LISBON — Life has changed for Adam Newbold. Since the deadly riot Jan. 6 in the U.S. Capitol, the 24-year veteran has been labeled a traitor and domestic terrorist.
The retired U.S. Navy SEAL and local businessman coordinated a local caravan to rally in D.C. in support of former President Donald Trump and was among the mob of purported insurrectionists in the Capitol that day — though he asserts he did nothing criminal and instead tried to counter violence on the steps of the Capitol.
“I’m a Navy SEAL. I’m pretty extreme, but I’m not an anti-American extremist or anti-government extremist. I’m certainly not a terrorist or a traitor,” Newbold told Mahoning Matters.
Newbold has since come under FBI scrutiny and has been interviewed twice by federal agents. He remains uncharged, unlike Stephen Ayres, a Warren man whom investigators say joined the breach of the Capitol Building.
Many of the hundreds of people charged or under suspicion in the Capitol riot were seemingly normal folk, like Rachel Powell, the Mercer County mother of eight who, according to the New Yorker, sold cheese and yogurt at local farmers markets before appearing on an FBI "wanted" poster. Like Newbold, Powell has not been charged.
Of the 140 people charged as of Jan. 21, about 1 in 5 had a military background, NPR reported earlier this month. FBI spokespersons have declined to comment on ongoing investigations into the riot.
In a Facebook video he posted following the Capitol siege, Newbold, 45, called it “historic” and “necessary” and expressed his pride in those who stood up for their beliefs and “stormed the Capitol.” The video has since been removed from Newbold’s Facebook page but was reposted elsewhere and first reported by ABC News:
“No matter how the media spins it, guys, it was a necessary thing,” Newbold says in the video. “The main destruction that occurred was stopping them from the nefarious bulls--t that’s going on in our capital, at least for that point in time, and making them think twice. They have got to be thinking twice about what they’re doing. Some of our representatives are shaking in their shoes, and they could never have foreseen … that people would come in and stand up and throw their fist up.”
He said that video was recorded before he learned the riot had led to five deaths, including those of Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt and Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. He appeared contrite in a later interview with ABC News, expressing regret over those deaths, claiming he attempted to quell some of the violence and accepting Joe Biden as the elected president.
But Newbold called that report a “hit piece” when speaking with Mahoning Matters last week, claiming the reporter twisted his words.
“It’s tough enough to stand strong in your convictions without people trying to twist things,” he said. “It causes people like me to feel like we’re screaming from the rooftops and no one’s listening.”
Life has changed for Newbold, but his convictions haven’t. The special forces veteran told Mahoning Matters he doesn’t know if the country he fought for exists anymore.
“I believe that things are not right with this country, and I believe that something was wrong with the election. I don’t know if, for sure, what happened could have changed the outcome, but I believe [election fraud] should have been looked at,” he said during his hourlong interview with Mahoning Matters.
“[The ABC News reporter] made it sound like I’m sorry for what I did. … I didn’t engage in criminal activity. I’m not sorry for being at a pro-Trump, pro-America rally, and I’m not sorry for being angry about where our country is.”
Since the ABC News report, Newbold said he’s received hundreds of calls to his business and personal phones from people calling for his death or imprisonment.
Newbold has since resigned as a training mentor for Navy special warfare candidates, claiming he wanted to shield the program from any negative representation. His profile on the Navy Warrior Challenge page has since been removed.
Similarly, he also stepped down as Lisbon High School’s wrestling coach about a week after the riot. That decision was voluntary and mutual, said Lisbon Superintendent Joseph Siefke, who declined to comment further on the circumstances of Newbold’s departure.
Newbold also claims he’s been kicked off social media — an infringement on his free speech, he feels. His Facebook and Twitter accounts were suspended after Jan. 6 without explanation, he said. A GoFundMe page Newbold created to help Jan. 6 rallygoers cover travel and lodging expenses was also taken down. It raised about $3,500, most of which was never disbursed or refunded, Newbold said.
Mahoning Matters reached out to Facebook and GoFundMe about Newbold’s accounts but did not receive a response.
Newbold has since created new social media profiles, and his antagonizers have followed. He seems to respond to most who speak out against him. They drown out a few cheerleaders wading into his feed to thank him for his military service or for “seeking the truth,” or those who say detractors don’t truly know him.
