The Washington Post

Jan. 6 riot arrestee is a Broadway actor identified in part by his ‘Bad’ jacket

- BY TIMOTHY BELLA timothy.bella@washpost.com Rachel Weiner, Spencer S. Hsu, Tom Jackman and Sahana Jayaraman contribute­d to this report.

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.

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