From Peace Corp volunteer to Capitol insurrectionist: How Thomas Baranyi went from being a quiet, troubled kid to a man who felt betrayed by politics

thomas baranyi

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Thomas Baranyi was part of the mob breaking down the doors into the Senate chamber when Capitol police shot the woman next to him.

She was later identified as Air Force veteran and fervent Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt. She became one of five people who died due to the US Capitol insurrection on January 6.

“It could have been me but she went in first. It was one of us,” Baranyi later told a local television reporter, in what has now become a viral interview.

Wearing a New York Giants sweatshirt and a pro-Trump baseball cap, the 28-year-old New Jersey native flashed his hand, bloody from the neck wound that killed Babbitt, in front of the camera as he explained what had happened.

Read more: ‘It was degrading’: Black Capitol custodial staff talk about what it felt like to clean up the mess left by violent pro-Trump white supremacists

“We tore through the scaffolding, through flash bangs and tear gas, and blitzed our way in through all the chambers just trying to get into Congress or whoever we could get in to and tell them that we need some kind of investigation into this [election],” he told the reporter. “And what ends up happening is that someone might have ended up dead, and that’s not the kind of government we can have.”

thomas baranyi

Baranyi looks pale and in shock. “They don’t care,” he said, pointing to the Capitol building.

“I mean, they think we’re a joke. $2,000 checks was a joke to them. There were people filming us, laughing at us as we walked down the street…It was a joke to them until we got inside and then all of a sudden, guns came out,” he added.

Weeks after the deadly incident that shocked the nation, a more thorough portrait of Baranyi, a former Peace Corps veteran, is starting to take shape.

A troubled childhood

Baranyi’s teenage years were marked by his mother and father’s messy divorce, the consequent custody battle, and financial insecurity.

Baranyi’s parents — Nancy and Drake — separated in 2005 when he was 13-years-old. Following the separation, Baranyi and his two younger brothers moved into a house in Hamilton, New Jersey, with their mother and grandmother, Elizabeth.

However, according to a witness statement made by Elizabeth in a New Jersey appellate court, Baranyi’s mother was kicked out of the home after she was found “running around” with local contractor Jim Hranek.

Thomas’s grandmother — then in her mid-70s — temporarily became the three boys’ primary caregiver. She described how she was compelled to do so because neither parent was fit to look after children.

thomas baranyi yearbook

In her witness statement, Elizabeth cited Nancy and Drake’s histories of alcohol addictions and claimed that there were repeated domestic violence incidents between the parents.

Months later, Nancy decided to move with her sons into her lover’s home. This was a cause for concern for their father who had discovered that Hranek had been convicted of child endangerment, the Superior Court for New Jersey, Appellate Division, heard.

Hranek had kissed an ex-girlfriend’s eight-year-old daughter while undressed and under the influence of drugs. He pled guilty to third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. The incident took place in 2000.

Drake then reignited the custody battle in a bid to prevent Hranek from having unsupervised contact with his children. Hranek was deemed to be at “low risk” of a repeat offense after a psychological assessment.

While the two younger brothers remained at Hranek’s home, Thomas decided to live with his father in a “crowded” apartment — according to a legal document. A judge noted that while Thomas’s mother had achieved sobriety, his father was likely still abusing drugs and alcohol.

Capitol riot protestors

Drake, a repairman for New Jersey’s Department of Corrections, also struggled with his finances, bankruptcy, and faced his property being repossessed on several occasions.

‘From a very young age, he was disillusioned with the government’

Baranyi attended Hamilton High School West, a public school in Mercer County, New Jersey. Two classmates told Insider that he was nerdy and exceptionally quiet.

While there, he was an active member of the Anime and Gaming Club. Amanda Rubi, who was also involved, told Insider that he was part of the “quintessential nerd group.” The social circle was also frequently referred to by others as “the island of misfit toys,” according to another classmate.

Rubi was shocked to discover that Baranyi had been involved in the Capitol building’s siege because he had been so reserved during high school. “He wasn’t weird or anything but he just didn’t really talk much,” she said.

She knew that his parents were getting divorced but she thought, from the outside looking in, that “they seemed like a relatively normal family.”

Baranyi’s childhood best friend, Patrick Marrazzo, saw a more combative side to Baranyi. “He was a confrontational kid,” he told Insider. “He even bit a couple of guys.” He added that the older kids bullied him. 

