January 6 rioter in pink beret identified after ex spotted her in viral FBI tweet

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WASHINGTON — The FBI investigation breakthrough began at a Joann Fabric and Crafts store. Last weekend, a clothing designer was standing in line at the checkout to buy a needle for his sewing machine when his buddy saw something funny on his phone.

It was a tweet from the FBI’s Washington Field Office that included two striking images of the 537th person added to the agency’s U.S. Capitol Violence webpage, which has functioned as a “most important person” for more than two years since the investigation began. wanted” list of January 6 participants ago.

Number 537 on the FBI list is a woman wearing a white coat and black gloves, carrying a black Dolce & Gabbana purse, who has been the subject of January 6 conspiracy theories. In one image, her eyebrows raised, she looks dead at the camera as if she were Jim from “The Office.” In another, she stands near the Capitol and appears to dispatch rioters with a stick.

On her head: a pink beret.

“I stopped dead in my tracks,” the designer, who asked not to be named to avoid harassment and threats, recalled in an interview with NBC News. “I’m like, ‘That’s Jenny.'”

He sent a tip to the FBI. On Monday, he said he received a call from the agency to confirm they were investigating Jenny. On Friday, a law enforcement official confirmed to NBC News that the agency had identified “Pink Beret” as the ex of Los Angeles-based clothing designer Jennifer Inzuza Vargas.

NBC News has attempted to reach Vargas for comment, but has received no response.

The designer had dated Vargas four years ago and, thanks to the tweet‘s popularity. Recent posts from the FBI Washington Field Office on Twitter have been viewed 10,000 to 20,000 times. The tweet about the woman with the pink beret reached more than 7.2 million. Among those millions of viewers was his friend in Joann Fabric.

The footage didn’t show what the woman was doing at the Capitol, so many on Twitter assumed she wasn’t doing anything serious. Some Donald Trump supporters jumped up calling this another case of FBI overreach, a reason to defund the agency.

The jokes also poured in. One Twitter user called the woman “Insurrection Eva Braun,” another compared her to Carmen Sandiego. Someone called her “fascist Matilda” and several users joked about her as a character from a Wes Anderson movie. “Emily in jail,” read one of the joking tweets referencing the show “Emily in Paris.” There were a few comparisons to April Ludgate, the character played by Aubrey Plaza in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”

The clothing designer’s boyfriend was one of them: “He’s always on Twitter and he’s like, ‘Yo, look at this girl.'”

That evening, after tipping off the FBI, the tailor went to his own Twitter account and quoted the FBI’s post.

“I used to date this girl in 2019 LOL,” he tweeted, attaching an old photo of Vargas, wearing a red ski cap. After his tweet started to gain steam, he started getting harassed and worried that it could escalate into threats. He decided to delete the tweet, saying things were getting “crazy.”

To the “Sedition Hunters” — the online sleuths who have spent the past 800+ days compiling and organizing open-source materials to help identify Jan. 6 rioters — Vargas was known as #PinkBeret. Although the sleuths had assisted in the cases against hundreds of January 6 defendants and identified hundreds of January 6 rioters that the FBI had not yet arrested, Pink Beret remained elusive, despite being captured in a variety of videos and photos that day.

Online sleuths had mapped Pink Beret’s day and she seemed to be everywhere. There she stood, captured in photos and videos taken at the first breakthrough of the police line, at the Peace Monument. There she stood, on the front lines of the attack, cheering on video as rioters ripped apart a black fence so they could throw the pieces at the police line. There she is, in photos and videos, holding the door open for other rioters at a breach point, entering the building, and then re-entering the building from a second breach point. There she is in while men in military gear chase police officers under a drop-down emergency door. There she is, smoking a cigar, on the east side of the Capitol. There she is, removing a large black bag from the pile of media equipment that rioters were determined to destroy. “Traitors get the f—ing rope,” someone shouts repeatedly as rioters destroy equipment and Pink Beret watches on in high heels.

They had attacked it from all sides, but with no luck. One sleuth said he had searched for pink berets so often that he started getting targeted ads for the caps, including a pink one decorated with little white puffs.

