Gay #Walkaway Founder Arrested for Role in Capitol Riot

TWITTER/ BRANDON STRAKA

The out gay founder of a movement that encouraged Democrats to leave that political party and join the Republican Party was arrested in Nebraska for his participation in the rioting that took place on January 6 in the Capitol building as Congress gathered to count the electoral votes for president and vice president.

“The FBI received multiple tips referencing the video of [Brandon] Straka at the US Capitol, including a tip from Witness-1,” a January 25 criminal complaint says, noting that “Witness-1” is “a relative of Straka.”

The complaint references content on social media accounts that Straka uses that the FBI agent who wrote the complaint cited to show probable cause to make the arrest. The posts include an eight-minute video of a livestream that Straka made during the January 6 riot. It shows him marching up the Capitol building steps and stopping a few yards from a door into the building. The FBI “received multiple tips referencing the video of Straka at the U.S. Capitol,” the complaint says. Media outlets in Nebraska reported that Straka, 44, was arrested in Omaha. Straka, who founded the #WalkAway Campaign, was raised in Nebraska and subsequently moved to New York City, where he had a career as a hair stylist — though he may have left New York City.

Straka faces one count of “impeding law officer enforcement during civil disorder,” one count of “knowingly entering and remaining on restricted grounds without lawful authority and/or engaging in disorderly conduct within proximity to a restricted building to impede official function,” and one count of engaging in “disorderly conduct with intent to disturb a hearing before Congress.” These appear to be misdemeanors, though disrupting Congress can be charged as a felony.

Straka has over 552,000 followers on Twitter and there was an outpouring of sympathy for him on that app. Some of his followers were using #FreeBrandon, #FreeBrandonStraka, and similar hashtags. But some in the LGBTQ community were not at all sympathetic, noting that the January 6 riot was an effort to overturn an entirely legal election result that was untainted by any fraud or cheating.

“I’m delighted to see that the traitor @BrandonStraka will ‘walk away’ in handcuffs,” wrote Wayne Besen, a longtime LGBTQ activist, on Twitter. “The gay seditionist stormed the Capitol and urged rioting thugs to ‘take the shield’ from a policeman. I hope the prison guards remember his particular crime. Lock him up!”

At about four minutes into the livestream, the crowd assaults a police officer while chanting “USA, USA.” The crowd took a plastic shield from the officer. The FBI agent who wrote the complaint asserted that Straka participated in the chanting, though that is not clear in the video because many people are chanting. There is no indication that he entered the building. An archived webpage sent to Gay City News by an anonymous tipster shows Straka tweeting “I was quite close to entering myself as police began tear gassing us from the door. I inhaled tear gas & got it in my eyes.”

Capitol police are known to have used tear gas inside the building. In the livestream, a person near Straka can be heard saying they smell the gas, but no gas is visible in the video. At about six minutes in the livestream, Straka turns his phone on himself and says “They’re using gas, we’re being gassed right now.”

Straka founded the #WalkAway Campaign in 2018 after posting a six-minute video on YouTube in which he cited some standard right wing complaints about the left, including some that the Democratic Party would likely also agree to. While professing loyalty to the Democrats, a 2019 review of his voting record at the city Board of Elections showed that he had voted just six times since registering as a Democrat in 2004 and only one of those votes was cast in a primary. He was popular among conservatives. He spoke at major right wing events, such as the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, as it is known, campaign rallies for Trump, and continues to appear on far right media outlets.

Straka was scheduled to speak in Washington, DC the night before the riot at a rally that included some leading anti-LGBTQ voices, including a speaker from the Eagle Forum, a right wing group. With right wing groups and social media companies purging content related to the riot from web sites and apps, Gay City News could not confirm if Straka spoke at that rally.

In 2019, Straka rented a room at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center for a #WalkAway Campaign town hall. Following a community outcry, the Center cancelled the rental. Straka sued, but the case was dismissed in 2020.

To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.

More from Around NYC