The FBI raided a Minnesota family home twice in 2021, even flying a drone into the chicken coop. One family member called the raids ’strict intimidation.’
January 03, 2024
LINDSTROM, Minn.—The knock at the door came before sunrise, but the men outside didn’t wait for an answer.
Robert Westbury, 64, had barely made it halfway down the stairs from his bedroom when he heard and felt the shockwave. BOOM.
A battering ram wielded by an FBI SWAT team blew the hinges off the front door on this cool April morning in 2021. Tactical officers poured into the tri-level home, aiming their laser-guided M4 rifles at anyone in their path.
On the home’s lower level, Aaron James sat up in bed and scarcely had time to throw on some clothes before his bedroom door flew open.
“This guy came in hot with a rifle pointed at me,” Mr. James, 37, told The Epoch Times. “I put my hands up like, ‘I’m not going to move but get that rifle off me. Stop pointing that rifle at me. I’m not going to move. I’m not going to do anything.’
“The guy came up to me to put his hands on me to cuff me, and he’s shaking, like trembling,” Mr. James said. “I’m thinking, ‘Dude, get the rifle off of me.’”
Mr. James recognized the special weapons and tactics from his years of training for close-quarters battle in the U.S. Navy. He served as a fleet marine force corpsman with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They used those same tactics and those same weapons on us that we’ve used overseas in a combat zone,” he said. “They brought that to this neighborhood.”
“This guy was kitted up like he was in Iraq or Afghanistan,“ Mr. James said. ”They were stacked up, lights on the rifle. He had the EOTECH sight on it. He was ready to go and do a close-quarter combat clear in our house. Kick a door and clear the door. Move on. Kick a door and clear the door. Move on.”
The agents demanded to know the location of Jonah Westbury, 28.
“When they’re asking where he was, I was like, ‘He doesn’t live here.’ They start grabbing furniture, tipping it over, throwing sh*t. I’m like, ‘Stop, stop!’ And they’re like, ‘Where is he?’ Like, we’re gonna f**k your house up if you don’t tell us where he is.”
Jonah Westbury lived in an apartment in the same structure, but it had its own entrance and a separate legal address.
Jonah Westbury, shown in an interview on Dec. 23, 2023, describes how the FBI shackled his feet and cuffed his hands to a belly chain during a raid on the family home on April 9, 2021.
Family members said the FBI had to know that since two special agents visited the home two months prior. The bureau also had the home under regular surveillance, they said.
“I hear a really loud bang at 6:30 in the morning,” Jonah Westbury told The Epoch Times. “You know, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. ‘FBI! Open up!’ I’m thinking that it was one of my brothers mucking around, playing a joke. Okay, we do these kinds of things.”
That all changed when he peered out the window.
“There are two guys with AR-15s pointed right at me,” he said. “Right outside of the door, there had to have been 25 guys there, and all of them with ARs, ready to rock, ready to roll.”
The heavily armed squad was there to arrest Jonah Westbury on four misdemeanor charges, largely for just going inside the U.S. Capitol and being on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.
“For a nonviolent misdemeanor—a nonviolent, non-felony misdemeanor—they came out with 20 to 25 FBI agents fully vested up, AR-15s all pointed right at me like I’m a domestic terrorist,” he said.
Dozens of heavily armed FBI agents conduct a predawn raid on the home of Robert and Rosemarie Westbury in Lindstrom, Minn., on Oct. 4, 2021. (Courtesy of the Westbury Family)
Jonah Westbury later found out that a former high school classmate had turned him in to the FBI.
“This is the guy that I was on the Knowledge Bowl team with,” Jonah Westbury said. “I had known him growing up—growing up with him from first grade—never had any issues, quarrels, or quandaries with him. And he turned me in to the FBI.”
The April raid wouldn’t be the only time the FBI broke the tranquility of this quiet neighborhood about 35 miles northeast of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The ruckus was caused by the Westbury family’s trip to Washington D.C. to hear then-President Donald J. Trump’s speech at the Ellipse and then walk to the U.S. Capitol.
By the end of 2021, four family members had been arrested and charged with alleged Jan. 6 crimes ranging from trespassing to assaulting law enforcement.
They face a February trial in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.
