“Zip-Tie Guy” Arrest Spotlights Nashville MAGA Protest Scene 

By: - January 11, 2021 3:28 pm
Eric Munchel of Nashville entered the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Eric Munchel of Nashville entered the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The arrest and charging of a Tennessee man for allegedly breaching the Capitol and running wild in the Senate chamber carrying zip-tie restraints with a holster on his hip has spotlighted a Nashville scene of pro-Trump activists, some of whom appear to have attended the ill-fated Wednesday insurrection in the nation’s capital.

The group includes a bodybuilding bar bouncer and podcaster; a well-known Tennessee Proud Boy; and a one-time conservative political aide, who ran a political action committee associated with former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore. Some have appeared in photographs and videos taken in Washington, D.C., last week, and may have information about the alleged assailant’s activities and motives that day, while others have attended past rallies alongside the accused Capitol attacker in Nashville.

Yet even after the violent Capitol breach, which resulted in five deaths, some in that scene appear to be indignant or in disbelief that Eric Gavelek Munchel was in FBI custody, or went on sharing memes indicating the whole thing was an Antifa set-up, illustrating the fact-deficient bubble in which the group seems to live.

“Now the crying liberals are tagging the FBI trying to get protesters in trouble that went to DC.. what nut jobs,” posted a Facebook user identified as Christy Ice on January 8, sharing a screen grab of Munchel’s Facebook Live feed from three days earlier, with comments of users tagging the FBI, the Nashville Police Department and the Washington Metropolitan Police.

Later, Ice re-posted a photo from conservative rapper and viral TikTok poster Topher Towns asking his followers to “Tell the media that it was mostly peaceful protests,” and another meme implying one of the individuals who breached the Capitol was an Antifa plant. On Sunday, after news broke that Munchel was arrested, Ice posted an News Channel 5 article noting that the FBI had apprehended Munchel, and wrote, “Holy shit!!!,” tagging three other friends. “Wow that’s crazy,” one of them wrote. When another asked if she knows Munchel, she replied, “Yes.”

Ice did not respond to a message asking for comment and her friend who commented declined an interview for this article.

Indeed, photos appear to show Ice participated alongside Munchel at Nashville Trump protests last year, according to social media posts unearthed, memorialized and shared online by an activist collective called Opossum Press. It’s unclear if Ice was in Washington, D.C., last week. But in addition to Munchel, others in the photograph were.

Among those is Curt Dennis, Jr., a Nashville bodybuilder who goes by the alias Hulkzilla, and who lists on his LinkedIn page that he worked as a bouncer at Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, one block away from Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock N’ Roll Steakhouse, where Munchel is reported to have worked. Social media accounts for Kid Rock’s bar have been removed or made private since Munchel’s association with the establishment became public.

Before Munchel’s Facebook profile disappeared from the internet, it featured a photo of him and Dennis from a Nashville protest, the latter wearing an “All-American Badass” t-shirt and carrying the black and blue, pro-police “Thin Blue Line” version of the American flag. A screen grab of Munchel’s live stream of Wednesday’s events, shared by a Twitter user, appears to show Dennis wearing  similar “All-American Badass” gear posing with a group in the streets of D.C.

On a recent episode of the podcast Dennis co-hosts called “American Cockfidence,” he excoriated the “riots and looting” of left-wing protesters. Yet as the insurgents assaulted the Capitol on Wednesday, Dennis posted gleefully, “This was taken right as Patriots were storming the capital (sic) Wednesday. Fuckin amazing shit and hearing one my brothers who’s a veteran was literally a kid on Christmas day seeing this,” according to a screen grab of his Facebook page shared on Twitter. 

Dennis did not respond to a request for comment sent on Instagram.

Also pictured with Dennis in the streets of D.C. that day appears to be Matthew Walter, the leader of the Middle Tennessee Proud Boys, who described himself on his since-suspended Twitter account as the right-hand man to Proud Boys’ chairman Enrique Tarrio. Walter posted photos from the Capitol during the attack.

Since then, he has posted an appeal for money on the Christian crowdfunding platform Give Send Go, noting that, “They are trying to cancel us all,” and asking for $25,000 to “purchase electronic surveillance for my home, other personal protection equipment, and to sue Twitter and other big tech for silencing my voice.” 

Dennis also shared a link to the fund online. As of Monday, the fund had collected $421.

Another regular in the group is Aaron Gulbransen, a former Virginia Republican political aide, who used to help manage Growth PAC, according to payment records from the Federal Election Commission. The PAC was associated with former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who is now Trump’s United States Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Gulbransen was photographed alongside Munchel, Dennis and Ice at Nashville protests this summer. It’s not clear if Gulbransen was at the Capitol last week, but soon after, he posted on his Parler account apparently criticizing the response by tech companies.

“Social media created a fake world that people COSplay out in real life. Now they created an online Communist state,” he wrote.

Gulbransen did not respond to an emailed request for comment.


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Daniel Newhauser
Daniel Newhauser

Daniel Newhauser is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, National Journal, Politico, Roll Call, VICE News and several other publications. He can be found on Twitter @dnewhauser.