One Twitter user wrote: “You’re an embarrassment to your former uniform. A fantasist of epic dimensions and hopefully, soon an indicted felon.”
In a reply to a video in which Newbold said it was a “miracle” the Jan. 6 riot was not more deadly, another Twitter user wrote: “I hope you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This country needs law protecting us from all terrorists, especially white supremacists and homegrown nut jobs.”
Another wrote: “You’re one of the bad guys now Adam. Time to wake up.”
‘We are ATG’
Newbold formed the Lisbon-based tactical training company Advanced Training Group Worldwide in 2010, offering out-of-pocket firearms and tactical training for police and also taking on government contracts, he said.
Though ATG began as a training club for law enforcement, it grew into a social group as more and more people began seeking out membership. But since the Jan. 6 riot, Newbold said the group has become misidentified as a militia. He calls it “more of an adventure club.”
Photos from the group’s Facebook page appear to show members of all ages hiking, practicing at the shooting range, rock climbing and whitewater rafting. ATG in years past was also part of Salem athletes’ training regimen.
The group developed a list of tenets for membership: no felons; members must “memorize and embody” the group’s creed; and “you have to be a patriot,” Newbold said.
“It’s a family; a brotherhood; a sisterhood; a fraternity, if you will, of people striving for excellence, holding each other accountable,” he said. “People trying to be good people, do good things.”
ATG’s contracting side, in a joint venture with Va.-based engineering firm ProActive Technologies, was awarded an Army contract up to $100 million for special operations forces programs in 2014. ATG, however, claims it was cut out of the arrangement in 2016, and a legal dispute is still winding its way through federal court.
Newbold, who retired from the military in 2017, also operates the Lisbon-based Columbiana County Coffee Co., or C4 Coffees. Its website lists it as an “ATG Worldwide company.”
The bean-roasting business has never been better, he said.
“We’re selling coffee like crazy because there’s a lot of people who feel disenfranchised like I do,” Newbold said. “I’m not one of a handful of people. This is a very divided country in the way that we feel about things. … People are passionate for sure.”
‘The precipice of war’
Newbold told Mahoning Matters he didn’t travel to D.C. with dozens of ATG members and others from the area to overthrow the government. From his perspective, a silent and unseen coup had already unseated the rightful president through a fraudulent election.
Like others from the area who attended Trump’s “Save America” rally, Newbold rejects the notion that all Trump supporters should be branded insurrectionists following the Jan. 6 riot.
“The way I’ve felt is that we are on the precipice of war” — perhaps it’s now an information war, he told Mahoning Matters. “I do know that our country is severely divided, and I felt that if people don’t stand up and be loud at some point in time, there’s going to be armed conflict.
“I didn’t think we were there yet, but I felt that’s where we were going.”
When Congress gathered in a ceremonial joint session Jan. 6 to certify the electoral vote count and officially declare Joe Biden as president, Newbold said he was prepared to respond to anti-Trump violence, should then-Vice President Mike Pence intervene in the certification process or should federal lawmakers successfully reject votes from certain contested states, allowing Trump a chance to remain in the White House.
It’s something Pence didn’t have the constitutional authority to do — despite Trump’s assertions at the time — and other opposing measures failed later that evening, to applause in the Senate chamber.
Following Trump’s Jan. 6 speech, for which Congress impeached and charged him with inciting insurrection, Newbold said he didn’t immediately walk to the Capitol Building, as Trump had encouraged, as he and others in his group first retrieved their belongings left behind elsewhere.
Though some charged in the Jan. 6 riot "brought all manner of weapons or explosives," Reuters reported earlier this month, Newbold claims he and his group did not bring anything illegal to the Capitol.
Newbold first learned the Capitol Building had been breached while shouldering through “a sea of people” in the hourlong walk across the Capitol Mall, he said. Someone “from back home” called to say the first in were the Proud Boys — a group of far-right extremists, some of whom were indicted last Friday for their alleged roles in the riot — then, that Congress members had been evacuated, he said.
