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Judge Orders ‘Bullhorn Lady’ to Explain Why She Shouldn’t Be Jailed for Mocking Court Order by Wearing Hole-Filled Mask in Public


A woman believed to be Rachel Powell is seen in a Facebook video screen grab.

An accused U.S. Capitol rioter known online as “Bullhorn Lady” has been ordered to explain why her pre-trial release shouldn’t be revoked after Law&Crime reported that she appeared to have been recorded in a bookstore wearing a mask with holes in it — in possible violation of court-ordered conditions for staying out of jail.

As Law&Crime discussed at length on April 9, a since-deleted video posted at the end of March on the Facebook page of Mr. Bookman’s — a used book store in Western Pennsylvania — showed an individual who appeared to be Rachel Powell wearing a mesh mask. The problem was that Powell, as a unique condition of her pretrial release, was ordered by Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell to “wear a mask whenever she leaves her residence.”

On Friday, Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, said in crystal clear fashion that he felt the defendant’s actions mocked the earlier court order.

Lamberth began by noting that U.S. Probation & Pre-Trial Services filed a non-compliance report in Powell’s case on April 15. That report, the judge said, contained “an image” from the aforementioned video, “which shows defendant wearing a mask with holes in it large enough to see the defendant’s nose and mouth” (see the image above).

“When Pre-Trial Services called defendant to inquire about the video, defendant was evasive in answering the officer’s questions regarding the material of the mask,” court documents said.

From here, Judge Lamberth said that Powell’s “decision to appear in a video wearing a mask with holes in it at work mocks compliance with the Court’s Order setting a condition of pre-trial release that she ‘wear a mask whenever she leaves her residence.'”

“No reasonable person could think that defendant’s ‘mask’ complied with that condition, which Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell imposed to ensure that defendant ‘would not pose a risk to the health and safety of the community when she left her house,'” Lamberth said.

The judge, saying he “does not take [Powell’s] willingness to flout the Court’s order lightly,” ordered the defendant to provide within 10 days an explanation in writing as to why she should not be jailed ahead of trial once again.

Rachel Powell is seen in a jail mugshot after her arrest.

The judge also raised the specter of contempt in the order to show cause.

“Accordingly, the Court directs defendant to show cause in writing, no later than ten (10) days from this day, why the Court should not revoke her pre-trial release, order her detained pending trial, or hold her in contempt,” Lamberth said.

As Law&Crime reported earlier, Chief Judge Howell’s order said that “violating any of the foregoing conditions of release may result in the immediate issuance of a warrant” for Powell’s arrest, revocation of release, detention, forfeiture of bond, and “a prosecution for contempt of court.”

Judge Lamberth also expressed concern about something Pre-Trial Services claimed that Powell told them about her attorney’s role in the controversy.

“Additionally, the Court is concerned with defense counsel’s apparent reaction to defendant’s non-compliance. When Pre-Trial Services asked defendant where the mask was, defendant responded that she ‘threw it away per her attorney’s advisement,'” Judge Lamberth continued. “In defendant’s show-cause filing, defense counsel shall include an explanation for his alleged instruction to his client to dispose of evidence of her non-compliance with a Court ordered condition of pre-trial release.”

Last week, when Law&Crime contacted Powell’s attorney Michael Engle about the mask video in question, he replied: “Thank you for sending this to me.”

“I have to look into this matter,” he said back then.

Law&Crime reached out to Engle for comment on Friday after the order to show cause hit the docket.

“I need to review the matter with my client and file a response with the Court,” Engle told us. “However, I can state with absolute certainty that the characterization of any legal advice I may have provided to my client is not accurate.”

Powell was arrested in February for her alleged role in the Jan. 6th U.S. Capitol breach. Viral video of the siege showed a woman, quickly dubbed “Bullhorn Lady” by the internet, directing other rioters with a bullhorn and giving them information about the Capitol layout. Federal prosecutors have alleged that Powell, seen wearing a pink hat, was one of the people who used a large pipe as an impromptu battering ram to break windows at the Capitol Complex.

A woman identified as Rachel Powell appears in an image from the U.S. Capitol obtained by the FBI.

Powell, a mother of eight, confirmed some of her conduct in a detailed interview with Ronan Farrow for The New Yorker.

“Listen, if somebody doesn’t help and direct people, then do more people die?” she said in reference to the bullhorn. “That’s all I’m going to say about that. I can’t say anymore. I need to talk to an attorney.”

Records show Powell faces charges for the following:

Obstruction of an Official Proceeding; Destruction of Government Property; 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; Engaging in Physical Violence in a Restricted Building or Grounds with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon; Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building; Act of Physical Violence in the Capitol Grounds or Buildings; Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building.

Read the filing below:

[Images via Facebook/screengrab, mugshot]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.