By Jody DiPerna
Pittsburgh Current Senior Contributor
Just about a month after actively participating in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, Rachel Powell had a video detention hearing in the Federal Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, February 9th. Easy to spot during the riot with her distinctive pink knit hat and black jacket with fur lined hoodie, Powell became known on social media as the ‘Pink Hat Lady’ or ‘Bullhorn Lady.’ Following the hearing, Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan ordered the conditional release of the 40-year-old mother of eight, pending a stay granted to the federal prosecutor until 5:00 on Wednesday afternoon.
Jessica Lieber Smolar, attorney for the United States, indicated that an indictment has not yet been handed down on the case of USA v Rachel Powell, but the charges against Powell of obstruction, depredation of government property, restricted building or grounds with a dangerous weapon, and violent entry or disorderly conduct, come with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
FBI Special Agent Carlos Fontanez testified to ample evidence of Powell’s actions that day. In one video, she can be seen working in concert with another rioter to use a large pipe as a battering ram to smash one of the windows of the Capitol Building, one that was eventually breached.
In another video, she uses her bullhorn to instruct other insurrectionists that, “People should probably coordinate together if you’re going to take this building,” and “We got to break another window to make in and out easy.” There are also photographs and videos of her inside the building.
Fontanez also said that he was one of the FBI agents to respond to the rampage at the Capitol. He described the crime scene, saying there was blood on the floor, broken glass everywhere and that it was full of smoke and confusion.
Besides her hat, the FBI confirmed Powell’s presence in DC on the day of the riot with multiple pings from her cellphone. They also noted the headphones that she was photographed with at the Capitol — noise canceling headphones that one might use at a gun range — matching them to a pair she is seen wearing in a photo taken of her at a gun range with a 9 mm glock which was posted to her Facebook account in October, 2020.
No Western Pennsylvania trial, not even one of this gravity and consequence, would be complete without about a dozen references to Sheetz.
Late on February 3rd, the FBI swore out a warrant for Powell’s arrest and contacted her attorney, Michael Engle of Armstrong Teasdale based in Philadelphia, the next morning at 7:00 am. At some point thereafter, he spoke with his client and her to go to the FBI’s New Castle office. Which she did.
But not before stopping for lunch at Sheetz in Duncannon for a no meat quesadilla and curly fries, as evidenced by a receipt found in her car when she turned herself in at 6:45 that evening. They also found two magazines for an AK and several Glock magazines in her car that night.
Powell has a license and a conceal carry permit for the glock, which is being held by a friend at the moment so that there would be no guns in her home while she was away, according to Engle. As part of her release, any guns that Powell owns must be turned over to local law enforcement.
Though Powell was infamous, and though the FBI had released a BOLO (be on the lookout for) on January 16th, she was not technically a fugitive from justice at that time. But she was in the wind, so to speak. On January 30th, she contacted her ex-husband, Richard Powell, and left the kids with him. Their eight children range in age from four to early/mid-twenties and at least five of those children are still underage. (Testimony varied at the hearing — it was unclear if five or six of the Powell children are minors.)
When she last spoke to her ex-husband, she gave him no forwarding address and, according to the FBI, she didn’t contact him after that.
Two days later, on February 1st, an interview with Powell ran in the New Yorker magazine. In speaking with reporter Ronan Farrow, she did not deny being at the Capitol and taking part in the insurrection. She also told Farrow that she spent her childhood in California, but her family moved to West Sunbury, Pennsylvania when she was an adolescent. She currently lives in Sandy Lake (about 30 miles north Slippery Rock) in Mercer County, where she does yoga, makes cheese, gardens, raises chickens, and home schools her children.
The FBI search of Powell’s home in Sandy Lake on February 4th uncovered several “go-bags” or “bug out bags,” as agent Fontanez described them. They were gym bags or backpacks containing things like rope, duct tape, ammunition, multiple knives and ninja star blades, and lighters. They found a similar bag in her car.
What they didn’t find that day was a cellphone, though they did find a box for an iPhone that matched the one which pinged the DC cell towers.
Arguing for the government, Smolar tried to establish this as suspicious behavior by asking agent Fontanez if it was unusual for suspects to show up sans phone. At which point, attorney Engle interrupted to say, “unless they have an experienced attorney who advises them that whatever they have on them will be confiscated by the government.”
From a video room used at the Butler County Jail where she is being held, Powell seemed reserved. Only when her defense lawyer spoke of her children in his closing argument did she start to cry. He argued that not only did her children need her at home, but that she was not a flight risk for another very practical reason — that Rachel Powell simply doesn’t have the financial means or resources to take flight.
There was a barely perceptible nod from the defendant when Judge Lenihan said that she was appalled and disgusted by Powell’s behavior in the videos shown at the hearing. The Judge went on to say, “You were an active actor in this Capitol invasion,” actions which she characterized as crimes against democracy.
The terms of her release are $10,000 in unsecured bond, the surrender of her passport, supervision and home monitoring, the surrender of any firearms, and that her movement is restricted to the Western District of Pennsylvania.
This past year, Powell has railed against mask policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and has moved further and further right and into conspiracy theory land in her thinking. In the New Yorker interview, she referred to Alex Jones [the Sandy Hook Truther and Inforwars provocatuer who once claimed that the FBI did something shady that made frogs gay] as “another journalist to listen to” who has “interesting things to say.”
Like many of her fellow rioters on January 6th, she has imbibed the Big Lie propounded by former-President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani — that the election was fraudulent and that it was stolen. It is a big lie that led to the deaths of five people and another hundred being injured that day. It has also led to Rachel Powell facing a trial that may end up landing her in jail for twenty years.