WASHINGTON — An alleged Jan. 6 participant who online sleuths dubbed “Conan O’Riot” due to his resemblance to former late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien was arrested by the FBI this week.
Derek Nelson, who was an active-duty U.S. Marine from October 2011 to September 2015, was arrested in Champaign, Illinois, on Wednesday, according to federal court records. Along with his co-defendant, Derek Dodder of Nevada, 30-year-old Nelson faces four misdemeanor charges in connection with the U.S. Capitol attack.
Online “Sedition Hunters” dubbed the redheaded Nelson #ConanORiot, using the hashtag to track his movements at the Capitol. The sleuths had identified Nelson more than two years ago, by the summer of 2021.
Nelson was dressed up in colonial attire on Jan. 6, specifically “a brown tricorn hat along with a blue double-breasted button coat and red or maroon undershirt with a white scarf around his neck,” according to the FBI. In one video cited by the FBI, filmed near the Washington Monument, where crowds had gathered to watch then-President Donald Trump’s speech, a videographer asks Nelson why he’s there.
“To start a revolution,” Nelson said. “Why are you here?”
Derek Nelson at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia
When the crowd descended on the Capitol, Nelson was near the front lines as a pro-Trump mob chased down outnumbered officers on the west side of the building, according to the FBI.
Once inside the Capitol, Nelson wore goggles and a respirator mask, and video presented as evidence in another Jan. 6 case shows him running away after another rioter sets off a fire extinguisher near the doors to the House of Representatives, which were barricaded as members fled the violent mob.
A federal magistrate judge in Illinois released Nelson on his own recognizance on Wednesday, ordered him not to travel outside the continental U.S. without court approval and banned him from possessing a firearm, destructive device, or other weapon. Nelson will make a virtual appearance before a federal judge in the nation’s capital on Oct. 17.
Nelson has been represented by an attorney since at least February 2022, according to the FBI. Nelson’s attorney called the FBI special agent working the case after the special agent went to Nelson’s home and left a business card in his front door mail slot last year, the FBI said.
Nelson, second from right, wearing a gas mask in footage captured from within the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia
On his podcast ‘Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend,’ O’Brien said after the attack that Jan. 6 was an upsetting day “for any sentient American,” and singled out Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., for objecting to the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory even after the Capitol was ransacked.
“To watch Cruz and Hawley leave that lockdown and come back up and double-down on this idiocy, I think it’s the angriest I’ve been since ‘Schitt’s Creek’ went off the air,” O’Brien joked.
In a podcast last month, O’Brien riffed on what he joked was Donald Trump’s biggest crime: the former president’s impact on comedy.
“I’m really going out on a limb here saying — that’s his greatest crime,” O’Brien joked. “I think he’s hurt political comedy by being so outlandish himself. I think the Jan. 6 thing is a blip compared to how much he’s hurt comedy.”
Ryan J. Reilly
Ryan J. Reilly is a justice reporter for NBC News.