The Washington Post
Jan. 6 riot arrestee is a Broadway actor identified in part by his ‘Bad’ jacket
In the role of Judas in the traveling Broadway show “Jesus Christ Superstar,” James Beeks was about to see his onstage career take off. Beeks, whose stage name is James T. Justis, was lauded for his role as the disciple who betrayed Jesus.
But it was his side job as a Michael Jackson impersonator that unintentionally brought about a twist in his story that even Andrew Lloyd Webber might have struggled to imagine: Authorities accuse Beeks of being in the pro-trump mob that breached the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot after joining the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group.
And his “Bad” jacket helped prosecutors identify him, they say.
Beeks, 49, was arrested Tuesday and charged with obstruction of Congress, a felony, and a misdemeanor count of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds, according to the Justice Department. He was apprehended in Milwaukee, where “Superstar” began a stretch of shows this week. Before he was arrested, federal investigators “observed” him in the role of Judas at shows this month in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
What stood out about Beeks, and helped investigators identify him, was that he was dressed differently from “the camouflagec ombat attire of many individuals” with the Oath Keepers, according to charging documents. After cellphone data suggested that the Orlando native was near the Capitol on Jan. 6, another defendant in the case pointed investigators toward Beeks’s black jacket, prosecutors say. The jacket was emblazoned with the word “BAD” — a familiar piece of apparel for fans of the late King of Pop.
“Law enforcement was further able to corroborate Beeks’s possession of the black jacket that appears consistent with the one he was seen wearing on January 6, 2021,” investigators added. “The jacket appears to be from Michael Jackson’s BAD world tour, which started in 1987.”
Beeks did not respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Members of extremist organizations such as the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were subpoenaed Tuesday by the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot. It’s the latest in the House effort to probe the attack, in which supporters of President Donald Trump, fueled by his false claims of election fraud, tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory. The panel is also increasingly focused on law enforcement failures that preceded the insurrection, scrutinizing in particular multiple warnings of possible violence that went unheeded by the FBI.
Nearly 20 associates of the Oath Keepers have been charged in the largest Jan. 6 conspiracy case. But most of the Jan. 6 defendants were not part of farright groups or premeditated conspiracies to attack the Capitol, court records show. Nearly 600 of them have no known affiliation with an extremist group, according to a Post analysis of court filings and public records as of Nov. 3. Federal prosecutors have not identified serious criminal records in the cases of most suspects, although at least a dozen defendants have been accused of or convicted of domestic violence.
Beeks’s career on Broadway included roles in “Kinky Boots,” “Aida,” “Ragtime” and “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” as well as TV roles in “The Entertainer” and “The Deuce,” according to an online biography for the “Superstar” show that has since been removed. A self-described “Michael Jackson Tribute artist,” Beeks posted videos of himself performing songs on his Youtube page.
It’s unclear when Beeks joined the Oath Keepers, but he paid dues to the group on Dec. 21, according to the FBI. Authorities found that his hotel expenses suggested he made round-trip travel arrangements from Orlando to Washington in early January, and auto rental records showed that he put nearly 2,500 miles on a car he rented in Florida.
“Beeks conspired with others known and unknown to forcibly enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and to obstruct the Congressional proceeding occurring that day,” prosecutors wrote in a statement of facts.
At about 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, Beeks joined a group of Oath Keepers and affiliates as they “marched in ‘stack’ formation onto the Capitol grounds and then up the east steps of the Capitol to the area outside of the Rotunda Doors,” a charging document says. Beeks, who was wearing a gaiter, carrying a shield and claiming to be bulletproof, indicated to a group of Oath Keepers that he had just joined, saying he followed the social media posts of Kelly Meggs, one of their Florida leaders, prosecutors say.
Once inside the Capitol at 2:38 p.m., Beeks was with some of the members when they tried to push their way through a line of law enforcement officers guarding a hallway that led to the Senate chamber, according to charging documents. When officers blocked their advance, Beeks and others left the building at 3:04 p.m., prosecutors say.
Investigators struggled to identify Beeks in footage until another defendant, only known in charging documents as “Defendant 4,” pointed them in the direction of the actor.
The jacket worn by Beeks appears to be from a Jackson tour in the 1980s. The FBI also noted Beeks’s links to Jackson on social media.
“According to his Linkedin profile and Youtube page, Beeks regularly performs as a Michael Jackson impersonator,” prosecutors wrote.
Authorities also used his YouTube page to confirm the “pronounced antihelix” of his right ear in a photograph of the Oath Keepers at the Capitol, charging documents say.
When the FBI charged members of the Oath Keepers in February, he allegedly changed his phone number the following day.
In an October interview, Beeks responded to a question about whether the nation’s civil unrest would affect how he portrayed Judas.
“I don’t look at it as Judas being a bad guy. I think he is a hero,” Beeks told Equality365. He added: “He wasn’t a bad guy, and was only doing what he had to do.”
In recent weeks, investigators tracked his movements as he traveled for the show.
“Given that the next ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ production begins on November 23, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, law enforcement assesses that Beeks will likely fly from Orlando to Milwaukee within the next several days,” authorities wrote.
Officials with the stage production did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The show’s website indicates that a different actor has taken the role.
After making his initial appearance Tuesday in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Beeks was released pending further court proceedings, authorities said.