As they neared the Capitol steps, that sea of people turned “volatile,” he said. The demonstration devolved to a mob, with some “actively” trying to escalate protest toward violence, he said. He shifted to “crisis management” mode as the melee swelled. He claims he confronted a man inciting the mob into hurling wooden pallets who later “stormed off.”
A widely circulated photo shows Newbold sitting on an abandoned Capitol Police motorcycle, bystanders and their phone camera lenses surrounding him. One Twitter caption refers to him as a “seditionist.”
Newbold claims he’d confronted a man who was rifling through the bike’s saddlebags, then straddled the vehicle to protect it from the rest of the crowd. As the mob’s cameras closed in, he didn’t mind posing in “a historic moment,” he said.
It was then Newbold and others in his group returned to their vehicle, where Newbold recorded his brief account of the day.
“I absolutely felt pride in people standing up and making a strong statement,” he told Mahoning Matters.
Newbold said he felt sure they’d made a difference — that Congress would reconsider accepting the electoral slate. He later learned lawmakers reconvened to finish the certification; that five had died; that some “bad actors” appeared coordinated and ready to take hostages.
Newbold claims he never entered the Capitol Building itself. Others he traveled with, however, were on the “front lines” of the riot, he claimed in the Jan. 6 video.
‘As soon as I get to fight’
Newbold’s calm, measured tone during his interview with Mahoning Matters was a volte-face from the live video he hosted on Facebook in late December, in which he appears to trade barbs with detractors and flex before those attacking his ideology.
[Note: This video was cropped to protect the identity of the person who recorded Newbold's video.]
“I’m telling you right now — I’ve been extremely tolerant. I’m very tolerant of other views. Not anymore,” exclaims Newbold, his tone grave; leveling a finger at the virtual audience. “I’m over it. … You’ve worn my patience thin, and you’ve worn a lot of us thin and we’re f---ing over it.
“President Trump isn’t going anywhere,” he continues heatedly. “When he stays in office, then we’re going to right some s--t that’s wrong with this country. … As soon as I get to fight — that’s exactly what I’m good at and that’s what I’m gonna do.
“If [Trump is] pushed out of office fraudulently, then we’ll see how things go from there. But I’m absolutely not above going to war. Done it before. Reluctantly, I’ll do it again. But I won’t hesitate.”
In a Jan. 12 mea culpa posted to ATG’s Facebook page, Newbold strikes a tame, conciliatory stature.
“I do have a tendency to get wrapped up in the heat of the moment, and as far as arguments with people, I can fall short,” he says. “I don’t feel good about it. I apologize for that.”
He reiterates he and others from ATG who rallied in D.C. on Jan. 6 weren’t “plotting to take over the government” — rather that they stood ready to quell unrest arising from Congress’ rejection of the 2020 election results.
“I make no apologies for being a rough man ready to do rough things in rough situations,” Newbold says.
He appears again in a video posted two days later to his new Twitter feed, seemingly distressed that his message is being lost among the noise following the Jan. 6 riot.
“I’m trying to get my message out because across the globe now I’m absolutely being crucified. When I get a platform to talk and tell my story in its entirety, instead of it being chopped up and excerpts taken out, I will do so,” Newbold says. “Until then, keep the faith, do good things. God bless this country. God bless America, even in its broken state.”
‘Bury it with misinformation’
Trump, even before the election, loudly and persistently decried its legitimacy. Misinformation and fringe conspiracy theories amplified the static and noise and muddled partisan discourse.
Newbold said he knows a lot about misinformation. His time as a naval intelligence specialist and, later, CIA collaborator, taught him to spot it. He’s seen how it’s used to influence other countries, and he told Mahoning Matters he’s now seeing the same tricks being used daily on the American populace.
“What people don’t understand is, in the intelligence community, when there’s something classified, for example, that’s leaked and it’s out on open source. … The way to combat that isn’t to say, ‘Hey, don’t look at that. That doesn’t exist,'" Newbold said. “It’s to flood — to bury it with misinformation.”
In that way, baseless conspiracy theories effectively delegitimize the real conspiracies, he said. But amid the fog, “there’s truth in there,” he said. “Who knows what’s true and what’s not?”
