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A Hollywood Insurrectionist’s Path to Extremism

The real identity of one of the most infamous Capitol rioters, known as "Swedish Scarf" for his distinctive neckwear, has remained a frustrating mystery — until now. How an aspiring actor ended up at the Jan. 6 riots and on the FBI's wanted list.

Standing on the ledge of a broken window next to a Beverly Hills esthetician with mascara running from the tear gas, a bearded man with wild blue eyes made an appeal to the crowd surrounding the U.S. Capitol. “Last chance, who wants to make history with me? Who’s a man? Who’s a patriot? I’m going into Capitol Hill by myself — who wants to man the fuck up? Patriots, let’s do this right fucking now!” he shouted into a megaphone.

Returning the bullhorn to the esthetician, he entered the Capitol through the broken window. Inside, in an upturned conference room, he led a group of rioters out of the room and into an adjoining hallway, where he kicked the door of another conference room several times to help open it. He and several others rifled through papers and ransacked the room, before leaving the Capitol with a souvenir gas mask.

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The bearded man now stands charged of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, tampering with documents or proceedings, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, theft of government property, destruction of government property, and entering a restricted building. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Yet it wasn’t his Duck Dynasty-esque facial hair or his center-stage role that captured international attention in the weeks after the attempted insurrection. Instead, it was the unassuming red scarf he wore that day — by any measure, a smart wardrobe decision for D.C. winters. But to some eagle-eyed Swedes, the scarf had special meaning.

The neckwear bore the name of a small Swedish town, Skelleftea, which gave away fewer than 1,000 of the scarves to former residents in 2017 as part of an annual tradition. For citizens of the historically neutral country, the presence of the scarf on a Jan. 6 rioter raised the chilling prospect that a fellow Swede may have attempted to interfere in the American transition of power.

The small Swedish hamlet of Skelleftea, where 1,000 scarves of the type worn by Belosic on Jan. 6 were given to residents in 2017.
The small Swedish hamlet of Skelleftea, where 1,000 scarves of the type worn by Belosic on Jan. 6 were given to residents in 2017. Adobe Stock

In the absence of a name, the ad hoc online community of amateur researchers dedicated to identifying participants in the riot tagged the man #SwedishScarf. And try as they might, even after identifying him as a member of a group of right-wing activists in Los Angeles, his real name eluded them.

Even when the Department of Justice indicted Swedish Scarf and two other members of the activist group in November 2021, in an unusual move, prosecutors redacted his name. The DOJ declined to comment.

The redaction has allowed the real identity of Swedish Scarf to remain a mystery — until now.

His name is Paul Belosic, and far from Sweden’s subarctic winters and universal health care, the 49-year-old actually grew up among the palm trees and celebrities of Los Angeles, according to interviews with a dozen friends and former associates, several of whom requested that their names be withheld out of safety concerns. They describe Belosic’s turn toward extremism as “heartbreaking” and puzzle over how a onetime George Bush-hating liberal could vote for Donald Trump, let alone participate in an attempted insurrection at his behest.

But they also tell the story of an aspiring actor whose career stagnated; who grew up surrounded by Hollywood’s wealth and fame, but who failed to make it onto the red carpet himself. Instead, he worked jobs in service of L.A.’s celebrities and plutocrats, relegated to driving their cars at tony establishments like the Beverly Hills Hotel and Malibu Beach Inn and serving them drinks at The Hollywood Athletic Club.

After trying his luck as an actor in New York, Belosic returned to his hometown, Los Angeles, and worked at The Hollywood Athletic Club, serving drinks in the bar.
After trying his luck as an actor in New York, Belosic returned to his hometown, Los Angeles, and worked at The Hollywood Athletic Club, serving drinks in the bar. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Belosic’s lifelong rebellious spirit and skepticism toward authority metastasized over the years, they say, leading him to increasingly radical beliefs. This came to a head in 2020 amid the backlash against racial justice protests and COVID-19 public health safety measures. At a weekly conservative rally held in Beverly Hills, Belosic — going by the pseudonym Jeff — fell in with a group of right-wing activists who hated masks, loved Trump and came to see the 2020 election as stolen. Members of the group made plans to travel to Washington, D.C., to “violently remove traitors,” according to prosecutors and a former member of the group.

