WASHINGTON — The big breakthrough in the FBI investigation began inside a Joann Fabric and Crafts store. Last weekend, a clothing designer was standing in the checkout line hoping to buy a needle for his sewing machine when his friend saw something funny on his phone.
It was a tweet from the FBI’s Washington Field Office that featured two shocking images of the 537th person added to the office’s list. US Capitol Violence Webpagewhich has functioned as a «most wanted» list of January 6 participants since the investigation began more than two years ago.
Number 537 on the FBI list is a woman in a white coat and black gloves, carrying a black Dolce & Gabbana bag, which has been the subject of conspiracy theories on January 6. In one image, eyebrow raised, she stares into the camera as if she’s Jim from «The Office.» In another, she stands near the Capitol, appearing to lead rioters with a stick.
On his head: a pink beret.
“I stopped dead in my tracks,” recalled the designer, who asked not to be named to avoid harassment and threats, in an interview with NBC News. «I’m like, ‘That’s Jenny.'»
He sent a tip to the FBI. On Monday, he said he received a call from the office, confirming that Jenny was being investigated. By Friday, a law enforcement official confirmed to NBC News that the bureau had identified «Pink Beret» as former clothing designer Jennifer Inzuza Vargas of Los Angeles.
NBC News has tried to reach Vargas for comment but has not received a response.
The designer had dated Vargas four years ago and was able to identify her to the FBI thanks to the cheepthe popularity of Recent Posts from the FBI Washington Field Office on Twitter have garnered between 10,000 and 20,000 views. The tweet about the woman in the pink beret received more than 7.2 million. Among those millions of viewers was her friend in Joann Fabric.
The images did not show what the woman did at the Capitol, so many on Twitter assumed she did nothing serious. Some Donald Trump supporters pounced, calling this another case of FBI overreach, a reason to defund the office.
The jokes also flooded. One Twitter user dubbed the woman “Insurrection eva brown”, another compared her to Carmen Sandiego. Someone called her a «fascist» matilda”, and several users made jokes that she was a character from a Wes Anderson movie. «Emily in jail,» read one of the joke tweets in reference to the «Emily in Paris» show. There were a couple of comparisons with April Ludgatethe character played by Aubrey Plaza on NBC’s «Parks and Recreation.»
The clothing designer’s friend was among them: «He’s always on Twitter, and he was like, ‘Take a look at this girl.'»
That night, after tipping off the FBI, the clothing manufacturer took to its own Twitter account and tweeted the FBI’s post.
“I used to date this girl in 2019 LOL,” he tweeted, attaching an old photo of Vargas, wearing a red ski hat. After her tweet began to gain traction, she began receiving harassment and worried that it could turn into threats. She decided to delete the tweet, saying things were getting «crazy.»
Toward «sedition hunters” — the online sleuths who have spent the past 800-plus days collecting and organizing open source materials to help identify the January 6 rioters — Vargas was known as #PinkBeret. While detectives assisted in cases against hundreds of defendants on Jan. 6 and identified hundreds of more Jan. 6 rioters the FBI had yet to arrest, Pink Beret remained elusive, despite being caught in a variety of videos and photos that day.
Online detectives had traced pink beret day, and she seemed to be everywhere. There she was, captured in photos and videos taken at the initial breach of the police line, by the Peace Monument. There she was, on the front line of the attack, in a video cheering as rioters smashed a black fence so the pieces could be thrown at the police line. There she is, in photos and video, holding the door open for other rioters at a breaking point, entering the building, and then entering the building again from a second breaking point. There she is inside as men in military gear chase the cops under an emergency door. There she is, smoking a cigar, on the east side of the Capitol. There she is, pulling a large black bag from the pile of media equipment that the rioters were hell-bent on destroying. “Traitors get the f—ing rope,” someone yells repeatedly as rioters vandalize equipment and Pink Beret looks on in high heels.
They had attacked him from all angles, but to no avail. One detective said he had searched so much for pink berets that he began receiving ads targeting the caps, including a pink one trimmed with little white puffs.
