After an eleven-month FBI investigation, Lucas “Rooster” Denney, president of a North Texas militia, was arrested in December on a southwest Texas ranch on eight counts related to his participation in the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Denney’s arrest warrant was based on a complaint that accused him of planning, recruiting, and fund-raising for the attack, fighting with law enforcement, and participating in the front line of the “heave-ho” battle at an entrance to the building. According to an incident report of the arrest, obtained by public records request, a Department of Public Safety officer took custody of Denney, 45, at a property in Brackettville, before turning him over to the FBI in Del Rio, thirty minutes to the west. The coordinates where he was arrested match those of a ranch that appears to be under the control of the Kinney County attorney, Brent Smith.
Smith, 42, serves on the advisory board of the Texas Nationalist Movement, which advocates for the state to exit the Union, and has been the primary champion of extreme policies to deter immigration in Kinney County. In the year since Governor Greg Abbott announced Operation Lone Star, which authorizes Texas law enforcement agencies to arrest border crossers on state trespassing charges, Kinney has apprehended more migrants than any other county in Texas. Smith oversees prosecutions of those arrested. In July, he helped draft a declaration announcing that the county was under an “invasion” from border crossers, and requested that Abbott employ Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution to immediately send migrants back to Mexico, ignoring federal jurisdiction.
A spokesman for Kinney County confirmed that Denney was detained at a property owned by Smith’s family but couldn’t say if Brent Smith owns the property. In February, when first asked about whether Denney dwelled on the ranch, Smith said he did not own the property and denied knowing the militia leader. Kinney County Appraisal District records show the property is owned by a limited liability company, managed by Brent’s father. Brent Smith is registered to vote from the address where Denney was found, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s records. He also signed a “Landowner Agent Authorization,” active until at least April of this year, granting access to law enforcement to enter and arrest trespassers on the property. (The sheriff’s office did not record the filing date of the document.) Citing that authorization, a DPS affidavit related to the arrests of four migrants on the property in April refers to it as the “Brent Smith Ranch.”
Smith’s mother, Beth Ann Smith, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, while his father, Richard, could not be reached. In July, Smith also denied multiple requests for an interview about Denney’s arrest.
How long Denney stayed at the ranch, and whether Smith knew he was there, is unknown. When Texas Monthly emailed the official account of the Patriot Boys, a replier identified only by the nickname “Teach” said Denney had stayed on the ranch three months. The emailer wrote that Denney knew the FBI wanted him, and that that Sam Hall, leader of the Patriots for America militia, an armed group that was welcomed by Kinney County officials to help patrol the border, introduced Denney to Smith. Hall declined an interview request. In February, Smith said he does not have, “nor have I ever had any relationship with Lucas Denney.”
William Shipley, an attorney whom Denney hired in February, said he did not know where his client lived in Kinney County at the time of his arrest in December. In an email, Shipley wrote that a DPS officer who was a friend of Denney’s drove the fugitive from Brackettville to Del Rio so he could turn himself in to the FBI. “I do not know how they were friends, for how long, or where the friendship started,” Shipley wrote. “I do not care one bit about how he got to Del Rio, who drove him there, or where they were coming from.” The attorney declined to answer further questions about Denney’s relationship with Smith.
Later this year, the federal government will sentence Denney for assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon. He pleaded guilty to the charge in March, and faces as many as twenty years in prison, though sentencing guidelines recommend seven to nine years. The government’s 74-page sentencing memorandum outlines Denney’s actions on January 6 and in the weeks following the attempted coup. It describes Denney, a former military police officer, as “eager for violence,” as evidenced by the gear and weapons he and his comrades brought to Washington, D.C.; by the coordination with the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group; and by detailed Facebook posts and messages encouraging others to prepare for combat.
In a series of exhibits, the government showed that Denney used pepper spray and a pole to disarm a law enforcement officer and attempted to stop the peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. In the days following the riots, Denney claimed on social media that the violent mob was composed of members of antifa, a far-left “anti-fascist” activist group, dressed in MAGA hats. In late August 2021, he posted a TikTok video calling for a military coup to depose President Joe Biden and reinstate Donald Trump.
Other Dallas-based militia members have descended on Kinney County in the past year, most notably Hall and his Patriots for America. Smith, Kinney County sheriff Brad Coe, and County Judge Tully Shahan welcomed the PFA into the county to help to patrol the border, even offering a sleeping space for the militia group inside the county’s civic center.
Shahan announced the “invasion” declaration from that very civic center in a press conference on July 5. He shared a stage with Coe, former deputy secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli, Congressman Chip Roy, and Smith. The proclamation, along with similar ones from six other border counties, nudged Abbott to dump another $30 million into Operation Lone Star for financial assistance statewide, and authorized state law enforcement and the National Guard to send migrants to ports of entry after capture. After the conference, Smith told me the “invasion” declaration would hold up in the courts. “In light of recent decisions the Supreme Court made, I feel confident,” he said.
Update 9/2/2022: This story has been updated with additional information on the ownership of the ranch on which Lucas Denney was detained.