Pete Harding, accused of refusing to give whereabouts to FBI, says ‘I contacted the FBI immediately’
Pete Harding, the Cheektowaga man charged in the storming of the U.S. Capitol, will be subject to electronic monitoring and a curfew after federal prosecutors accused him of refusing to tell the FBI where he was.
The allegation was made during a virtual federal court hearing Tuesday and caused Harding to speak out of turn before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey.
“Your honor, I contacted the FBI immediately. I contacted the FBI immediately,” Harding interjected.
“Mr. Harding, you don’t want to talk. You really don’t,” Harvey said.
Harding, in images released by the FBI, is seen in the Capitol Building during the deadly Jan. 6 riot in which President Donald Trump’s supporters attempted to stop Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Video footage also showed Harding attempting to light media equipment on fire outside the Capitol Building.
Harding, 47, was charged by federal authorities Jan. 13 with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. He’s one of nearly 100 people charged in connection to the riot thus far.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. argued Tuesday that restrictions were necessary for Harding because the FBI reportedly had difficulty finding him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Allen said Harding refused to give his whereabouts to agents and was later found at an associate’s residence in Elma. Harding was found with $729 in cash, debit and gift cards, clothing, a razor and five cell phones.
“Items suggesting that he at least may have been trying to avoid returning to his residence for some time,” Stuart said. “We think that location monitoring is appropriate in this case.”
Harding’s public defender, Michelle Peterson, said Harding had no intention of leaving Western New York and stayed in contact with the FBI once he contacted an attorney.
“The notion that somebody is a flight risk simply because they don't engage with law enforcement prior to getting an attorney involved, I think that's a stretch,” Peterson said.
But Judge Harvey said he was less concerned about Harding’s contact with the FBI and more concerned about the items found in Harding’s possession when he was arrested.
Harvey ultimately ordered that Harding be subjected to electric monitoring, stay in his home from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., stay away from Washington, D.C., call pretrial services once a week, get permission before leaving New York state, and not leave the U.S.
Harding’s assertion he contacted the FBI “immediately” was not the first time he has denied accusations against him.
During an interview with WIVB-TV on Jan. 7, Harding claimed he did not enter the Capitol Building. Photos and videos later proved Harding did enter the Capitol Building. When confronted by WIVB-TV the next day, he initially denied saying he didn’t enter the building before apologizing for “giving you information that may be misleading because I remember that differently.”
Harding is a lifelong Western New York resident and self-employed contractor who works out of his home, according to information disclosed during Tuesday’s hearing. He has been active at anti-COVID-19 lockdown protests over the last year, including those held outside the home of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
Harding also counter-protested one of Buffalo’s first racial justice protests following Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd. During the June 5 demonstration in downtown Buffalo, Harding angered protesters with his words, later telling them that he and other adolescents in East Aurora used to joke that “you were better off Black being in East Aurora, you wouldn’t get arrested. All the white kids were being abused out there.”
Toward the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Harding asked Harvey if his new restrictions will be emailed to his public defender or the Western New York attorneys who will eventually represent him. Harvey replied that the restrictions will be given to Harding in writing either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Harding’s next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 2.