A Victorville gym owner known for defying the state’s lockdown orders during the COVID-19 pandemic was arrested Tuesday on suspicion that he was part of the violent incursion into the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Trump.
Jacob Lewis faces two felonies: entering the Capitol’s restricted grounds, and violent entry and disorderly conduct. After his arrest at his home Tuesday morning, a U.S. magistrate judge authorized Lewis’ release on a $50,000 bond and required him to wear a electronic monitor while he awaits future court appearances.
Lewis was captured in several photos taken during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol in which Trump supporters stormed the building seeking to block Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory over Trump in the November election, according to the criminal complaint. Photos showed him moving through the building’s corridors and passing through doors into Senate’s wing of the building, prosecutors alleged in court filings.
Two days after the riot, in which five people died, authorities received a tip from someone who revealed Lewis had posted videos to Instagram from inside the Capitol. A second tipster then reported that in December Lewis had shown them photos of firearms he allegedly possessed and inquired about how to buy ammunition, according to court filings. At the time, Lewis warned the person to “watch what happens to the Capitol January 6th,” prosecutors said.
Lewis, 37, became a well-known figure in circles that opposed strict measures imposed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. In May, he reopened his gym at a time when state rules had shuttered exercised facilities. Lewis argued that he should be allowed to open because gyms were essential to people’s physical and mental health. His defiance was featured in several news stories.
When he was questioned by FBI agents on Jan 15, prosecutors said, Lewis acknowledged he entered the Capitol, but claimed he was never told that he could not be permitted to do so, despite the hundreds of police officers that were stationed around the building and fought to keep the mob out. Lewis claimed in the interview that he was “escorted” into the building by police officers and denied being involved in any violence, according to a complaint.
Lewis is the latest person from Southern California to be charged with participating in the attack on the Capitol. FBI agents have swept up a motley crew of characters known locally for their opposition to pandemic orders and support for Trump. They include a Beverly Hills beautician, a Beverly Hills concierge physician, an aspiring actor and the grandson of Glendora’s former mayor.
On Friday FBI agents arrested a Federal Aviation Administration employee who lives in Beaumont on charges of taking part in the siege. Nationally, more than 150 people have been charged in connection with the riot and more charges are expected.
And in Orange County on Tuesday, FBI agents searched the Ladera Ranch home of a businessman known for leading efforts to oppose the state’s lockdown orders and helping to organize pro-Trump rallies after the election. Investigators found an unknown number of weapons during the search, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Authorities declined to identify the man, but property records and neighbors identified him as Russ Taylor, an outspoken conservative activist who has led anti-mask protests and pro-Trump rallies across Orange County. No arrests were made in connection with the search.
Taylor on Tuesday did not return calls for comment. In a social media post two weeks ago, he acknowledged being at the rally, but denied entering the Capitol. In the post, Taylor also defended a Capistrano Unified School District elementary school teacher, Kristine Hostetter, who came under scrutiny after parents complained they saw images of her marching on the Capitol.
“The commies on the left are in full-blown [assault] on American freedoms. I was there with Kris Hostetter. She never stepped foot into the capitol building,” he wrote. Lewis added that “desperate people are making false claims, spreading rumors and contacting the authorities based on their vindictive and toxic behaviors.”
“As we approached with the crowd, Kris saw it was already total chaos, turned around and immediately returned to her hotel room. Not only did we not enter the building, she never set foot on the exterior of the Capitol grounds.”
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.