WASHINGTON – The breakthrough in the FBI investigation began at a Joann Fabric and Crafts store. Last weekend, a fashion designer was standing at the checkout waiting to buy a needle for his sewing machine when his buddy saw something funny on his phone.
It was a tweet from the FBI’s Washington field office with two prominent images of the 537th person added to the FBI’s US Capitol Violence website, which has been on the “Most Wanted” list of participants since the investigation began more than two years ago from January 6 acted before.
No. 537 on the FBI list is a woman wearing a white coat and black gloves and carrying a black Dolce & Gabbana purse who was the subject of January 6 conspiracy theories. In one picture, she looks dead at the camera with a raised eyebrow, like she’s Jim from The Office. In another, she stands near the Capitol and appears to direct rioters with a cane.
On her head: a pink beret.
“I stopped in my tracks,” recalled the designer, who asked not to be named to avoid harassment and threats, in an interview with NBC News. “I say, ‘This is Jenny.'”
He sent a tip to the FBI. On Monday, he said he received a call from the office confirming they were investigating Jenny. On Friday, a police officer confirmed to NBC News that the FBI had identified “Pink Beret” as the ex of Los Angeles fashion designer Jennifer Inzuza Vargas.
NBC News attempted to reach out to Vargas for comment but received no response.
The designer had dated Vargas four years ago and was able to identify her thanks to the FBI tweetPopularity. Recent posts from the FBI Washington field office on Twitter have been viewed 10,000 to 20,000 times. The tweet about the woman in the pink beret received more than 7.2 million. Among those millions of viewers was his friend in Joann Fabric.
The images didn’t show what the woman was doing in the Capitol, leading many on Twitter to assume she hadn’t done anything serious. Some Donald Trump supporters pounced, calling this another case of FBI abuse, a reason to disappoint the bureau.
The jokes flooded in too. One Twitter user called the woman “Insurgent Eva Braun,” another compared her to Carmen Sandiego. Someone called her “fascist Matilda,” and several users joked that she was a character from a Wes Anderson movie. “Emily detained,” read one of the joke tweets, referring to the show “Emily in Paris.” There were a few comparisons to April Ludgate, the character played by Aubrey Plaza on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
The fashion designer’s friend was among them: “He’s always on Twitter and he’s like, ‘Yo look at this girl.'”
That night, after tipping off the FBI, the apparel maker took to its own Twitter account and cited the FBI’s post.
“I dated this girl in 2019 LOL,” he tweeted, attaching an old pic of Vargas wearing a red ski beanie. After his tweet gained momentum, he was harassed and feared it could escalate into threats. He decided to delete the tweet, saying things were going “crazy.”
To the “Sedition Hunters” — the online sniffer dogs who have spent the past 800+ days compiling and organizing open-source materials to identify the January 6 insurgents — Vargas was known as #PinkBeret. While detectives had assisted in the cases of hundreds of January 6 defendants and identified hundreds of other January 6 rioters the FBI had not yet apprehended, Pink Beret remained elusive, though he appeared in a variety of videos that day and photos were taken.
Online detectives had Pink Beret’s day planned, and she seemed to be everywhere. There she was, captured in photos and video taken the first time the police line broke through at the Peace Memorial. There she was on the front lines of the attack, cheering on video as rioters tore apart a black fence so they could throw the pieces onto the police line. There, in photos and videos, she holds the door open for other rioters at a breach point, enters the building, and then re-enters the building from a second breach point. She’s inside as men in military gear chase cops through a roll-down emergency door. There she is, smoking a cigar, on the east side of the Capitol. There she is, by retrieving a large black bag from the pile of media gear that the rioters were keen to destroy. “Traitors get the damn rope,” someone yells repeatedly as rioters smash equipment and high-heeled pink beret looks on.
They had attacked it from all sides, but no luck. One detective said he searched so much for pink berets that he started getting targeted ads for the caps, including a pink one adorned with small white puffs.
That changed last weekend when detectives saw the fashion designer’s tweet. They said they ran a facial recognition check, found a match, found more photos and found tons of material to confirm the ID, including a post where she appears to have sold a (slightly damaged) Dolce & Gabbana purse that so looks like this pink beret wore to the capitol.
