Grand jury indicts Jefferson City man for assault on Knoxville federal building

By: - July 28, 2022 7:01 am
John J. Duncan Federal Building in Knoxville (Photo: Joseph Zanola for Google Earth)

John J. Duncan Federal Building in Knoxville (Photo: Joseph Zanola for Google Earth)

A Tennessee man accused of firing on a federal building in Knoxville as part of his “war” on government agencies was indicted this week.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday served up an indictment for destruction of government property against Mark Thomas Reno, 63, of Jefferson City.

Reno is already behind bars, arrested by the FBI earlier this month on a warrant alleging he fired several rounds from a .22-caliber rifle at the John J. Duncan Federal Office Building — which houses several government agencies including the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — in downtown Knoxville on July 3.

Court records reviewed by the Tennessee Lookout show Reno had a trove of guns and ammunition, the makings of homemade explosive devices and a bomb-making book and military training manuals in his home at the time of his arrest and had been using the Internet to search the “locations of federal buildings” in the state.

The FBI had been tracking and surveilling Reno since at least April, though it’s not yet clear why. He was not under physical surveillance at the time of the Knoxville shooting, but a tracking device the FBI mounted on his vehicle, along with security camera footage, placed him at the scene of that shooting.

In the months before the shooting at the Knoxville federal building, Reno was captured on a recording by an undercover agent confessing that he attended the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and took steps to conceal his identity, including donning glasses, changing his gait and using a fake cane. The FBI warrant stated there was no proof Reno entered the Capitol building that day, and he has not been charged with any criminal offense related to his attendance at the insurrection.

Mark Thomas Reno, 63, has a prior misdemeanor conviction for assaulting a family member and has been charged in the past with domestic violence against his wife and other family members. The charges were dismissed, but Reno has admitted to engaging in violent conduct.

But prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said at a recent court hearing they consider the firing on the federal building to be an act of terrorism and will seek to boost Reno’s sentence because of that.

“If convicted of this offense … the government believes it is likely (Reno) will face a terrorism-related sentencing enhancement that would result in a sentencing guideline range of 210 to 262 months,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Jill McCook wrote.

History of violence

McCook has ordered Reno jailed until trial, deeming him a threat to public safety and a risk of flight from prosecution. Her “statement of reasons” for that decision contained new details about Reno.

According to McCook, Reno “had a strong work history prior to retiring in 2017,” but she did not identify what type of work Reno had performed. He is currently receiving money from the federal government for an unidentified “disability.”

Reno moved to Tennessee two years ago and has been living in Jefferson City with his wife of 34 years. McCook wrote that Reno has a history of alcohol abuse and marijuana use and violence against his wife and others.

“(Reno) denies any history of mental health issues or emotional problems, but he does suffer from various physical health issues for which he takes medication,” McCook wrote. “He is also a user of marijuana, as he uses the substance to help manage his pain.”

McCook’s detention order indicates the FBI found “nearly half a pound of marijuana” in Reno’s home, but it does not appear from court records that he was charged in connection with it.

Reno has a prior misdemeanor conviction for assaulting an unidentified family member in 2005. He also has been charged in the past with domestic violence and assault against his wife and other family members, but those charges were dismissed, according to McCook.

“(Reno) admitted to engaging in violent conduct,” McCook wrote.

Reno has “access to a large sum of cash in his residence,” she wrote. “Notably, withdrawal slips associated with the cash found in his home were from a bank account not known to the government.”

Detention order for Mark Thomas Reno.

‘It’s war to the end now’

The FBI began surveilling Reno in April after he told an undercover agent, who was secretly recording the encounter, that he was a member of a Catholic militia group known as the Church Militant Resistance and that there were plans in the works to target and destroy government buildings.

“I mean, we have plenty of targets,” Reno told the undercover agent. “There should be no (U.S. Department of Education. Federally speaking, all education is done by the states why (are) the feds in on it at all? Department of Energy — don’t need it. I mean, the government’s here for defense, roads and privacy of communication. That’s all, that’s all it’s entitled to in the Constitution.
Logo for Church Militant resistance

“It’s not entitled to do anything else,” Reno continued. “Get rid of it all … It’s (expletive) war. It’s war to the end now.”

Reno didn’t know he was talking to an undercover agent or that his conversation was being recorded. The FBI did not identify the location of the meeting between Reno and the undercover agent, saying only that the meeting occurred at a “public gathering” in Knoxville. The agency also has not yet made clear whether the undercover agent specifically targeted Reno at that gathering or was surveilling the event for another purpose and encountered Reno in the process.

In addition to physically surveilling Reno more than a half dozen times from mid-April to late June, the FBI also successfully sought permission to install a tracking device on Reno’s vehicle and place a camera on a utility pole near Reno’s home.

On the day of the Knoxville federal building shooting, the tracking device revealed Reno traveled to downtown Knoxville and slowly circled the Duncan building before parking at a nearby church. His vehicle remained parked at the church for nearly two hours.

Minutes before the shooting, Reno’s vehicle left the church and traveled to the federal building, where the vehicle slowed and shots rang out. According to the FBI warrant, security camera footage captured the driver of that vehicle pointing a rifle out of the window at the time the shots were heard.

The shooting shattered three outer windows of the federal building but did not penetrate the building. Reno’s vehicle sped away seconds after the shooting, according to the FBI.

A trial date for Reno has not yet been set. He is being represented in the case by Assistant Federal Defender Sarah Olesiuk. Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Arrowood is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.