‘Infamy is just as good as fame’: UK student among crowd that mobbed Capitol building

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Natalie Parks

Jan. 17, 2020 update: A federal affidavit supporting criminal charges against Courtright was filed in D.C. court on Jan. 16, 2020, showing new evidence of Courtright in the Capitol and supporting probable cause for four federal charges.

As law enforcement agencies begin tracking down rioters who mobbed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, social media users are contributing recorded posts and photos confirming the presence of those they recognize at the Capitol.

Hundreds of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol building in the afternoon of Jan. 6, interrupting the vote to certify the election of Joe Biden as President. Members of Congress were instructed to hide and then evacuate as the mob made its way into the Senate chambers.

UK student Gracyn Courtright is one of the mob participants inside the Capitol identified by social media users.

According to UK spokesperson Kathy Johnson, Courtright is a senior mathematical economics major at UK. In videos and pictures obtained by the Kernel, Courtright is seen marching in the pro-Trump crowd and participating in chants.

Courtright has not responded to the Kernel’s request for comment.

The videos, originally posted on Courtright’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, are recorded inside of the Capitol building. The camera’s point of view shows the hallways of the building filled with pro-Trump rioters.

“Nobody fighting or destroying anything some of my CNN & Fox News watchers need to think for themselves,” Courtright captioned one video.

Videos and photos taken by reporters from the looting of the Capitol show smashed windows, bullet holes, ransacked offices, graffiti and theft of both Capitol property and that of elected representatives.

Other videos show rioters destroying the property of news outlets, chasing reporters and harassing Capitol police.

Courtright’s video appears to be taken near the front of the mob as they clash with limited security forces. The lack of effective security measures and benign response of some officers during the riot have drawn widespread criticism from the public and Congress representatives alike.

“The police officers walked around with us, nobody is being violent !!!!! (From what I saw),” Courtright captioned another tweet, which showed further footage inside the Capitol. The camera flips around to briefly show her face as the crowd chants.

According to D.C. police, one officer died from violence during the attack, one protestor died from gunshot wounds and three others from medical emergencies during the riot. Pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails were also found nearby.

Courtright — a native of Hurricane, W. Va. — also posted two photos during the attack on the Capitol, one showing her holding up an American flag and captioned “can’t wait to tell my grandkids I was here.” A second photo posted just before 4 p.m. shows Courtright standing on a bench outside of the Capitol building.

Nia Balbo, a Lexington resident, said she first saw Courtright’s posts after a friend sent them to her. She recognized Courtright as a friend of a friend and began saving the videos, expecting them to be deleted later.

Balbo was motivated to save her posts to try and hold people accountable for the chaos of Wednesday, adding that it wasn’t personal against Courtright.

“I’m only doing this because I think these people need to be held accountable for what happened. Yesterday was disgraceful and embarrassing and absolutely unacceptable,” Balbo said.

Balbo said she saw a lot of pushback in the comments under Courtright’s tweets, which are no longer accessible, with very little positive reactions.

“Someone was like, ‘I love you. You’re the best.’ That was like the only person I saw actually praised her. Every other interaction I saw was very negative and trying to hold her accountable like I’m doing.”

Balbo, who works in social media, was already watching the Capitol attack unfold in real time – but seeing someone she knew there made it feel more real.

“Finding out that someone that I knew was part of the problem, I mean, it lit a fire under me,” she said.

By 7 p.m. on Wednesday, there were a dozen tweets calling out Courtright’s posts. Some users tagged the FBI in their posts, and some tagged the University of Kentucky.

One Twitter user said “Gracyn Courtright going to the capital and not thinking she’s committing treason is truly theeeeeeee ‘audacity of the caucasity.’”

Others called for her enrollment at UK to be withdrawn, or for her to be “arrested and kicked out of school” as one user suggested.

Following the backlash on her posts, Courtright posted a picture to her Instagram story either late Wednesday or early Thursday with the text “Infamy is just as good as fame. Either way I end up more known. XOXO.”

Courtright has since deactivated both her Instagram and Twitter accounts.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is actively seeking the public’s help in identifying rioters.

A Twitter user said Courtright’s presence at the Capitol storming has been reported to the FBI’s dedicated submission link.

Balbo said multiple people sent her the FBI link to report Courtright. She said it was “a little frustrating” to see law enforcement rely on the public to find rioters, when they have the capability and resources to do so themselves.

“But at the same time, I don’t think anyone who is finding these people has a problem with that per se, because if we can help them find them faster, that’s just a little effort today and that way those people are held accountable tomorrow instead of Saturday,” Balbo said.

Courtright has since been identified by @homegrownterrorists, an Instagram account with 352,000 followers dedicated to reporting those who attacked the Capitol.

Robert Duncan, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said he would hold Kentuckians accountable for their actions. Lexington falls in the eastern district for Kentucky.

“I join with my colleagues who have pledged the same in their districts: if we can prove you travelled from EDKY to DC to commit violent criminal acts, then you will be prosecuted by the @USAO_EDKY. We are sworn to protect the Constitution and uphold the law,” Duncan said in a tweet.