A Return Engagement
When the FBI came calling again on Oct. 4, 2021, they came in greater numbers—family members estimated 50 to 60 agents—than on April 9. The predawn raid woke the entire neighborhood. Agents didn’t smash in the front door like on the first visit but ordered the family out of the house using a loudspeaker.
Rosemarie Westbury, 63, left early to get coffee at the nearby Holiday convenience store and head to her job as a respiratory therapist. She was unaware of the long line of vehicles staged across Lake Boulevard all along Akerson Street.
The large SUVs were overshadowed only by an MRAP, a mine-resistant ambush-protected military vehicle. The MRAP’s armor plating, gun turret, and battering ram seemed most out of place in this quiet middle-class neighborhood.
FBI tactical officers (L) stage behind an SUV while an MRAP military vehicle (R) is parked near the Westbury home in Lindstrom, Minn., on Oct. 4, 2021.
After the caravan surrounded the Westbury residence, agents blasted a siren for 15 seconds. “Residents of 30840, this is the FBI,” the loudspeaker blared. “We have a federal judge warrant for your home. Come out the front door with your hands up and nothing in your hands. We do not want to see anyone get hurt.”
After the message was repeated, an agent was heard on video shouting, “Coming out the front!”
Mr. James complied with instructions to walk backward with his hands up and was handcuffed. He noticed to one side a law enforcement drone hovering in place like an insect.
Robert Westbury was next to be ordered to walk backward for handcuffing, followed by Isaac Westbury.
Agents flew the drone into the chicken coop in the backyard, then over a swamp and near a tree house. Agency SUVs were driven down both side yards, leaving deep ruts in the soft spring ground.
Isaac Westbury, who turned 19 just six months earlier, said the October raid was “a little terrifying.”
“I’m obviously not going to do anything. I literally just turned into an adult,” Isaac Westbury told The Epoch Times.
“I knew my brother wasn’t going to do anything because he wasn’t stupid. I knew my dad wasn’t going to do anything because, bless his heart, he’s an old man.
“They’re really putting this many people to get a child, an old man, and a military vet,” he said. “It was sick, in my mind.”
Robert Westbury had barely gotten down a few stairs from his bedroom on April 9, 2021, when the FBI blew in his home’s front door with a battering ram during a predawn raid.
Mr. James said agents made it clear in their discussions that he was one of the main reasons the heavy tactical presence was needed.
“They basically said I was dangerous,” Mr. James said. “They made it known when they were cuffing me, ‘He has the potential to be dangerous.’
“I’ve never been arrested in my life,” he said. “I’ve had a few speeding tickets. Never been in any physical altercations outside of either training or wrestling or jujitsu.”
A neighbor who was capturing smartphone video from his deck nearby surveyed the swarm of vehicles, the men in tactical gear, and the bright spotlights sweeping the property in the predawn fog.
The October raid came one day shy of the one-year anniversary of the death of Adam James, Mrs. Westbury’s son and Aaron James’ brother. He died of obstructive sleep apnea. He was 42.
“It’s an intimidation factor,” Mr. James said of the federal agents. “Strict intimidation. ‘You cross the line here, and we will come after you.’”
Isaac Westbury and Mr. James were arrested on a litany of felony and misdemeanor charges, including civil disorder, assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, and four other counts.
Robert Westbury was arrested on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct in a restricted building or grounds, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest inside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Trip to the Capital
For Mrs. Westbury, the family trip to Washington D.C. was not a vacation but more of a calling.
“After the election, leading up to January 6, I just had a sense that I had to go,” said Mrs. Westbury, wearing her late son Adam’s favorite Seattle Seahawks jersey. “I couldn’t not go. It was something inside of me that [said], ‘You have to be there.’ I don’t know how else to say it.
“It was, I believe, a call from God,” said Mrs. Westbury, who has not been charged with Jan. 6 crimes. “I believe that God called a lot of people there on that day.”
The five family members made their way to the Ellipse on Jan. 6. The press of the massive crowd kept them from getting inside, but they watched the speeches on a giant video monitor.
Shortly after arriving, Mrs. Westbury said she noticed a group of 12 to 15 people gathered nearby “that didn’t seem right to me.”
“They didn’t look like they fit with the crowd that we were around,” she said. “They were some of the more scraggly looking. And they were hyped up.
