I have to admit that I find characters like Jorge Riley absolutely fascinating. The former Corresponding Secretary of the California Republican Assembly, and former President of the Sacramento Republican Assembly, Riley says that he is a “French-speaking, Native American Messianic Jewish right-wing conservative Republican.”
He is also now a prisoner in federal custody, awaiting trial for his role in the violent January 6th attack on the Capitol building, all of which he richly documented on his Facebook page.
Riley really made this easy on his prosecutors. On the 5th of January, the day before the assault, he posted on Facebook the following message: “Do you really not get what is going to happen on the 6th? I absolutely am looking forward to that and NO MATTER WHAT THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN STOP IT!!!” Between the 6th and the 8th of January, he posted, according to the charging documents, “over 150 messages, photographs, and videos on his public Facebook account, detailing his actions on January 6.”
Those posts show Riley wearing “war paint” and a feather in his long black hair. They show Riley stating in one video that he had “breached” the Capitol building, pushed past police officers, and carried on despite being hit with pepper spray three times. Riley said that “we broke windows. We went into the door. We pushed our way into Nancy Pelosi’s office. We just kept going further and further . . . and then we were sitting in there, yelling ‘Fuck you Nancy Pelosi.’”
It did not take FBI officials much time to track down Riley. He was arrested a week after the protest at his home in Sacramento.
Last Wednesday, Riley appeared before a federal judge in Sacramento, who ordered him returned to Washington to face charges, two misdemeanors and a Class B felony. The judge called Riley “a man of impulse and poor judgment,” which seems like an understatement. Riley’s attorney said that his client was neither a flight risk nor a threat to the community, because the person who summoned him to Washington, Donald Trump, was no longer president and would not be issuing any more orders. Besides, Riley was a disabled American veteran who used his $600 Covid relief check to book travel to Washington. Now he was broke. The judge did not buy any of this.
Riley has said different things about his Native American identity, and Acee Agoyo, the fantastic reporter who writes for Indianz.com, was obviously skeptical about the claims of this “self-proclaimed Native Republican.” She suggested that his hair was dyed, his identity a fabrication: another nutty Pretendian. Indeed, one woman who commented on Agoyo’s article identified herself as Riley’s ex-wife. She said he had a long record of violence and drug abuse, a long criminal record, and that “he is NOT Native Amarican [sic] he’s Mexican and White!”
I am not sure what makes Jorge Riley tick. I am not in the business of disputing one’s claims to Native American identity, even though I have written about a number of historical figures whose “real” identities” were drawn with very blurred lines. Riley made jokes likening the occupation of the Capitol to taking land back that had been illegally seized. Maybe he will demonstrate ties to an Indigenous community in California or elsewhere. Maybe he belongs in the same category as the crazy Q-Shaman. Time will tell. There is some strange stuff going on in the American culture. And historians can cite so many examples of a conjured Native American identity, from Elizabeth Warren to Andrea Smith to Mr. Riley, fulfilling needs material and spiritual.
By the end of the day, after scuffling with police and leaving Capitol Hill and walking down the mall drinking a beer, Riley’s “fake” war paint had washed off.