A couple from Regent Square who protested at a transgender debate at the University of Pittsburgh has been charged with obstructing police and, in the case of the man, throwing an explosive at campus officers in a federal case that could land him in prison for a decade.

Brian DiPippa, 36, and his wife, Krystal DiPippa, 40, of Biddle Avenue, were charged Wednesday by a federal grand jury with conspiracy and obstruction counts following an investigation by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force that involved surveillance of their apartment, a trash pull, a review of airport records and multiple searches.

Brian DiPippa was also charged with using an explosive to commit a federal felony.

The case was unsealed Thursday after the FBI arrested the pair, and both appeared in federal court on Friday.

The incident concerned an April 18 debate at Pitt’s O’Hara Student Center called “Should Transgenderism be Regulated by Law?” sponsored by a conservative college group and featuring conservative speakers Michael Knowles, a Daily Wire commentator, and Brad Polumbo, a columnist at the conservative Washington Examiner.

About 250 people protested outside the event as it was about to start. Pitt police sent out a public safety emergency alert after protesters set off smoke bombs.

The DiPippas were part of the protest after arriving on a motorcycle. Before the speeches, Brian DiPippa ignited and dropped two homemade smoke bomb containers around a line of people waiting to get in, the grand jury said.

When Pitt police formed a barrier to keep the protesters from entering, Brian DiPippa, “concealed by his wife,” ignited and threw an explosive firework into the group of officers, causing a loud explosion and injuring several officers, according to the indictment. Several complained of hearing loss, and at least one went to a hospital.

The charge of throwing the explosive carries a mandatory minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

A cardboard effigy displaying a depiction of conservative commentator Michael Knowles’ face burns on O’Hara Street using a red road flare during the protest. (Courtesy of FBI)

In an FBI search warrant for the Biddle Avenue residence and the couple’s motorcycle, agents said Pitt police initially received a tip on April 3 that a group of “anarchists” planned to disrupt the April 18 event. The tipster said the group meets Thursday evenings at Big Idea Bookstore on Liberty Avenue.

The FBI’s terrorism unit set up surveillance at the store on April 13 and identified Brian DiPippa arriving and leaving on his motorcycle. Video surveillance at the April 18 event showed him and his wife putting on masks in preparation for the protest and later engaging in throwing the fireworks, according to the search warrant.

Agents tracked the DiPippas to their apartment, which they said displayed a red and black diagonally divided flag that the FBI said is associated with anarchism. Agents said they also checked Brian DiPippa’s permit to carry a gun as well as purchases of “cannonball” fireworks from Phantom Fireworks in Monroeville on April 15.

In later weeks, the FBI set up surveillance on the Biddle Avenue location and saw the couple coming and going. Agents also reviewed flight records that revealed Brian DiPippa had twice set off explosive trace alerts at airports.

In May, he set off the alert before a flight from Oakland, Calif., to Newark and then to Pittsburgh. He was allowed to fly but elected not to, the FBI said. A few days later, the same thing happened when he was traveling from Oakland to Denver and then to Pittsburgh, although this time he took the flights. In both cases, a swab of his belongings turned up explosive residue.

The FBI also searched the trash outside the Biddle Avenue apartment and found a printed article called “The City in the Forest: Reinventing Resistance for Age of Climate Crisis and Police Militarization.” The article was about the “Defend the Atlanta Forest” movement in Atlanta, a long-running protest in which demonstrators have taken over a wooded area where police want to build a training center.

Brian DiPippa was in federal custody Friday pending a detention hearing in U.S. District Court on Monday. His wife was released on a $10,000 bond.

A protester tosses an ignited firework, which then explodes, into a group of University of Pittsburgh Police officers at the rear of the O’Hara Student Center during the demonstration. (Courtesy of the FBI).

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at jtorsteno@gmail.com.