That changed last weekend when the sleuths saw the clothing designer’s tweet. They said they ran a facial recognition check, found a match, found more photos and found a lot of material to confirm the identity, including a post where she appears to have sold a (slightly damaged) Dolce & Gabbana wallet that was on that one looks like Pink Beret wore to the Capitol.

The clothing designer, who lives in Los Angeles, met Vargas, who is from Sacramento, online and hit it off “really well” in late 2018. In early 2019, when they were in their early 20s, Vargas flew to L.A. “We weren’t, like, trying to get married or anything,” he said. “We were snagging for a few months.”

Towards the end of those months, the designer said, Vargas posted on his Discord that she was reading Hitler’s 1925 manifesto. They talked about it and that revealed more of Vargas’ far-right politics, he said.

“I was immediately turned off, like, ‘Yo, I don’t think this is going to work,'” he said. “You read ‘Mein Kampf’, you think immigrants don’t deserve X, Y, Z.” (One of the social media accounts linked to Vargas, which was viewed by NBC News, also references Hitler.)

After their relationship fell through, Vargas lingered in the Los Angeles area, the designer said; the account that sold the Dolce & Gabbana bag is based in Beverly Hills, and an Instagram account that appears to be hers posted from Los Angeles.

They kept in touch and occasionally exchanged messages, even though their interests diverged. “She’s super into politics, and I didn’t know anything but Trump lost,” the designer said. But he knew she was in Washington on January 6 and did some research. He even asked her if she was on the “no fly” list in a message he wrote to her a few days after the attack, on January 10, 2021, which he shared with NBC News.

‘No, because I didn’t go in [Capitol]she wrote, despite extensive video evidence later viewed by NBC News that appears to show her entering the building.

“But you still crossed state lines to riot,” he replied.

“I was there to support the president. Not to participate in that riot. I support the police,” Vargas replied.

In the months she remained unidentified, some speculated that Pink Beret was an “agent provocateur,” part of a pattern of January 6 defendants and their supporters attempting to deflect responsibility for their actions by suggesting that fellow rioters were working on behalf of the government. to trap Trump supporters during the attack.

Kira West, attorney for Jan. 6 Defendant Darrell Neely, questioned the government about Pink Beret, who can be seen holding hands with Neely in the Capitol. West wrote in a memo this year that it was “hard to believe the government doesn’t know who she is and even harder to understand why they haven’t charged her with crimes like everyone else.”

West wrote in a February filing that “Mr. Neely’s entry into the Capitol was directed by Pink Beret. Mr. Neely needs to know who she is and why she was there. He also needs to know if he was targeted by her that day and for what purpose.”

Pink Beret was “at the center of Mr. Neely’s defense,” and the court should allow a “robust cross-examination of government witnesses regarding Pink Beret girl, her possible connection to law enforcement, and her role in the events of January 6, 2021.” wrote.

The government attempted to bar Neely’s defense team from asking questions at trial about whether Pink Beret was a member of law enforcement unless they could provide some evidence for that claim, writing: “The government is not aware of any evidence to support that claim. ”

With hundreds of cases waiting in the pipeline, months and even years have elapsed between the time rioters were identified and the time they were arrested. But with Neely’s trial set to begin on May 22, the government may need to quickly hand over the new evidence it gathered over the weekend on Vargas’ identity.

When asked this week if Pink Beret had been identified by her ex, West said she wanted answers from the FBI months ago. “The FBI is too late,” West told NBC News. “I have no idea if she has a connection to [law enforcement]. They won’t tell us.”

Vargas isn’t the first January 6 rioter to be reported by a former romantic partner. Richard Michetti was reported by his ex after he called her an “idiot” at the Capitol for not believing Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. Last year he was sentenced to nine months in prison.

The clothing designer said he thinks it’s important to get to the bottom of things and find out if Vargas was collaborating with extremists on Jan. 6. But he said his “heart aches” for Vargas.

“She’s clearly a lost person,” he said, but added that there should be accountability for people who stormed the Capitol.

He said he was struck by the sheer randomness of learning that an ex-girlfriend was on the FBI’s wanted list over viral Twitter jokes.

“It’s just going to be one of those things for me,” the designer joked. “I dated a girl who was on the FBI’s most wanted list.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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