CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — A Cheektowaga man is the first person from Western New York to be arrested after being at the Capitol during last week’s deadly attack.
Pete Harding’s arrest came within hours of the second impeachment of President Donald Trump by the U.S. House of Representatives, this time for “inciting” an insurrection against the government.
Harding’s attorney confirmed the arrest Wednesday evening, but the FBI declined to comment.
A close friend of Harding’s told News 4 that he was present when Harding was taken into custody by the FBI at about 4 p.m. at a mutual friend’s house in Elma.
“We were just trying to keep his spirits up,” said Rob Weimer, a longtime friend of Harding’s.
Weimer said he had just pulled into a mutual friend’s driveway when the FBI came outside and told him to stay put. At the time, he didn’t know Harding was inside the house until he was taken out in handcuffs without incident and placed in a law enforcement vehicle.
Weimer said he is a member with Harding of both the Marching Patriots and Rolling Patriots groups.
Harding last week told News 4 that he never committed any violent acts while at the Capitol and that he peacefully protested. He also said him using a Bic lighter to ignite a piece of plastic on a pile of damaged media equipment was a symbolic gesture toward the media and was not meant to be a threat.
Harding holding the lighter up to the plastic on the pile of equipment was caught by numerous photographers and widely shared on several social media platforms. In addition, there is a photograph of someone clearing mace out of Harding’s eyes with water by the Capitol building.
Harding told News 4 this week that he has video footage of him being inside and outside the Capitol that he says will prove he did not act violently at the Capitol, where five people died.
“Not only was he there with the intent to protest peacefully, he entered the building peacefully under the permission of Capitol Police who let protestors in,” said Harding’s attorney, Jason DiPasquale.
“He engaged peacefully with police and when he was asked to leave, he did so.”
Harding has organized 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 the Covid-19 rules put in effect by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including the closing of businesses and requiring people to wear masks. Harding was also present at Athlete’s Unleashed in Orchard Park in November, when county health inspectors and deputies tried to shut the gym down for having too many people inside during the pandemic.
“They were always civil and peaceful,” DiPasquale said about those rallies and protests, adding that no one was ever violent or arrested at any of them.
“That is just not who he is or what he believes in and not consistent with his actions during the past 10 months when he has organized protests and rallies.”
Tuesday night the FBI released a poster with Harding’s picture on it seeking more information about him and several other people believed to have been at the Capitol during the attack.
The next morning his Cheektowaga home was under surveillance before being searched 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 attorney said it is unclear with what crime(s) federal authorities have charged him.