But as their failure became more apparent in the hours and days after the attempted insurrection, Belosic vanished, leaving behind his friends, family, alleged co-conspirators and — among the broken glass and debris of the Capitol’s west entrance — a red-and-white scarf from Sweden.

Belosic (center, in cap) at a protest against COVID restrictions at the Westfield Century City mall, where he accosted shoppers and argued with workers wearing the masks that were required by health officials.
Belosic (center, in cap) at a protest against COVID restrictions at the Westfield Century City mall, where he accosted shoppers and argued with workers wearing the masks that were required by health officials. Sam Braslow


Jan. 6 was not Belosic’s first encounter with riot police. In sharp contrast to his eventual turn toward far-right politics, he attended a protest and concert outside the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The headlining group, Rage Against the Machine, opened their set across the street from the Staples Center as the convention’s marquee speaker, then-President Bill Clinton, strode onstage inside.

“Our democracy has been hijacked!” band frontman Zack de la Rocha screamed to a crowd of 8,000. The band’s message that night was less liberal or conservative than generally anti-establishment. “Our electoral freedoms in this country are over so long as it’s controlled by corporations! We are not going to allow these streets to be taken over by the Democrats or the Republicans!”

After the performance, police clashed with protesters and bystanders, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and swinging batons, according to reports. Much of the media attention at the time focused on allegations of excessive force by law enforcement (the City of Los Angeles eventually paid out more than $5 million to settle claims of abuses).

“They came in with tear gas, they came in with rubber bullets, shooting at us,” Belosic told ABC News at the time. “There was nowhere to go here. Everything was blocked off. It was chaos.”

Belosic told The Village Voice that he and several other demonstrators were struck with batons by police blocks away from the protest zone. “We had a right to be here,” he said.

Given this history of protest, friends of Belosic say they were surprised — but hardly shocked — when they stumbled on photos and videos of him at the Capitol, asserting his rights as he saw them. “This is Concord and Lexington, 1775!” he yelled to the advancing crowd on the Capitol steps. “If we lose our freedom here, we lose it all!”

By coincidence, days after the riot (but before learning about Belosic’s role), Bianca White was chatting with her friend and her husband at her home in Los Angeles about how long it had been since they had seen Belosic, a nearly lifelong friend whom she had met in middle school. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he stormed the Capitol,” she recalls joking.

Belosic had long fostered a reputation for ending up in places he had no place being — typically to comical, charming effect. He once talked his way into a star-studded Oscar party while wearing sweatpants, White recalls. He had danced onstage with Iggy Pop, another friend says. Others recall that he even made it onto the stage at Coachella in 2009 to hand a guitar to Paul McCartney.

“It seemed like he was living for those moments. A little bit for the story, the excitement of it, but also the telling of it after. I think a lot of young men are like that, but the point is, you hope that one would grow out of that,” one friend says.

But when, months after the attack, a mutual friend sent White an Instagram post of footage from the Capitol, she couldn’t laugh it off. “It broke my heart in so many ways,” she says.

Belosic could not be reached for comment. Belosic’s mother declined to participate in an interview, but told me, “I have not had any contact with him since before Jan. 6. I do not know where he is or what he is doing.”

As far back as elementary school, Belosic displayed defiance toward authority. Though well liked by his classmates, he had a reputation for getting into trouble, friends from the time recall. Even back then, he “wanted to not go with the flow and to buck the system,” says one classmate from the K-8 private Catholic school Belosic attended.

