CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Army is investigating a psychological operations officer who led a group of people from North Carolina to the rally in Washington that led up to the deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Commanders at Fort Bragg are reviewing Capt. Emily Rainey’s involvement in last week's events in the nation's capital, but she said she acted within military regulations and that no one in her group broke the law.
“I was a private citizen and doing everything right and within my rights,” Rainey told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Rainey said she led 100 members of Moore County Citizens for Freedom, which describes itself online as a nonpartisan network promoting conservative values, to the Washington rally to “stand against election fraud” and support Trump. She said she didn’t know of anyone who entered the Capitol and that they were headed back to their buses hours before an emergency curfew took effect.
Rainey, 30, is assigned to the 4th Psychological Operations Group at Fort Bragg, according to Maj. Daniel Lessard, a spokesman for 1st Special Forces Command. Known as PSYOPS, the group uses information and misinformation to shape the emotions, decision-making and actions of American adversaries.
Lessard said there’s no indication other members of Rainey’s division were at the Capitol.
This isn’t the first time Rainey’s actions have come under scrutiny. In May, the captain made headlines after she posted a video online of her pulling down caution tape at a playground that was closed under North Carolina’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Police in Southern Pines, a community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Fort Bragg, charged her with injury to personal property. The police told WRAL-TV that they let her off with warnings twice before after she tore down the tape closing off the playground.
The Army gave Rainey “appropriate administrative action” for the incident and she submitted her resignation in September, according to Lessard. He said the resignation process for an officer can take six months or more and Rainey is set to leave the Army in April.
In Washington on Wednesday, insurrectionists took over the House and Senate chambers, smashed windows and waved Trump, American and Confederate flags. Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died. The riot followed the rally where Trump repeated false claims that the election had been rigged against him and urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”
So far, at least 90 people have been arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanor curfew violations to felonies related to assaults on police officers, possessing illegal weapons and making death threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Rainey said that her group and most people who traveled to Washington “are peace-loving, law-abiding people who were doing nothing but demonstrating our First Amendment rights.”
Members of the U.S. military are permitted to take part in political organizations and events out of uniform. However, there are caveats. The Department of Defense directive prohibits active-duty servicemembers from sponsoring partisan organizations. It is unclear if Rainey’s participation with her group on Wednesday went against DOD policy.
Rainey said she attended the Trump rally while on leave, didn’t advertise that she was an Army officer and told her bosses ahead of time that she'd be going. "We are confident justice will prevail proving our innocence,” she told AP.
In June, Rainey wrote an article for the online military publication SOFREP about navigating the regulations around political activity. “The more you know about the rules, the freer you become,” she wrote.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas and LaPorta from Delray Beach, Florida.