“I had the sense we’re surrounded, not by a good thing,” Mrs. Westbury said. “I even turned around and I said something to Bob and to Jonah, ‘We’re surrounded by an evil presence.’”
Mrs. Westbury turned around and started to pray with a video journalist she had been conversing with.
Rosemarie Westbury describes her family’s experience at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 during an interview at her home in Lindstrom, Minn., on Dec. 23, 2023.
“I glanced over, and this group had left,” she said. “They were all gone and I thought, ‘Well, that’s awfully strange.’ But I felt better.”
After President Trump finished speaking at about 1:15 p.m., the family slowly made its way to the west front of the Capitol, arriving before 2:30 p.m.
“There was a camaraderie in a good way,” Mrs. Westbury said. “So I think about that. I think the narrative that they’re portraying is so opposite of what we experienced, what I experienced.
“Then all of a sudden, they started, the police started blasting these bomb things with smoke,” she said. “I have asthma, and so if that had come into my face, I would have been a casualty.”
Metropolitan Police Department officers made frequent use of concussion munitions on the west front crowd. Undercover police video shows that some 40 munitions with projectiles and tear gas were lobbed into the densely packed crowd over a 60-minute span.
The family got separated during the chaos. Jonah Westbury went briefly into the Capitol, livestreaming and recording as part of his plan to document the day on video.
Robert Westbury got sprayed with mace when the outside crowd surged toward the Capitol.
“I got shot with tear gas in my eyes and that was bad,” he said. “ The more I rolled my eyes, it burned even worse. And then, as we got pushed up toward the building, I got forced to the ground. Luckily, I had two sons pick me up. Otherwise, I would have probably been trampled.”
Capitol Police officers use pepper spray and tear gas to clear protesters from the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Helping Rosanne Boyland
Jonah Westbury took his father to return to the hotel while Mr. James and Isaac Westbury went toward the Lower West Terrace tunnel entrance to the Capitol. It was a fateful decision.
As the brothers made their way toward the tunnel, Mr. James heard shouts of “medic” from Justin Winchell of Georgia, who was frantically seeking medical help for his friend, Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, Georgia.
Ms. Boyland, who had collapsed during a stampede out of the tunnel and later beaten in the head and ribs by a police officer, had been lying on her side at the edge of the tunnel. Just as protester Luke Coffee held up a medical crutch over his head and implored police to stop spraying the crowd, bystanders pulled Ms. Boyland down several steps and began CPR.
Video shot by filmmaker Nick Quested shows blood running from Ms. Boyland’s nose and right eye as CPR efforts began.
“I basically said, ‘Isaac, let’s go.’ I started pushing towards someone who was yelling ’medic.’ When I looked, I saw this person on the ground. They were laid back [with] someone doing CPR.
“My instinct was first I was going to rush over there and assist with the CPR, but I saw that they had it under control,” Mr. James said. “But the issue was they were being hit by mace.”
The men made their way forward to the tunnel mouth, where police were holding off rioters and protesters. Mr. James said his goals were to form a buffer zone between the crowd and the police and block the police pepper gel from reaching the area where Ms. Boyland was receiving CPR.
Felony charges lodged against Mr. James and Isaac Westbury stemmed from Mr. James’ decision to pick up two police riot shields from the ground.
Overhead video shows Isaac Westbury and his brother Aaron James holding shields as police spray pepper gel toward where Rosanne Boyland was receiving CPR on U.S. Capitol grounds in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (Christopher Chern via Storyful/Graphic by The Epoch Times)
Prosecutors assert the men were obstructing and assaulting police, while Mr. James insists their efforts were defensive to protect Ms. Boyland and her rescuers from sheets of pepper gel raining from above.
“I pushed my way up to the front. I was going to cut across, and I saw these shields on the ground,” Mr. James said. “So I thought, ‘We’ll just block this waterfall and the stream of mace coming down.’
“So reached into the tunnel, grabbed a shield off the ground, slipped into his [Isaac’s] hands, pushed him in front of the tunnel,“ Mr. James said. ”And then myself, I grabbed it up myself and we stood there.”
Video shot by Christopher Chern appears to corroborate Mr. James’ account. As the brothers stood holding up the shields, a police officer in the tunnel fired a high-velocity stream of bear spray over their heads directly at where Ms. Boyland was receiving CPR, the video shows.