Others who knew him at the time recall signs of a tense home life. Paul Carbone, who attended grammar school with Belosic and grew up a few blocks from him, says that Belosic would come to his house in high school to help mow his lawn, which he found strange. “I remember he had a difficult childhood relationship with his dad,” he says. “He was trying to get away from his house.”

After high school, while Belosic’s friends and peers mostly went on to four-year colleges and universities, he pursued an acting career — first in New York City, returning to Los Angeles by 1997, friends say.

He “really wanted to be an actor,” says a former friend and actor who knew Belosic at the time. “He loved movies. He loved Old Hollywood,” the friend says. Belosic especially loved noir, from classics like Raymond Chandler to cross-genre noirs like Blade Runner.

But even with his love for the medium, Belosic seemed not to grasp the humbling drudgery of the industry for those breaking in.

“I feel like I was the one pursuing it, and he was the one waiting for it,” says the friend, who recalls doing “the grunt work of calling agents and sending out pictures” while Belosic “was always trying to find a connection to the person that could hook him up.”

Belosic and White, who first met in middle school, reconnected once Belosic returned to Los Angeles and started working at The Hollywood Athletic Club, an upscale billiards bar and music venue — the first of many such jobs he held in the service sector.

“I got up to the bar and I remember seeing this guy that looked kind of like Brad Pitt,” recalls White. “All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Paul!’ “

The two became close friends from that point forward, even living together for stints in the aughts. Like Belosic, White worked in and adjacent to the entertainment industry, first as a costume designer and then as a sex and relationship coach. But White also brought Belosic into closer proximity to Hollywood’s elite through her stepfather, investor and producer Rick Guerin Jr., whose production company Tapestry Films put out movies including Point Break and Wedding Crashers. Belosic was a regular guest at the parties held at Guerin’s Beverly Hills mansion.

White shared photos of Belosic from over the years to confirm his identity, including a photo of him at her 2019 wedding sporting his now-infamous beard.

While White worked as a wardrobe stylist, she would sometimes go with Belosic to central casting at his invitation to pick up work as an extra. This is where she first heard Belosic employ his stage name, Thomas Redding. When asked by another friend about the choice, that friend recalls Belosic saying, “It sounds classy.”

White recalls a different explanation — one that cohered with Belosic’s burgeoning libertarian sentiments. As the two filled out time cards for a gig, he filled in his stage name and told her to put down a fake Social Security number. “I don’t let the government take any money out of this,” she says he told her.

IMDb only lists one acting role for Paul Belosic, as “Clean-cut Airman” on the low-budget indie short Radius from 2004. Belosic is briefly mentioned in a book about the movie by director Helmut Kobler. Kobler did not respond to a request for comment.

A man who friends identify as Belosic also appears in several music videos as an extra, including the video for John Mayer’s “Bigger Than My Body” and LeAnn Rimes’ “We Can” in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

One of Belosic’s more prominent (though still uncredited) appearances came in the 2011 Oscar-winning film The Artist, in which he played an uncredited cameraman, according to friends. (Debe Waisman, who cast extras for The Artist, did not respond to an inquiry.)

Thomas Redding has similarly scant credits, with only one acting role, for a nonspeaking part in a Charlie’s Angels parody web series in 2017.

Despite his decades of work in the industry, Belosic never supported himself through his craft, friends say, instead working service sector jobs like many struggling actors. But friends say Belosic seemed eager to hide this work from anyone who didn’t already know about it. When one friend learned that Belosic was working as a valet at an upscale hotel, “he tried to act like he wasn’t working there.

“He did grow up around a lot of money,” that friend says.

Though Belosic was raised in the Cheviot Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, an affluent community near Culver City and Beverly Hills, those who knew him say that he and his family were not themselves particularly wealthy — at least, not by the standards of Los Angeles and some of his close friends. His father worked in the advertising industry and taught at community college, according to his obituary.

Belosic seemed to harbor an insecurity around his trajectory in life even early on, telling at least one friend that he had attended UCLA like his parents. “Per the UCLA Registrar’s Office, no record of a person named Paul Belosic was found,” a communications officer said in response to a query.


