A Chattanooga man posed with a noose at a makeshift gallows outside the U.S. Capitol the day of the insurrection, an image that has been turned over to the FBI for investigation — one of three such cases handed off from Chattanooga police to federal authorities.
Chris Wicker, a local landlord and handyman, created a hailstorm on social media this week for the selfie taken Jan. 6, the day rioters broke into the Capitol after a rally by then-President Donald Trump, who urged them to "fight like hell" against that day's congressional certification of his reelection loss to Democrat Joe Biden, who has since taken office.
In a telephone interview with the Times Free Press, Wicker said the crowd's actions were appropriate, given their belief that the election was stolen. Trump fired the crowd up to confront Congress with his claims that he was a victim of election fraud, even after state officials, his own administration, dozens of judges and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his argument.
"Toeing the line of being a radical, I don't think it got out of hand at all. I think it was a reasonable response to what those people, that city, has done to us as a population," Wicker said, comparing the riot to last summer's unrest related to police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. "I think any reasonable person can see that. For the Trump people, myself included, any idea that the election was a fair one is just crazy."
Wicker received criticism this week from users who accused him of being racist and insensitive for posting the image. Wicker's participation was publicized on social media by a Twitter user in Virginia by the name Molly Conger, who has been working to identify participants in the storming of the Capitol. Such sleuthing to identify people online is sometimes known as doxxing because it can rely on public documents. Wicker responded online with a selfie captioned "Hey that's me! Get f---ed commie."
"*To the tune of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun* boys just wanna get doxxed," Conger wrote, retweeting the selfie and sparking thousands of interactions with the photo.
Wicker noted he has been "known to brush up with controversy" even before posting multiple calls to action ahead of the Capitol riot, in which he encouraged Trump supporters to pack arms and other supplies to defend the former president, beginning Nov. 6. He claimed on Twitter that he had been banned from Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's Facebook page for making crude comments. A spokesperson for Berke said that Wicker made inappropriate remarks that were sometimes hidden from view on the Facebook page, but said Wicker was not blocked.
As Parler, Facebook and Twitter posts like Wicker's get reported to law enforcement, the FBI is investigating individuals who may have been involved in the breach and destruction at the Capitol, resulting in around 300 identified suspects and the arrests of over 100 people, including five Tennesseans, so far.
"We are making progress on all fronts — the pipe bomb case, the rioting and violence investigation and the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. This is a large puzzle with so many pieces, and we are working diligently to put those pieces together," FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D'Antuono said last week. "We continue to work closely with our partners in the DC U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as with other law enforcement partners here and across the country. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their partnership and collaboration in tracking down, arresting, and charging those responsible for the Capitol riots."
Locally, Chattanooga Police have turned over the names of three individuals, including Wicker, who may have had involvement in the break-in. The others have not been identified.
Wicker told the Times Free Press that he didn't make it into the Capitol, although he tried.
"Our side didn't actually get in, because it was stuck at the portico where the president-elect walks in to be inaugurated," Wicker said, when asked.
Later, while talking about the gallows structure, Wicker briefly said he and his friend entered the Capitol, then corrected himself.
"When my friend and I were going into the Capitol, you know into the, into the crowd, there was a big line there at that gallows, and they were taking selfies with it," he said. "And on the way out it was like 'Yeah OK. We'll take a picture with it.'"
Had the crowd on his side made it into the building, Wicker said he would have joined in.
"If we had broken through, I probably would have headed in the Capitol building too," he said. "Ultimately, illegality isn't my intention or what I did. What I did was, somewhat cowardly, walk around.
"I would support political violence in any sense if all other options, especially legal options, had been exhausted."
Wicker said he expects more violence in the "revolution" that began at the Capitol.
"Everyone wants to say it's passed, it's over. But what you've got now is a left wing that has political violence as an element of it and a right wing that's kind of like a girl who's just lost her virginity. Like 'Oh my God, we just did that. Was it good, was it bad?'" he said. "And then as the country gets worse, which it almost certainly will over the next eight to 10 months the country will almost certainly have a drop in the standard of living over the next 10 months and going into the next there will be shortages of things we're not used to having shortages of.
"It's not going to be very pretty."
Wicker said that the gallows pictures were a "provocative piece of art" and not a functional threat, noting that he "would have preferred a guillotine."
"The stairs were broken as the thing was not made to my personal quality standards," he wrote in a separate tweet. "Don't worry, a better one will be built next time."
FBI officials would not say whether Wicker is under investigation.