The Los Angeles-based fashion designer met Vargas from Sacramento online and they “got really good” in late 2018. In early 2019, when they were in their early 20s, Vargas flew to LA. “We weren’t trying to get married or anything,” he said. “We were together for a few months.”
Towards the end of those months, the designer says, Vargas posted on his Discord that she was reading Hitler’s 1925 Manifesto. They got into a discussion about it, which revealed more about Vargas’ far-right politics, he said.
“I was immediately put off, like, ‘Yo, I don’t think this is going to work,'” he said. “You’re reading ‘Mein Kampf’ right now and you think immigrants don’t deserve X,Y,Z.” (One of the social media accounts linked to Vargas, viewed by NBC News, also includes references to Hitler.)
After their relationship fizzled out, Vargas stayed in the Los Angeles area, the designer said; The account that sold the Dolce & Gabbana bag is based in Beverly Hills, and an Instagram account that appears to be hers posted from Los Angeles.
They kept in touch and occasionally exchanged messages, although their interests diverged. “She’s very interested in politics and I didn’t know anything except the fact that Trump lost,” the designer said. But he knew she was in Washington on January 6th doing some research. He even asked her if she was on the no-fly list in a message he wrote to her a few days after the Jan. 10, 2021 attack, which he shared with NBC News.
“Nope, because I didn’t go in [Capitol]’ she wrote despite extensive video evidence, later viewed by NBC News, which appears to show her inside the building.
“But you still crossed state lines to riot,” he replied.
“I was there to support the President. Don’t take part in this riot. I support the police,” Vargas replied.
In the months that she was not identified, some speculated Pink Beret was an “agent provocateur,” part of a pattern of January 6 defendants and their supporters attempting to deflect responsibility for their actions by proposing , other rioters worked on behalf of the government to capture Trump supporters during the attack.
Kira West, an attorney for Darrell Neely, who was indicted on January 6, has questioned the government about Pink Beret, who is seen on video holding hands with Neely in the Capitol. West wrote in a memo this year that it was “hard to believe the government doesn’t know who she is and even harder to understand why she hasn’t charged her with crimes like everyone else.”
West wrote in a February filing that “Mr. Neely’s entry into the Capitol was led by Pink Beret. Mr. Neely needs to know who she is and why she was there. He also needs to understand if he was attacked by her that day and for what purpose.”
Pink Beret was “central to Mr Neely’s defense” and the court should conduct “robust cross-examination of government witnesses about Pink Beret’s girl, her possible connection to law enforcement and her role in the events of January 6, 2021.” allow said West wrote.
The government has sought to bar Neely’s defense team in court from asking questions about whether Pink Beret was a member of law enforcement unless they could provide evidence to support that claim, writing: “The government is not aware of any evidence that would support this claim. ”
With hundreds of cases waiting in the pipeline, months and even years have elapsed between the rioters’ identification and their arrest. However, with Neely’s trial set to begin on May 22, the government may need to expeditiously present the new evidence it gathered over the past weekend on Vargas’ identity.
When asked if Pink Beret was identified by her ex, West said she wanted answers from the FBI months ago. “The FBI is running late,” West told NBC News. “I have no idea if she has any connection to it [law enforcement]. You won’t tell us.”
Vargas isn’t the first Jan. 6 rioter to be reported by a former romantic partner. Richard Michetti was sued by his ex after he called her an “idiot” in the Capitol for not believing Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. Last year he was sentenced to nine months in federal prison.
The fashion designer said he thought it was important to get to the bottom of things and find out if Vargas was collaborating with any extremists on January 6. But he said his “heart hurts” for Vargas.
“She’s clearly a lost person,” he said, but added that there must be accountability for people who stormed the Capitol.
He said he was struck by the sheer coincidence of learning that an ex-girlfriend was on the FBI’s most wanted list because of viral Twitter jokes.
“For me, it’s just going to be one of those things,” the designer joked. “I dated this girl who was on the FBI’s most wanted list.”