White and Belosic did not discuss politics often, White says, which is why she recalls so distinctly a conversation they had in 2016 on the cusp of the presidential election. “Hey, listen, it’s really down to the wire right now. If you care about me as a woman, please do me a favor,” she remembers telling him. “Vote for anybody but Trump.”

White didn’t expect to receive much pushback to her plea given Belosic’s politics earlier in life. One friend who knew him in his early 20s remembers Belosic giving him a hard time for his conservative leanings, and describes Belosic as “a staunch Democrat” and “a big fan of FDR” at the time. Another friend recalls lengthy conversations in which Belosic would rail against then-President George Bush and the invasion of Iraq.

But something had changed by 2016. In response to White’s appeals, he launched into a lecture on “Hillary and her emails and Pizzagate,” she says. “It was like, full-on QAnon.”

Whereas Belosic openly talked politics at parties early in life, by his 30s, he came to recognize the degree to which his views had diverged from that of his circle. He confided in one of his more centrist friends that “he wouldn’t tell his views to a lot of people because he would lose friends,” one says.

At the time, this friend says he did not think Belosic truly believed the conspiracy theories, but was instead enamored with the bizarro meme-fueled counterculture of the alt-right.

By 2020, however, Belosic gave plenty of indications that he was a true believer.

As Los Angeles and the world attempted to curb the spread of coronavirus, thousands took to the streets of L.A. to express their outrage over the videotaped murder of George Floyd. The city saw unrest unprecedented since the 1991 Rodney King beating verdict, but this time the unrest spread to wealthier and whiter areas of the city, reaching as far as Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

Belosic viewed himself as one of the last lines of defense against BLM and black-clad Antifa rioters in a Democrat Blue city that refused to protect itself for fear of liberal censure, White says. He told her that he was in there fighting at “ground zero” during the riots and protests, referring specifically to Beverly Hills. As the George Floyd protests slowed, hampered by activist fatigue and alleged police abuses, the wealthy enclave emerged as the hub of the right-wing backlash against COVID public health safety measures in L.A.

While the city of Beverly Hills went for both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in 2016 and 2020, respectively, both won by slimmer margins than in surrounding localities. Nonetheless, the city’s political identity takes after Clinton-era Democratic values and their latent conservatism, with an emphasis on business, law enforcement and nominal support for social causes — support illustrated by projecting George Floyd’s name on City Hall while, one block away, Beverly Hills Police Department officers fired tear gas and less lethal munitions at nonviolent protesters.

Against this backdrop emerged the Beverly Hills Freedom Rally, a weekly gathering in front of the highly photographed Beverly Hills sign. The event, which kicked off in July in opposition to lockdown policies, grew from a few dozen to a few thousand by the November 2020 presidential election and saw participation by members of groups like the Proud Boys.

This is where I first met Belosic. On Aug. 22, 2020, he had traveled to Beverly Hills from a QAnon “Save Our Children” protest in Hollywood held earlier in the day. Photos from the Hollywood event show Belosic in front of Hollywood High School carrying a sign that reads, “Pedowood wants to fuck eat and drink your children.”

On Rodeo Drive, with police splitting their attention between a small group of counter-protesters and the much larger conservative group, I approached Belosic, who introduced himself as Jeff. He resembled a man I had seen ejected from a Juneteenth BLM protest. I asked if that had been him. Without more specifics, Belosic told me, “I’ve been to so many rallies that I can’t remember, it might have been me.” (Friends who later reviewed photos of the man said it was not Belosic.)

When I told him I was a local journalist, he said that he couldn’t “believe the kind of craziness that’s happening, it’s just disgusting.”

Unprompted, he offered: “I’ve been a resident of Rodeo [Drive] for 25 years.” He then gave the address of a nearby home on the street that’s synonymous with wealth, which turned out to be the childhood home of a close friend, not his own.

