Federal authorities had searched Pete Harding’s Cheektowaga home Wednesday morning, but he was not there
A Cheektowaga man is the first person from western New York to be arrested after being on the Capitol during last week’s deadly attack.
Harding’s lawyer confirmed the arrest Wednesday night, but the FBI declined to comment.
A close friend of Harding’s told News 4 that he was present when Harding was arrested by the FBI around 6 p.m. 16 in a mutual friend’s house in Elma.
“We were just trying to keep our spirits down,” said Rob Weimer, a longtime friend of Harding’s.
Weimer said he was just pulled into a mutual friend’s driveway when the FBI came out and asked him to be put. At the time, he did not know Harding was inside the house until he was handcuffed without incident and placed in a law enforcement vehicle.
Weimer said he is a member of Harding from both the Marching Patriots and the Rolling Patriots groups.
Harding last week told News 4 that he never committed any violent acts while on the Capitol and that he was protesting peacefully. He also said that using a Bic lighter to ignite a piece of plastic on a pile of damaged media equipment was a symbolic gesture towards the media and was not intended to be a threat.
Harding, who held his tooth up to plastic on the pile of equipment, was captured by several photographers and shared widely on several social media platforms. In addition, there is a photograph of someone clearing lace out of Harding’s eyes with water at the Capitol building.
Harding told News 4 this week that he has video footage of him inside and outside the Capitol, which he says will prove he did not act violently at the Capitol, where five people died.
“Not only was he there for the purpose of protesting peacefully, he entered the building peacefully with the permission of the Capitol Police, who allowed protesters to enter,” Harding’s lawyer, Jason DiPasquale, said.
“He dealt peacefully with the police, and when asked to travel, he did so.”
Harding has hosted numerous rallies and protests in the region, most notably in front of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s home in Buffalo. He has also protested against the Covid-19 rules, which were introduced by the government of Andrew Cuomo, including the closure of businesses and demands that people wear masks. Harding was also present at Athlete’s Unleashed in Orchard Park in November when county health inspectors and deputies tried to close the gym to have too many people inside during the pandemic.
“They were always civil and peaceful,” DiPasquale said of these gatherings and protests, adding that no one was ever violent or arrested against any of them.
“It’s just not who he is or what he believes in, and not in line with his actions over the last 10 months when he has organized protests and demonstrations.”
On Tuesday night, the FBI released a poster with Harding’s picture seeking more information about him and several other people believed to have been on the Capitol during the attack.
The next morning, his Cheektowaga home was under surveillance before being investigated by federal agents early in the morning while Harding was not home.
Harding is expected to appear in federal court in Buffalo sometime tomorrow. His lawyer said it was unclear what crime (s) federal authorities had charged him with.