FORT PIERCE, Fla. — A Fort Pierce man is facing federal charges after a social media picture showed him inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, a day of deadly confrontations while Congress certified the 2020 election.
U.S District Court documents show Tony Mariotto is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Mariotto told WPTV he does not dispute the allegations of unlawfully entering the Capitol, but firmly denies ever participating in any violence.
Mariotto said he went to Washington to peacefully protest and rally against certifying the election results.
"I don't ever advocate violence," Mariotto said Saturday.
He was one of thousands of people nationwide who converged on the nation's capital with a goal of delaying the election certification and pushing for new elections in several states.
"When you have that many people who are not happy, they're not happy for a reason," Mariotto said. "You can't just discount these people."
According to court documents, Mariotto admitted he was inside the Capitol during the riot, adding that he was "being a part of history." He told a special agent that he "would accept full responsibility" for the allegations against him.
"I just thought I was doing something patriotic," Mariotto told WPTV, adding he did not know about the deadly violence that occurred at the Capitol until after he returned to his hotel.
Mariotto said the people around him chanted and waved flags. He described the moment he entered the Capitol.
"I just knew that there was a whole front-line of people entering the Capitol step by step," he recalled. "Then when we were in, [police] were waving us through. Not all of them. Not all of them. Some of them were. When I left the Capitol building, I was by myself when I left. I walked down the stairs and there was a policeman waving me out. I didn't get arrested right there for trespassing. That's why I'm saying, I'm confused."
While inside the Capitol, he snapped a photo and shared it to social media that law enforcement used to positively identify him. The image was shared anonymously with law enforcement.
"I just didn't think of it at that time," Mariotto said. "I mean, now I look back and I'm thinking, well, it is trespassing, but I didn't think about it at the time. I just don't know how to explain it. It's just an overwhelming feeling to get in there with all the other patriots."
He said the frustrations he and many felt leading up to Jan. 6, motivating the rally, are still strong.
"I love (former President) Donald Trump, but I'm a little disappointed," Mariotto said.
He adds that he would protest differently if he had the chance again, distant from the Capitol.