That all changed last weekend when detectives saw the clothing designer’s tweet. They said they ran a facial recognition check, found a match, found more photos, and found plenty of material to confirm the ID, including a post in which he appears to have sold a (slightly damaged) Dolce & Gabbana bag that resembles Pink’s. Beret led to the Capitol.
The clothing designer, who resides in Los Angeles, met Vargas, who is from Sacramento, online and they hit it off «very well» in late 2018. In early 2019, when they were in their early 20s, Vargas flew to Los Angeles «We weren’t, like, trying to get married or anything,» he said. «We were dating for a few months.»
Toward the end of those months, the designer said, Vargas posted on her Discord that she was reading Hitler’s 1925 manifesto. They had a discussion about it that revealed more of Vargas’ far-right politics, she said.
“I was instantly turned off, like, ‘Yo, I don’t think this is going to work,’” he said. «You’re reading ‘Mein Kampf’ and you think immigrants don’t deserve X, Y, Z.» (One of the social media accounts linked to Vargas, which was seen by NBC News, also references Hitler.)
After their relationship fell through, Vargas stayed in the Los Angeles area, the designer said; the account that sold the Dolce & Gabbana bag is based for her in Beverly Hills, and an Instagram account that appears to belong to her has posted from Los Angeles.
They kept in touch, occasionally exchanging messages even though their interests diverged. “He really likes politics and I didn’t know anything other than the fact that Trump lost,” the designer said. But he knew she was in Washington on January 6th, and he did some digging. He even asked her if she was on the «no fly» list in a message she wrote to him a few days after the attack, on January 10, 2021, which she shared with NBC News.
«No, because I didn’t enter the [Capitol]she wrote, despite extensive video evidence later seen by NBC News that appears to show her inside the building.
“But you still crossed state lines to cause a riot,” he replied.
“I was there to support the president. Do not participate in that riot. I support the police,” Vargas replied.
In the months that she remained unidentified, some speculated that Pink Beret was an «agent provocateur» part of a pattern by the January 6 defendants and their supporters who tried to deflect responsibility for their actions by suggesting that other rioters were working on behalf of the government to trap Trump supporters during the attack.
Kira West, a lawyer for Jan. 6 defendant Darrell Neely, questioned the government about Pink Beret, who is seen on video holding hands with Neely inside 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 been charged with crimes like everyone else.»
West, in a presentation in February, wrote that “Mr. Neely’s entrance into the Capitol was led by Pink Beret. Mr. Neely needs to know who she is and why he 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 allow «robust cross-examination of government witnesses about the Pink Beret girl, her possible connection to police, and her role in the events of January 6.» of 2021,» West wrote.
the government has sought that Neely’s defense team at trial be barred from raising questions about whether Pink Beret was a member of the police unless they could offer any evidence for that claim, writing, «The Government is not aware of any evidence to support that claim ”.
With hundreds of cases on hold, months and even years have passed between the time rioters were identified and when they were arrested. But since Neely’s trial is scheduled to begin on May 22, the government may need to present the new evidence it collected last weekend about Vargas’ identity in an expedited manner.
When asked this week about his ex’s identification of Pink Beret, West said he wanted answers from the FBI months ago. «The FBI is late,» West told NBC News. «I have no idea if she has a connection to [law enforcement]. They won’t tell us.
Vargas is not the first January 6 troublemaker to be turned in by a former romantic partner. Richard Michetti was sued by her ex after he called her a «jerk» on Capitol Hill because she didn’t believe Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election. Last year, he was sentenced to nine months in federal prison. .
The clothing designer said he thinks it’s important to get to the bottom of things and find out if Vargas was working with any extremists on Jan. 6. But he said his «heart ached» for Vargas.
“She is clearly like a missing person,” he said, but added that there must be accountability for the people who broke into the Capitol.
He said he was struck by the sheer randomness of learning an ex-girlfriend was on the FBI’s wanted list due to viral Twitter pranks.
«It’s just going to be one of those things for me,» the designer quipped. «I dated a girl who was on the FBI’s most wanted list.»