The U.S. Capitol Police arrested a man at a security checkpoint in Washington on Friday after he flashed what an officer described as an “unauthorized” inauguration credential and a search of his truck found an unregistered handgun and ammunition, the authorities said.
A federal law enforcement official said that the man, Wesley A. Beeler, 31, worked as a contractor, and that his credential was issued by the Park Police, but was not recognized by the police officer. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest. Mr. Beeler had no known extremist ties, the official said.
“It was an honest mistake,” Mr. Beeler told The Washington Post after being charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and released on Saturday afternoon. He said he had been working a security job in Washington, was running late to work, and had forgotten that his firearm was in his truck.
“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in D.C. because I’m a country boy,” he told The Post. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”
The arrest comes as law enforcement officials have tried to fortify Washington ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday, when they fear that extremists emboldened by the attack on the Capitol by President Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6 could seek to cause violence. A militarized “green zone” is being established downtown, National Guard members are flooding the city, and a metal fence has gone up around the Capitol grounds in advance of the swearing-in of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Beeler, of Front Royal, Va., had driven up to a security checkpoint less than half a mile from the Capitol grounds on Friday evening and presented “an unauthorized inauguration credential,” according to a statement from a Capitol Police officer filed in a District of Columbia court on Saturday. The officer, Roger Dupont, said that he had checked the credential against a list and found that it did not give Mr. Beeler authority to enter the restricted area.
Officers searched his truck, which had several gun-related bumper stickers, and found a loaded Glock pistol, 509 rounds for the pistol and 21 shotgun shells, the police said. Mr. Beeler had admitted having the Glock in the truck’s center console when he was asked if there were weapons in the car, they said.
Mr. Beeler was charged with five crimes, including possession of a weapon and ammunition in Washington without proper registration. He and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday, but in his interview with The Post, Mr. Beeler denied having 500 rounds of ammunition.
In an interview, Mr. Beeler’s father, Paul Beeler said his son, a father of four, was working security near the Capitol grounds in recent days and had held other security jobs in Washington over the years. Mr. Beeler has an active private security license in Virginia and is approved to carry firearms while on assignments there, according to a state website.
“He was proud of the work he was doing with the police and the National Guard,” his father said. Asked if he thought his son supported a peaceful transition of power, he said, “That’s the reason he’s there.”
The elder Beeler said he had grown worried when his son did not return text messages on Friday night, and that he had called him on Saturday morning, when he thought his son would be returning to Virginia after his shift. He and his wife discovered that Mr. Beeler had been arrested when she received a call from a reporter, he said.
Law enforcement officials have said they are alarmed by chatter among far-right groups and other racist extremists who are threatening to target the nation’s capital to protest Mr. Biden’s electoral victory. Federal agencies have tried to keep some people who breached the Capitol with weapons earlier this month from returning to the city, including by restricting their ability to board commercial planes, according to an administration official.
Mr. Biden has resisted calls to move the inauguration ceremony indoors for the sake of safety. His inauguration committee had already been planning a scaled-back celebration with virtual components because of the coronavirus.