Duncan’s office has not responded to the Kernel’s request for comment on the status of any prosecutions relating to the attack on the Capitol. Duncan has since resigned from his position.

Those who entered the Capitol may be charged for a variety of crimes, including but not limited to breaking into the Capitol by force, crossing state lines to commit a crime, vandalism and “the willful injury of federal property,” according to the Washington Post.

The law also forbids stepping on, climbing on or removing architectural features like statues, walls and seats on Capitol grounds. Appearing on the floor of the House or Senate without express permission, as some participants did, is also prohibited.

Courtright’s posts show her inside the hallways of the Capitol.

Violations of federal, state and local law are included in UK’s Code of Student Conduct as “contrary to UK’s values and prohibited.” 

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton said the university would not comment on individual disciplinary matters, but affirmed that the Code of Student Conduct applies both on and off campus.

“If local, state or federal laws are broken – and the university is made aware of such action – the student code of conduct applies,” Blanton said. Blanton said the university takes formal reports in this area but informal reports qualify as well.

A change.org petition was started by Branden Gobeli on Saturday calling on the University of Kentucky to expel Courtright. Within 24 hours of its creation, the petition had garnered over 500 signatures, showing 568 as of 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10.

“The actions by Gracyn Courtright on that day damage the democratic values that the University of Kentucky and United States stands for, undermine the institutions that are the bedrock of our great democracy, and completely insult and undercut the work that I and thousands of other University of Kentucky students put in every day to increase civic engagement among students and defend our democratic values and institutions,” wrote Gobeli on the petition site.

Gobeli, an economics and political science student, said he made the petition because he believes universities should set a precedent for consequences in these cases, especially with more riots planned leading up the inauguration.

“That precedent, I believe, should be that if a student engages in a particular action, such as a riot or insurrection, that aims to undermine, damage, or destroy the foundations of our democratic institutions or norms while attending such university, that student has no place at that university,” Gobeli said.

Gobeli said the petition has received many responses agreeing with the call for expulsion, with signatories bringing to light other relevant aspects of the situation – including the effect on students on color and COVID-19 exposure.

“As a UK student, I was very disappointed in her actions. The state of Kentucky does not have the greatest reputation and some of that reputation reflects on UK being Kentucky’s university,” Gobeli said. “With that, I hold worries that many may take the actions that she took as representative of the view of the student body or administration at UK or Kentucky as a whole.”

He noted that in his three years at UK, he has seen a version of the university that is trying to be more inclusive and more tolerant and doesn’t want Courtright’s actions to undermine the hard work done by minority student groups.

“I believed it was important for UK to hear how hurt the student body is from actions Ms. Courtright partook in, how the work of many students is negatively affected by her actions, and how the students at the UK value accountability against those who do use or the country we call home harm,” Gobeli said.

Courtright’s posts and the subsequent social media response correlate with nationwide trends in the aftermath of Wednesday’s events. Hundreds of posts naming individuals seen in the mob have flooded social media, with users calling out their colleagues, acquaintances, community members – even their own relatives.

“Twitter is almost famous for finding those people in their everyday job,” Balbo said, adding that she sees many people on social media doing so in the wake of the riot.

Many Americans were swift to call out the hypocrisy in the police response to the pro-Trump crowd compared to the heavy gear and numbers of the police presence at BLM protests.

Balbo, who participated in BLM protests over the summer, said Wednesday’s events showed a stark contrast between police approaches and a contrast of words and actions among the MAGA crowd.

“I watched as people who were truly, truly just standing there, and in some cases just laying on the ground, entirely defenseless, entirely non-threatening, be picked up by police officers, be put in handcuffs and told that they were disturbing the peace. They weren’t doing anything,” Balbo said, comparing it to how Capitol rioters treated the police.

“People who were screaming and pushing officers yesterday, who they supposedly care so much about, that’s what they were preaching back when there would be Blue Lives Matters and saying they cared so much about the police and We need to respect the law and order and all this. And that’s not what happened yesterday,” Balbo said.

Many rioters were allowed to walk away from the Capitol on Wednesday; as of Friday morning, only 82 people had been arrested for crimes related to the attack, according to the LA Times. Capitol police only made 14 arrests on Wednesday night.

Comparatively, 289 people were arrested by D.C. police during one day of BLM protests in June. The Washington Post estimates that 14,000 people were arrested nationwide in connection with the summer’s protests.

“I think that one of the main reasons that those people felt comfortable storming the Capitol yesterday is because they recognized that they weren’t going to face the heaviest penalties, if any. There was a certain level of comfort, so to speak, that they had knowing that. They could show up to a government building in our nation’s capital with weapons and intent of violence and chaos, and they didn’t think anything would happen,” Balbo said.

Balbo said she hopes and believes that participants in the mob will be prosecuted and held accountable.

“A lot of these people went in with the idea that they were going to just walk home and a lot of them did in that moment,” Balbo said. “But they need to be aware of the fact that there are people in this world that are going to try to hold them accountable, that are going to try to fight hatred with justice and there are going to be consequences.”