Soon after my conversation with Belosic, violence erupted at the Freedom Rally. Amid the fray of the brawl, a rally-goer sprayed a caustic substance into the face of a journalist and repeatedly slammed a metal baseball bat into his helmeted head.

Videos from the Freedom Rallies caught the attention of Daniel “DJ” Rodriguez (one of Belosic’s eventual alleged Jan. 6 co-conspirators). Rodriguez became a regular attendee of the Beverly Hills protests, spending what little spare money he had on gas for the 120-mile round trip drive from his home in Fontana, California, he would later tell the FBI.

Like Belosic, Rodriguez had floundered throughout his life, according to a sentencing memo filed by his defense attorney. A high school dropout from Fontana who grew up without his father, he worked various “low-level” jobs and had moved back in with his mother in 2015 after a period of homelessness. “He struggled to find a place where he felt he truly belonged,” the sentencing memo reads. “But once he found President Trump and the ‘Make America Great Again’ movement, that all changed.”

On June 21, a federal judge sentenced Rodriguez to more than 12 years in prison for his actions at the Capitol.

Another regular Freedom Rally attendee was Edward Badalian, a 26-year-old who would come wearing desert-beige body armor and whom a judge later described as a “very self-satisfied young man.” (Badalian was also later indicted for his actions on Jan. 6 and was eventually convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, and tampering with documents or proceedings. He was awaiting sentencing at the time of publication.)

Even with Badalian, Rodriguez and other members of the right-wing activist scene, however, Belosic maintained a degree of privacy, going by his nom de guerre, Jeff, according to court records, interviews and videos. One fellow Beverly Hills Freedom Rallier and salon owner who attended the Jan. 6 riot, Gina Bisignano — the esthetician who handed Belosic a megaphone by the broken window — says she felt the two had forged a romantic connection on Jan. 6. Even she believed that his name was Jeff.

(Bisignano, who made her own call to action with the same bullhorn for “gas masks,” “weapons,” and “angry patriots” to defend “our Trumpy Bear,” pleaded guilty to six charges and not guilty to a charge of felony obstruction of an official proceeding.)

Beverly Hills salon owner Gina Bisignano, pictured at the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, says she developed a romantic connection with Belosic during the attack.
Beverly Hills salon owner Gina Bisignano, pictured at the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, says she developed a romantic connection with Belosic during the attack. United States Attorneys’ Office/Department of Justice

In addition to the Freedom Rallies, Belosic participated in more disruptive actions throughout the summer of 2020, including one at the Westfield Century City mall where he accosted shoppers and workers wearing masks (which were required by city health officials).

Footage from this protest became rich fodder for online amateur investigators, who had found Belosic and his telltale beard in photos and videos from the L.A.-area protests. Feeding into the prevailing Swedish national theory, Belosic repeatedly cited Sweden’s coronavirus response in his diatribes to beleaguered mall employees. The Nordic country had become a favorite talking point of those opposed to masks and lockdowns for its relatively relaxed approach to disease mitigation.

“Sweden never locked down, Sweden never had masks,” Belosic told a Shake Shack employee.

“You’re interrupting working people,” the employee responded. “So go to Congress. Talk to the president. Talk to everybody else that is in charge of [the COVID response], because we don’t run the government, we don’t run the country, I’m not the president, I’m just the restaurant manager, so talk to them.”

Three days later, Belosic did exactly that, landing at Washington Dulles International Airport in the early morning of Jan. 6, according to prosecutors. Soon after, he met up in downtown D.C. with Rodriguez and Badalian, who had driven cross country in a van from Los Angeles “with weapons and tactical gear.” By the afternoon, Belosic sent a text to an unnamed recipient that read, “we are at the capitol steps, it is going off, the people are breaking down the barriers, the battle has begun.”

