Jurors can’t agree if reservist charged in Jan. 6 riot had illegal silencers

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Federal prosecutors say the black metal cylinder sold online by a Georgia company called Hawk Innovative Tech is a firearm suppressor “masquerading” as a gun-cleaning device.

A Navy reservist accused of breaching the U.S. Capitol with the Proud Boys extremist group on Jan. 6, 2021, avoided convictions Friday – at least for now – on separate charges that he kept unregistered silencers among a stash of firearms.

U.S. District Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff declared a mistrial in the case of Hatchet M. Speed after a jury in Alexandria, Va., was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. It was a rare setback for federal prosecutors, in a high-profile case involving a defendant charged separately in the Capitol riot and what U.S. officials describe as a firearms manufacturing company in Georgia fraudulently marketing firearm suppressors, which are generally known as silencers, as gun-cleaning devices.

The Justice Department immediately sought to retry the case, and Nachmanoff set a Jan. 17 start date. Speed and his public defenders declined to comment.

A Navy reserve officer with a top-secret security clearance, Speed was investigated by the FBI for more than a year after his alleged 40-minute incursion with rioters into the Capitol building on Jan. 6. His trial in D.C. federal court on those misdemeanor charges is scheduled to begin Feb. 6.

But Speed faced a much longer prison term in Virginia – a maximum of 30 years – had the jury convicted him of owning three unregistered silencers. Under federal law, any device or part that can be used to reduce the sound of gunfire meets the definition of a silencer and must be registered with federal officials as if it were a firearm.

While searching a storage unit that Speed had leased in Alexandria, FBI agents in June found three metal tubes sold and advertised online as “solvent traps,” which are used to contain liquids while cleaning guns. Speed had ordered them from a Georgia-based company named Hawk Innovative Tech.

U.S. officials say the devices are highly effective silencers, which buyers use with minor modifications to evade a months-long approval process by claiming they are purchasing solvent traps.

Speed went on a “panic-buying” spree and purchased 12 firearms in the six months after Jan. 6, telling others he believed the government was going to fall, witnesses said at his trial. An undercover FBI agent was sent to befriend Speed and met with him eight times this year, surreptitiously recording the conversations, the agent testified in court.

Speed said he wanted to kidnap Jewish people in the Washington region and subject them to violence, according to a transcript of one meeting in April. “People who don’t have bodyguards, people who don’t have intel organizations helping them out,” the document quotes Speed as saying.

“You think at that point your, uh, your solvent traps would come in handy?” the undercover agent asked Speed, according to the transcript.

“My what?” Speed said.

“Your salvent – your solvent traps would come in handy at that point?” the agent said.

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s the idea,” Speed said.

Holding up one of the devices during his closing remarks to the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas W. Traxler said Speed was armed and dangerous, and that the case came down to common sense.

“Look carefully at these devices. Pick them up. Feel how heavy they are,” Traxler said. “What do they look like? They look like silencers.”

An expert witness from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Eve Eisenbise, told the jury that she tested one of the devices Speed had bought, finding that it reduced 23.58 decibels from the firing sound of a .22-caliber Ruger pistol. “That is one of the best decibel reductions that I’ve tested,” Eisenbise said.

Speed’s public defenders argued that the FBI found the three devices untouched, in their original packaging, 15 months after they were purchased, and that Speed never made the modifications required to convert them into functioning silencers. Eisenbise testified that she had to drill through an index hole in one of the device’s end-caps and remove several metallic strainers inside the tube before it could function as a silencer, a process she said took less than five minutes.

“Why would they remain untouched and unmodified for 15 months?” public defender Courtney Dixon said during her closing argument. Speed was a “gun enthusiast” who was stocking up on scarce items during the coronavirus pandemic like many other kinds of consumers, she said.

The ATF expert also testified that the titanium and aluminum devices were silencers and not solvent traps because they contained common silencer features such as expansion chambers, bafflers and spacers.

“Just because there’s a piece of paper here that says ‘This is a solvent trap’ doesn’t mean it’s a solvent trap,” Eisenbise said.

The jury did not hear evidence about Speed’s alleged incursion into the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack, but witnesses said Speed was upset after the insurrection and began to ramp up his gun purchases while telling others he believed the government would fall.

U.S. officials last year seized the website of Hawk Innovative Tech and its owners’ financial assets, shortly after Speed made his purchases. The case remains under seal in federal court in Georgia. A seizure notice posted on the company’s website says, “The possession of a silencer sold by Hawk Innovative Tech may be a violation of federal law.”

In a court filing last year, prosecutors said that “from at least 2017 until on or about April 14, 2021, Hawk Innovative’s website offered for sale firearm silencers, pre-drilled firearm silencer baffles, and other firearm silencer parts as solvent traps, solvent trap parts, and filters.”

“By misrepresenting the true nature of the firearm silencers that it marketed and sold online and distributed by mail, Hawk Innovative and its principals and employees engaged in mail fraud . . . and wire fraud,” the filing says. However, an attorney for Hawk Innovative Tech said no charges have been filed against the company or its owners.

“We’ve steadfastly maintained that the devices that are manufactured by Hawk are not designed or intended to be used as suppressors and in fact any potential customers that contacted Hawk Innovative Tech with the stated intention of even legally turning them into silencers were met with Hawk’s refusal even to sell to them,” attorney John Monroe said. “They’ve never said what about the devices makes them silencers; they’ve never said what constituted a mail fraud or wire fraud.”