“He liked aggression,” Marrazzo continued.

This, he said, prompted Baranyi to join the school’s varsity football team. “It was an outlet for him. He was disgruntled,” he added.

Baranyi had always been interested in politics

Baranyi also seethed with political resentment from a young age. “He was disillusioned with the government,” his best friend said.

Marrazzo and Baranyi frequently chatted politics around the lunch table, in the school cafeteria. The discussions — taking place during the final years of President George W. Bush’s second term — focused on economic issues and the Iraq War, Marrazzo said.

While these political conversations were animated, they were never radical. “It wasn’t anything nuts at the time,” he recalled.

Read more: Trump allies are slamming the president and likening the mob he unleashed on the US Capitol to authoritarian countries

It was only after Baranyi left high school that his political views grew more extreme. Marrazzo said that, in 2011, Baranyi told him that he thought 9/11 was staged and part of a false flag operation in a Facebook message.

Shortly after, Baranyi told friends about his plans to go off the radar. “He seemed like he was in the early stages of almost being a doomsday prepper,” Marrazzo explained.

A few months after this conversation, Baranyi deleted his Facebook and stopped speaking to his high school friends. He has not been in touch since 2011, said Marrazzo.

After high school, Baranyi attended Mercer Community College. He was academically successful and in his second year, he made it on the Dean’s List for academic excellence.

After completing community college, Baranyi was then accepted onto a highly-regarded teacher training course at The College of New Jersey in Trenton. While there, he had a keen interest in world history.

In 2016, as part of the college’s celebration of student achievements, he was asked to present a talk on nationalism.

“He was quick to anger”

It was in college where Thomas Baranyi met physics major Rachel Fury. According to a Facebook post by his father, the couple got engaged in September 2017.

However, there is no evidence that a wedding ended up taking place and a former colleague of Baranyi told Insider that the relationship didn’t survive. Fury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Fresh out of college, Baranyi decided to join the Peace Corps in Albania. The 28-year-old worked with a team of international volunteers in a government-led youth project from 2018 to 2019.

thomas baranyi marines parris island

A former colleague of his, who did not want to be named for this article, told Insider that the job required them to teach English to young Albanians — a task Baranyi seemed to be engaged in and enjoyed.

But signs of hostility towards other members of the team quickly emerged as the former colleague, who described their relationship with Baranyi as “sibling-like,” said that his “standoffish” and “very opinionated” behavior made it increasingly difficult to work with him.

“He reacted very strongly — negatively — to many things, some innocuous, some rightfully upsetting, but it was almost always an overreaction. He was quick to anger,” the coworker told Insider.

Read more: Ahead of deadly Capitol riot, Trump administration failed to follow the normal security playbook used for events like the Super Bowl and the State of the Union

The former colleague also said that while other volunteers were eager to learn about Albania’s culture and values, Baranyi had no interest in mingling with locals.

Although previous reports state the Baranyi was discharged from the Peace Corps, this coworker claims that he finished his two years of service.

After the Peace Corps, Baranyi enlisted in the Marine Corps in July 2020, but left active duty before completing entry-level training on Parris Island in South Carolina, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps Training and Education Command confirmed to Insider.

According to his former Peace Corps coworker, who remained in touch with him on Instagram, Baranyi was looking into getting back into teaching.

Months later, he resurfaced on television standing in front of the US Capitol.

Baranyi’s arrest

In the viral interview, Baranyi stated his full name, which made it an easy task for the FBI to identify him.

Last Tuesday, Baranyi was arrested by the FBI and charged with trespassing into the Capitol building and interrupting Congress’s work.

Read more: Secret Service protection would follow Trump if he goes to prison, former agents say

His bail was set at $100,000 but he was later released on an unsecured bond.

In an appearance in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the judge ordered Baranyi’s release pending trial on the condition that he turn over his passport. A lawyer for the US government said that he is considered a potential flight risk due to his extensive travel abroad.

Baranyi has also been told to remain in New Jersey and stay away from DC, except for court hearings.

His next hearing is on February 3. If convicted, he could face fines or several years in prison.

Last month, Baranyi’s estranged father, Drake, posted photos on Facebook of Baranyi’s 2017 college graduation and wrote: “Be on the lookout for this kid, my oldest son…”

Drake Baranyi did not respond to a request for comment.

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