Capitol rioter who said she wanted to shoot Pelosi pleads guilty
Washington DC - A Bucks County gym owner who recorded herself during the storming of the Capitol saying she was looking for Speaker Nancy Pelosi "to shoot her in the friggin’ brain" pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor Tuesday, making her the latest Pennsylvanian to admit her role in the January 6 riot.
Dawn Bancroft (59) of Doylestown told a federal judge she didn’t mean to threaten the House speaker and described her remark in hindsight as a "stupid, juvenile comment" made in the heat of the moment.
Yet US District Judge Emmet G Sullivan expressed concern about Bancroft’s statements and questioned why prosecutors had agreed to let her plead to a misdemeanor count of illegally demonstrating, picketing or parading inside the Capitol – which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison – instead of pursuing more serious charges of threatening a member of Congress.
"It’s very troubling to hear that the reason (she) was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was essentially to murder the speaker of the House," the judge said.
His remarks came on a day that saw two other Pennsylvania residents admit that they took part in the January 6 insurrection. Also pleading guilty Tuesday was Diana Santos-Smith (32) of Bucks County, who traveled by train with Bancroft to Washington and who appeared in the background of her incriminating selfie video.
Sullivan ultimately accepted the misdemeanor pleas from both women despite his reservations. But he warned them he would have much more to say about their conduct when it came time for sentencing in January.
He marveled at just how many otherwise law-abiding citizens had "morphed into terrorists" that day and said he agreed with recent comments from former President George W. Bush alluding to the Capitol riot as an act of domestic terrorism on par with the September 11 attacks.
"What were you thinking?" the judge asked Santos-Smith as he accepted her guilty plea. "How the heck did you get yourself into this mess?"
Neither woman offered much in the way of explanation. But Bancroft, a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and owner of the CrossFit Sine Pari gym in Doylestown, said she recognized her actions that day were wrong.
"I’m guilty," she told Sullivan. "And I’m going to take the consequences."
"That's what friends are for"
Bancroft and Santos-Smith admitted that they had been among the mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump that stormed the Capitol’s west side under scaffolding set up in anticipation of his successor’s inauguration.
They broke into the building through an already shattered window and spent less than a minute inside, prosecutors said, before making their way back out again.
It was while they were trying to push their way back out through the crowd that Bancroft filmed herself and Santos-Smith.
"We broke into the Capitol. We got inside. We did our part," she said. "We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain. We didn’t find her, but all is good."
Assistant US Attorney Sean Murphy said his office opted not to charge Bancroft with threatening a member of Congress because her remarks about shooting Pelosi were made as she and Santos-Smith were leaving the building and there was no evidence that either of them was armed that day.
Unlike many of the rioters who have been charged, Bancroft did not post her video to social media and instead sent it only to a friend, said her attorney Carina Laguzzi.
"Although the court is correct that it’s very troubling," she said, "it was not posted and it was not meant for mass distribution."
The friend in question, Laguzzi noted, ended up forwarding the video to the FBI, leading to Bancroft and Santos-Smith’s arrests.
"Well," quipped Sullivan, "that’s what friends are for."
Earlier Tuesday, another Pennsylvanian – a Lehigh Valley man – pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor charge in a video hearing before US District Judge Dabney L Friedrich.
Jackson Kostolsky (31) of South Whitehall Township admitted to FBI agents in January that he had been inside the building after they caught him in a distinctive leopard-print vest on security video. His sentencing is scheduled for December 21.
He, Bancroft, and Santos-Smith all remain free under court supervision.
In all, 55 Pennsylvanians have been charged with participating in the riot, the most of any state aside from Texas and Florida. So far, 11 of them have pleaded guilty.
Cover photo: US Department of Justice Criminal Complaint