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Oldsmar man had explosive device near Jan. 6 anniversary rally in Pinellas, sheriff says

·3 min read

A 22-year-old Oldsmar man was arrested early Friday morning after being found with a homemade explosive device near the site of an anniversary rally for Jan. 6, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Garrett James Smith was arrested on charges of making and possessing a destructive device and loitering. He remains in jail on a bond of $300,000.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Smith was seen running away from a political assembly supporting an arrested Oath Keeper on the evening of Jan. 6, 2022.

Smith did not detonate or place the explosive device he made. Gualtieri said Smith has not been cooperating and the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t know why he abandoned his plan or what his political beliefs are.

“Smith is what we call a sleeper, and these are the most concerning individuals because there are no opportunities to intervene and thwart their criminal activity before they actually act,” Gualtieri said.

The rally on the anniversary of Jan. 6 was organized in support of Jeremy Brown, a Tampa member of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group and a former member of the U.S. Army special forces. Brown was arrested after he participated in the riot at the Capitol, where he was pictured in tactical gear.

Federal agents who searched Brown’s home found a sawed-off shotgun, short-barrel rifle, hand grenades and more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition.

The event Thursday night was held outside the Pinellas County Jail on 49th Street North and featured political speakers including Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, and Brown himself, who called in to speak from jail.

The speakers at the rally accused the federal government of making political prisoners out of conservatives who went up to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 last year.

Smith was found across the street in a parking lot by the Pinellas County Courthouse off 144th Avenue North and 46th Street North. Two deputies spotted him as he ran east from the rally, dressed in all black with a balaclava covering his face, and detained him on a loitering charge.

When deputies searched a black backpack Smith had, they found a homemade pipe-style explosive device, Gualtieri said. Sheriff’s deputies found a piece of paper titled “direct action checklist,” where Smith made a list of clothing, armor and gear to bring, including listed items such as a helmet and shaded goggles, a gas mask, duct tape and flammable rags.

In his backpack, they also found a helmet with a logo on it that had been seen at other protests in cities such as Portland, where Smith had spent time, Gualtieri said.

In affidavits, the arresting detective, under the “aggravating/mitigating” section of the report, notes “Antifa” and requests a high bail. In one of the reports, the detective wrote “Antifa/Anti gov/Extrem.” However, Gualtieri said it was too early to say with which group Smith may be affiliated. The Sheriff’s Office found no prior intelligence on him and is cooperating with the FBI on the investigation.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and FBI Tampa’s bomb technician confirmed it was an active explosive device, Gualtieri said. Deputies cleared the protesters in the area at about 7:45 p.m., then brought out K9s and a heat-sensing helicopter to search the area.

Deputies obtained a search warrant for Smith’s house, where they found another pipe explosive, along with hand grenade-style explosives, nails and duct tape, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

On the night of the protest, Gualtieri said there were undercover detectives at the rally. There also was unrelated traffic enforcement going on alongside Bayside Bridge, which Gualtieri said resulted in a lot of patrol cars.

“Did that affect him and maybe a reason why he didn’t go across the street? I don’t know,” Gualtieri said.

The arrest was Smith’s first. He turned 22 on Jan. 6.