Video from the day shows Belosic urging the crowd to “take the scaffolding” abutting the Capitol, yelling, “If we don’t fight here, we lose it all!” Belosic is later seen wearing a police riot helmet and standing by as another rioter sprays an apparent chemical substance at Capitol police, shouting at the officers, “Fuck you, communist pigs!”

After leaving the Capitol, Belosic joined Badalian and Rodriguez at an Airbnb rented by a group that had traveled to D.C. for the rally and riot. To some of their group, the action that day seemed a success, at first. Rodriguez giddily texted a group chat, “Omg I did so much fucking shit rn and got away tell you later,” according to court records. He added: “tazzzzed the fuck out of the blue,” referring to his assault of then-D.C. police officer Michael Fanone with an electroshock weapon. Fanone spoke at Rodriguez’s sentencing, telling the judge the physical and mental trauma of the Jan. 6 attack prematurely ended his law-enforcement career.

But by the next day, the reality of the situation seemed to dawn on Belosic, who canceled his return flight to California and joined Badalian and Rodriguez on their drive back west.

On Jan. 10, the three of them paid a visit to Bisignano, who had accidentally identified Badalian during an Infowars segment the two had participated in two days earlier. After stepping inside her Beverly Hills condo, Belosic walked through her home and unplugged all of Bisignano’s Amazon Alexa devices, “miming” that she should “not speak out loud,” according to the indictment. He then scrawled in a notebook, “I want to help you delete everything and transfer the files to a secure hard drive.”

The criminal complaint for Belosic tracks his whereabouts up to Jan. 19, when he makes another visit to Bisignano. After that, the trail goes cold as far as the official record is concerned. But Belosic has broken his radio silence with his loved ones at least once since the attack on the Capitol, emailing his youngest brother “to tell him that everything is good and that he’s traveling,” according to a screenshot of a text conversation.

Neither of Belosic’s two brothers replied to requests for comment.


After White first noticed ­Belosic in videos from the riot, word spread fairly quickly among their friend group. Why, they puzzled, had Belosic gone in such a different direction from all of them?

Belosic had experienced a series of losses, White says, including the 2003 death of his father. But it was a breakup with a girlfriend around his early 40s that seemed to be “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” sending him into a depressive spiral, White says. This was when Belosic grew out his “mountain man” beard, telling one concerned friend about the look: “I got my heart broken by some girl and I don’t give a fuck.”

“OK, so this is Paul being brokenhearted,” the friend recalls thinking. “But it never stopped.”

Others commented on the apparent stagnation of Belosic’s life, especially when compared to the progress of his peers, let alone his ambitions for himself. Outside of acting, Belosic had spoken for years of traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect endangered gorillas from poachers, multiple friends recall. He even practiced living on a diet of beans and rice to prepare for life in the bush.

But in her decades of knowing him, White could recall only one trip Belosic made abroad, and that was to Sweden around 2018. She and another close friend had been encouraging Belosic to take an “Eat, Pray, Love” trip to somewhere like Bali or Costa Rica, but he settled on Sweden because of ancestral Nordic ties, White and others say.

How he obtained the scarf of international curiosity, neither she nor others I spoke with know, but the mystery has inspired an ongoing documentary effort by Swedish director Mattias Löw that’s slated for release in 2024.

Belosic’s time in the bowels of Hollywood may have also primed him for his descent into extremism and his conspiratorial worldview — one that takes specific aim at entertainment elites as the manufacturers of social ills. Joseph Falsetti, a former actor who also appeared as an extra in The Artist and recalls meeting Belosic, says the experience of background acting can foster a sense of grievance.

“You’re an invisible person, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole,” he says. “People feel a little helpless after they do that for a period of time.”

One former friend — the actor — saw Belosic’s thwarted ambition express itself in his melodramatic declarations at the Capitol, describing it as overwrought movie dialogue.

Viewed through that prism, Belosic’s actions at the Capitol and his fateful sartorial choice that morning have ironically earned him what decades in the industry did not — a starring role in a staggering epic.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.