” a Marine Corps spokesperson said in a statement emailed to The Charlotte Observer on Thursday. “The Marine Corps is fully cooperating with (the) appropriate authorities.”
Hellonen becomes at least the 26th North Carolina resident federally charged in connection with the riot, which has been tied to five deaths and millions of dollars in damages to the Capitol. Some 140 police officers defending the building were also injured.
The massive, ongoing investigation has led so far to more than 950 arrests. According to the Program of Extremism at George Washington University, about 120 of the Capitol defendants have military backgrounds. Relatively few have been active-duty at the time of their arrests.
In May 2021, a Marine Corps major from Virginia became the first active duty military member to be charged.
North Carolina has had two active duty military personnel arrested so far. However, James Mault, who was taken into custody at Fort Bragg, was a New York ironworker at the time of the riot. Mault re-enlisted in the Army after losing his job when his role in the Capitol riot came to light. He was active duty until 2016 and was a National Guard member on Jan. 6.
Mault pleaded guilty to the felony charge of assaulting police and was sentenced in July to 44 months, the longest prison term handed down to date to an N.C. defendant.
According to an FBI affidavit, Hellonen and his companions — who’ve all received the Marine Corps’ good conduct medal as well as multiple other decorations — entered the Capitol on the Senate side of the building, spent about an hour inside, but never took part in the violence.
While they were in the Rotunda, the affidavit claims, one of them placed a MAGA hat atop a statue and the three posed for pictures.
Hellonen carried a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. He was identified to the FBI by a fellow Marine at Camp Lejeune, according to the affidavit.
The ties between military personnel and militia groups linked to the Capitol violence appear strong.
A Program on Extremism report in April 2021 found that more than a third of those arrested who had military backgrounds also had ties to extremist organizations. Court documents do not show any such ties involving Helleron, Coomer and Abate.
According to the FBI affidavit, however, Coomer believed Trump’s unfounded claims that he had lost the election due to a massive election fraud conspiracy orchestrated by the Democrats. Based on emails he wrote that were included in the affidavit, he also believed violence might be needed to save the country.
“One of my buddies here got a ballot for his cat that died three years ago. It’s literally a joke to them,” Coomer wrote on Instagram the day after Trump’s election loss.
Three weeks after the riot Coomer went back online.
“It just goes to show that everything in this country is corrupt. We honestly need a fresh restart. I’m waiting for the boogaloo,” Coomer wrote on Jan. 31, 2001.
“I agree,” one unidentified person responded, “but what’s a boogaloo?”
Coomer: “Civil War 2.”
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