In a November snap poll of about 1,200 American voters by the U.K.-based market research firm YouGov, more than a third of registered voters said they believed voter fraud affected the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Another 15 percent believed fraud took place but that it wasn't widespread; another 7 percent weren't sure.
During his interview with Mahoning Matters, Newbold repeated the litany of largely debunked 2020 election fraud claims: that ballots were tabulated multiple times; that election workers produced boxes of fraudulent ballots from underneath tables; that there were more votes cast than registered voters.
Newbold said he’s able to identify bogus claims for himself. He’s not the type to fall for any ruse and his news consumption is varied and sundry — not strictly right-leaning as he feels others may expect of him, he said. All considered, Newbold still feels it was “statistically impossible” that Trump lost the election.
To Newbold, it’s more likely that global elites targeted Trump for being an “outsider” and a threat to an establishment “that does things that are for self-interest, more than for the good of the country.” Trump didn’t deserve the vitriol, he said. It was irrational and, he feels, cultivated.
“It’s not all about the election,” he said. “The people in this country are manipulated on a daily basis and have been for a long time. It’s just that it’s been very blatant as of late.”
A sense of self
Psychology academics say conspiracy theories can help believers resolve or understand an ever-increasingly complicated or uncertain world.
"Conspiracy theories typically enhance one's sense of self and in-group as it makes one feel good and competent and in control," Youngstown State psychology professor Ying Joy Tang wrote in an email to Mahoning Matters. "On the other hand, it contributes to one vilifying and prejudicing against powerful others, enemies and out-groups."
Tang, who earned her doctorate in social psychology, currently teaches the subject at YSU and has studied the "self-protective defense mechanisms" humans use to protect their sense of self, she said.
When presented with information that clashes with one's worldview and makes one uncomfortable — called "cognitive dissonance" — believers most often dismiss it outright "to protect old beliefs" or "double-down" on their old beliefs and attack the opposing information, Tang said.
When those beliefs are "central to our identities," those defense mechanisms can be much more pronounced, she said.
And Trump loyalism has become a social identity for many, posited psychology professor John Ehrenreich, who cited that YouGov poll in his January article for Slate.
"For the Trump loyalist, to challenge Trump and his beliefs became a threat not just to their loyalty to Trump, but to their own identity. So if Trump insists COVID-19 emerged due to Chinese aggression or that the 2020 election was rigged, who is the Trump loyalist to disagree?" he wrote.
The kind of partisan, righteous indignation that sparked violence at the Capitol, as well as in several major cities following the May 2020 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while in police custody, is theorized by a group of psychologists to be tied to one's own moral foundations, Tang said — whether they care about fairness and cheating more than liberty and oppression.
"The basic argument is that liberals and conservatives care about different dimensions of morality, and thus may [be] justified in feeling strongly about issues that violate their sense of justice and morality, fueling the indignation and passion," she wrote. "It may also be some of the reasons for why they disagree so passionately."
Newbold told Mahoning Matters he thought Trump may declare martial law. Instead, Trump finally committed to a peaceful transition of power. In the video Newbold recorded just after the Capitol riot, he remarked on Trump’s televised call for an end to the siege.
“And, of course, people are saying, ‘Well, Trump was begging this to stop.’ What’s Trump supposed to say? … You think he’s not excited that we stood up for our country and against the fraud and corruption? Of course he is. Of course he is,” Newbold says in the video. “ I just hope it’s gonna be enough to make them think twice. I’d hate to see it escalate.
“There are stories to tell for generations upon generations. Hopefully it pans out to be a positive revolution. All right — we are ATG. Hooyah.”
‘It’s all a facade’
Newbold told Mahoning Matters he never thought of himself as an insurrectionist. He doesn’t intend to fight the government. But he didn’t sound sure about where he goes from here — perhaps he’ll focus on restoring the civil liberties he feels are being eroded.
“It may be a new political party. … I personally don’t feel there is a Democrat and Republican party. I think it’s all a facade,” he said.
Newbold’s hard feelings about the election aren’t going away, he said. He still plans to vote — for what little good it may do, he said — but he’s “absolutely lost faith in the system.”
“I don’t believe that our government is run by ‘We the People’ any longer, and I don’t know if it ever will be again.”