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Active-duty Marine from Camp Lejeune pleads guilty to charge tied to US Capitol riot

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Riot police clear the hallway inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Michael Gordon

The Charlotte Observer

A Marine from Camp Lejeune, who was on active duty when he broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, pleaded guilty Monday to a misdemeanor charge tied to the 2021 riot.

Sgt. Dodge Dale Hellonen faces up to six months in prison for his crime of unlawful entry into the Capitol, documents show. He will be sentenced at a later date by U.S. District Judge Ana Reyes.

Two Marine companions of Hellonen — Cpl. Micah Coomer of Camp Pendleton, California, and Sgt. Joshua Abate of Fort Meade, Maryland — have also pleaded guilty to the same charge, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington and related court documents.

All three received intelligence-related promotions after Jan. 6, The Intercept previously reported.

Hellonen’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Halerie Costello of Raleigh, told the court during the Monday plea hearing that her client will “likely” face punishment in the military system and that “he may be separated” from the Marines rather than charged in military court, The Washington Post reported.

A headquarters spokesman for the Marines told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the Corps “continues cooperating with the appropriate authorities. The Marine Corps does not provide further comment on ongoing legal matters.”

Hellonen, a Michigan native who joined the Marines in August 2017, was assigned to the Marine Raider Support Battalion, which supports special operations at Camp Lejeune.

He is among 28 North Carolina residents federally charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 violence, which has been linked to at least five deaths.

Some 140 police officers guarding the building were injured when hundreds of supporters of Donald Trump stormed the building to stop congressional certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win.

A dozen North Carolina residents already have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from nine days to almost four years.

Hellonen, who was arrested last January after being identified to the FBI by a fellow Marine at Camp Lejeune, is the state’s first Jan. 6 defendant to have been on active military duty at the time of the riot.

James Mault, who was taken into custody at Fort Bragg, was a New York ironworker and National Guard member at the time of the Capitol siege who re-enlisted in the Army after losing his job when his Jan. 6 role came to light.

Mault pleaded guilty to the felony charge of assaulting police and was sentenced in July 2022 to 44 months, still the longest prison term handed down to date to an N.C. defendant.

Overall, some 1,050 arrests have been made. 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 charged.

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 links to extremist organizations. Court documents do not show any such ties involving Hellonen, Coomer and Abate.

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.

According to the 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.

“I just love how after years of trying to get trump out of office by any means the left all of a sudden is going to have a ‘fair’ election. They’re an absolute joke,” he wrote on Instagram on Nov. 7, 2020, the day the presidential race was called for Biden. “One of my buddies here got a ballot for his cat that died three years ago. It’s literally a joke to them.”

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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(The Charlotte Observer’s Gavin Off contributed to this story.)

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