The men were standing just behind Mr. Coffee, who used the aluminum crutch to push the police line back into the tunnel a few seconds after MPD Officer Lila Morris beat Ms. Boyland with a wooden walking stick. Officer Morris also struck Mr. Coffee with the walking stick. Mr. Coffee faces a slew of felony and misdemeanor charges from his presence outside the Capitol.
Mr. James said he wanted to get Mr. Coffee away from the front line.
“I reached him, grabbed his backpack, and pulled him back. And he kind of shook me off of him and then went back in there again,” Mr. James said. “So I grabbed his ankle, and I drove him back this time.”
Isaac Westbury was struck in the face by pepper spray, forcing him to drop the shield. Another man picked up the shield and took his place next to Mr. James. A few minutes later, Mr. James was struck in the face with pepper spray and had to retreat from the scene.
Aaron James demonstrates how he used a riot shield in an attempt to block streams of pepper spray being fired toward unconscious protester Rosanne Boyland on Jan. 6, 2021. At right is his brother, Isaac Westbury, who stood next to him on the Lower West Terrace that day.
Meeting an Oath Keeper
While her sons were occupied on the Lower West Terrace, Mrs. Westbury wound up on the Upper Northwest Terrace, where she encountered Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes just before 3 p.m. Mr. Rhodes was later sentenced to 18 years in prison for convictions on seditious conspiracy and other Jan. 6 charges.
“I didn’t know Stewart Rhodes from anybody. I mean, I’m just up there praying with people and talking and singing,” Mrs. Westbury said. “And then I looked at Stewart Rhodes and I was prompted, really prompted, ‘You’ve got to go talk to that guy. You’re going to go talk to him.”
Capitol Police security video obtained by The Epoch Times in June 2023 shows Mrs. Westbury holding up her phone while speaking to Mr. Rhodes. She said she interviewed him about the mission and role of the Oath Keepers. Mr. Rhodes and his defense team previously said they were never given a copy of the security video by federal prosecutors.
“I said, ‘I have a son who was in the military, and still to this day, it’s very important to him to have that honor,“ Mrs. Westbury said. ”That’s what we discussed, mostly, just what the Oath Keepers stood for.”
Mrs. Westbury said her phone and its contents were seized by the FBI, so she does not have a copy of the video showing her interview with Mr. Rhodes.
In an email to The Epoch Times, Mr. Rhodes said he was not aware there was a video of his discussion with Mrs. Westbury. No such video was provided to the defense team in his 2022 trial, he said. Such a video would be exculpatory and should have been given to the defense, Mr. Rhodes asserted.
Rosemarie Westbury (in highlighted section) of Lindstrom, Minn., speaks to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes on the Upper Northwest Terrace at the U.S. Capitol at 2:54 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2021.
“If I was actually doing what I was accused of doing, I wouldn’t be standing around giving interviews,” Mr. Rhodes said.
Defense attorney Edward Tarpley agreed.
“Not only did the Rhodes defense team not have a copy of the CCTV video footage of Rhodes, it now appears that the government also failed to provide the cellphone video of Ms. Westbury’s interview of Mr. Rhodes,” Mr. Tarpley told The Epoch Times in a statement.
“The fact that Stewart Rhodes took the time to engage in a video-recorded interview by a regular citizen does not fit the false narrative of a ‘general’ directing his troops to launch an attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
Mrs. Westbury said she prayed with a woman from Indiana not far from where she spoke with Mr. Rhodes.
“We walked towards each other and she just started to weep,“ Mrs. Westbury said. ”She said, ‘I had to come.’ She said, ‘I’m old. It’s not for me but for my children and my grandchildren. We can’t lose our nation.’”
Mrs. Westbury said her time at the Capitol convinced her that a greater battle took place that day than the one seen by human eyes.
“I tell people this all the time. It’s the truth. I believe there was a great victory that occurred on January 6 in the spiritual realm,” she said. “I wholeheartedly believe that. They wanted a bloodbath. The powers that be wanted a bloodbath on that day, and they didn’t get it. God intervened.”
Despite the trauma of the SWAT raids and prosecution of her husband and sons, Mrs. Westbury said she has hope rooted in her deep Christian faith.