Joseph Bolanos was a pillar of his community. President of his Upper West Side block association for the past 23 years, he looked out for his neighbours during the pandemic. He dropped off masks and kept extra heaters in his rent-controlled apartment for seniors. He raised morale with a weekly street dance to show his support for essential workers.
But the FBI still raided his and his mother’s apartments. He’s had two strokes since. He’s said he’s been ostracized by his community, where he was a respected member. All because an anonymous caller reportedly told the FBI he was bragging about having entered the Capitol — which he has the evidence to prove he didn’t do.
Bolanos is a Red Cross volunteer after the 9/11 attacks, the 69-year-old security consultant once received a police commendation for heroism after saving a woman from being mugged.
Unmarried, and caring for his 94-year-old mother, he was a well-loved character in the quiet residential area.
But now his neighbours think he is a domestic terrorist.
Yes, he attended then-President Donald Trump’s rally in Washington, DC, on Jan. 6, but he never entered the Capitol. He was in a friend’s room at the JW Marriott a 30-minute walk away when the Capitol breach occurred.
Nonetheless, he was raided in February by the FBI anti-terrorism task force, handcuffed, paraded and detained for three hours while his apartment was ransacked and all his devices confiscated. Four months later, he hasn’t been charged and doesn’t have his devices back, but his neighbours are shunning him, and he’s had two strokes from the stress.
“It’s destroyed my reputation,” he says. “I’m not a violent invader … I do not condone the criminality and violence on [Jan. 6] whatsoever.”
The FBI told Bolanos he was raided because of a tip to the Jan. 6 hotline from a neighbour who said he had overheard him “boasting” about being at the Capitol.
An FBI agent phoned Bolanos the Sunday after the riot and left a message. He returned the call the next day but never heard back.
At the time he was staying at his mother’s apartment in Washington Heights because she had been moved to rehab and he was facing the difficult decision of whether she should move into permanent care.
On Feb. 4, four FBI agents arrived unannounced and interviewed him for 25 minutes. They asked if he was a member of BLM, Antifa or the Proud Boys. He said no.
According to columnist Miranda Devine Devine, Bolanos says that he avoids political discussions with his neighbours, but that he was a registered Democrat and “an independent at heart” who liked Trump’s policies but wasn’t a hardcore supporter of the now-former president. He was in block leadership in an area he said was filled with ultra-progressives and conservatives who knew well enough to keep their opinions to themselves.
Bolanos is a registered Democrat, but calls himself “an independent at heart.” He liked Trump’s policies but was never a Trump fanatic.
He strived to keep politics out of his leadership role, knowing his neighbours were a mixture of ultra-progressives and closet conservatives.
Trump’s speech was boring, and the day was cold and blustery, said Bolanos, so at about 12:40 p.m., he and his friends left early and made the eight-minute trek back to the Marriott.
That’s where they were when the Capitol barricades were breached at 12:57 p.m. Bolanos has time stamps on photographs he took in the hotel to prove it. One inside the room was taken at 1:41 p.m. Another out the window of the street below was taken at 1:45 p.m. Another photo was taken at 2:04 p.m. inside a hotel elevator. He says that is when they decided to head back to the Capitol to see what had happened with the Electoral College count.
Bolanos videotaped the scene as they walked slowly down Pennsylvania Avenue. They were still about a mile away at 2:12 p.m. when invaders smashed windows and stormed the Capitol.
They arrived at the rear of the Capitol at about 2:45 p.m. Unbeknownst to Bolanos, inside the building, Ashli Babbitt has just been shot. He and his friends stood on a patch of muddy lawn about 400 feet from the wall of the Capitol taking photos. The riot was all over.
“There was no hint of violence … If you were shooting a movie at that location, you would never know anything had happened.”
No police were there. The only disorder he remembers seeing was a pile of overturned bike racks.
In the distance, he could see people climbing a wall of the Capitol. “But I couldn’t process it. I thought why they are climbing it.”
He told the FBI agents all of this. He gave them a video compilation of peaceful crowds and told them he could provide more videos from a camera in his apartment. They said they would call Monday but never did.
The next Thursday at 6 a.m., he was awakened in his mother’s apartment by loud banging. “I opened the door and there are about 10 tactical police soldiers and one is pointing a rifle at my head. [They had] a battering ram and a crowbar.”
They also had a search warrant, issued by District Judge Gabriel Gorenstein, which named Bolanos as the “target subject.” The front door of his empty apartment was being broken down in a simultaneous raid.
The warrant authorized the federal agents to seize his property as evidence relating to crimes including “obstruction of Congress,” “civil disorders,” “conspiracy to impede/assault federal agents,” “interstate travel to participate in the riot,” and “unlawful entry on restricted buildings or grounds.”
The FBI ransacked both apartments, upending drawers, trashing his mother’s bedroom.
He was handcuffed and taken outside to an FBI car to be interrogated for four hours.
An NBC camera crew had been tipped off and was there to film his shame. NBC quoted “sources” saying charges against him were imminent. The story would be repeated in two local publications.
He started feeling sick at about 11 a.m., so the FBI called an ambulance. When he was admitted to Mt. Sinai, his blood pressure was through the roof and he had suffered a stroke.
The neighbours he had helped all those years have turned their backs on him. One woman who cooked him a nice dinner last Thanksgiving wrote him a nasty note: “I hope Antifa gets you.”
Bolanos is bereft. He has not been charged and insists he has committed no crime.
But like thousands of other law-abiding Americans who went to Washington on Jan. 6 to see the president speak, his life has been ruined by a hysterical witch hunt for phantom domestic terrorists.
The violence that day was terrible and those responsible are being prosecuted to the full extent of the law, as they should be. But the overkill stinks of the sort of political purge you see in Communist China.