The Washington Post
U.S. fights by saying riot footage was shared
The Justice Department has fired back at a bid by defense attorneys to have the seditious conspiracy case against the farright group Proud Boys thrown out based on footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot aired by television personality Tucker Carlson.
A lawyer for Proud Boys defendant Dominic Pezzola filed a motion to dismiss the case last week, citing Carlson’s show as he argued that prosecutors withheld surveillance footage from the riot and concocted “a lie” that an insurrection occurred that day in 2021.
The move emboldened other Jan. 6 supporters to call for widespread review and reversal of cases, such as the one involving Jacob Chansley, the “Qanon Shaman” who pleaded guilty in 2021 to obstructing Congress and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Carlson had shown footage of Chansley, the face-painted, hornhatted supporter of Donald Trump, walking calmly through the Capitol halls with officers sometimes following him. The TV host argued that the videos show that Chansley was nonviolent and over-prosecuted by the government, and Chansley’s former defense attorney alleged the footage
had not been provided as it should have been.
Prosecutors responded that all but 10 seconds of Capitol surveillance footage, including the clips played by Carlson, had been released to Pezzola, Chansley and all defendants in September 2021. The clips shown by Carlson “are not exculpatory of Pezzola or any other participant in the siege of the Capitol,” prosecutors Jason Mccullough and Conor Mulroe wrote.
“Once tethered to facts and reality, defendant Pezzola’s arguments quickly unravel,” they wrote.
At media outlets’ request, prosecutors also made public footage that connects Chansley more directly to rioting than the brief clip aired on Carlson’s program. In two videos released Monday, and played in court in 2021, Chansley can be seen surging through a door moments after Pezzola is seen using a stolen police shield to smash a Capitol window to access the building. And an earlier video shows Chansley among a powerful mob that overran a group of Capitol Police officers outside the building.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, presiding over the Proud Boys trial, has not yet ruled on the motion by Pezzola’s lawyer, Roger Roots, to dismiss the case or declare a mistrial over the government’s alleged misconduct.
Chansley’s lawyer at the time of his plea, Albert Watkins, told The Washington Post last week that he had not seen any of the videos shown by Carlson, and that the government had failed to disclose them. Carlson was granted access to 41,000 hours of Capitol surveillance video by House Speaker Kevin Mccarthy (R- Calif.) and showed several minutes without conflict to argue that the government and news media have overstated the violent nature of the riot.
Roots argued that he also had not received the videos of peaceful behavior inside the Capitol, including a scene of Chansley praying while standing on the Senate dais.
“This footage is plainly exculpatory,” Roots wrote in asking that the case be thrown out, “as it establishes that the Senate chamber was never violently breached, and — in fact — was treated respectfully by January 6 protestors. … It was not Pezzola or codefendants who caused the Congress to recess. Congress interrupted its own proceedings.”
The prosecutors noted that Carlson only showed Chansley’s actions from 2:56 to 3 p.m. But video released Monday, and played at Chansley’s sentencing in November 2021, showed that he was part of a mob that breached an outer police line at 2:09 p.m. and was less than a minute behind Pezzola in the initial breach of the building soon after.
Moments after Pezzola’s entry, he can be seen on video roaming toward the Senate while members, including Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), are being rushed out of the building. Prosecutors said Chansley then “faced off with members of the U.S. Capitol Police for more than thirty minutes in front of the Senate Chamber doors while elected officials, including the Vice President of the United States, were fleeing from the chamber.”
“Chansley then entered the Senate Gallery, where he proceeded to scream obscenities while other rioters rifled through the desks of U.S. Senators on the floor below. … In sum, Chansley was not some passive, chaperoned observer of events for the roughly hour that he was unlawfully inside the Capitol,” prosecutors wrote.
Carlson showed clips of Chansley seemingly being escorted by police officers at times. Prosecutors acknowledged that “a sole officer, who was trying to de-escalate the situation, was with Chansley as he made his way to the Senate floor after initially breaching the Chamber, as the televised footage reflects.” The government said the footage aired by Carlson “fails to show that Chansley subsequently refused to be escorted out by this lone officer and instead left the Capitol only after additional officers arrived and forcibly escorted him out.”
Prosecutors noted that officers at the Capitol initially were focused on clearing the building so that the electoral vote certification could continue, and they were hugely outnumbered. Officers made few arrests in the Capitol on Jan. 6 and even released some people they had detained, so that officers wouldn’t be processing prisoners when they were needed to defend the Capitol.
Chansley was arrested Jan. 9, 2021. He repeatedly said he acted peacefully. But the judge in his case pointed to videos, photos, social media posts and police interviews that he said clearly contradicted Chansley’s claims, saying they in fact showed Chansley helping lead the breach with a group that first broke through the Capitol’s Senate wing entrance door.
“Defendant’s perception of his actions on January 6th as peaceful, benign and well-intentioned shows a detachment from reality,” U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote in March 2021 during a pretrial hearing. Chansley “blatantly lied” when he claimed that a police officer waved him into the building, the judge said, citing security footage and other video filed by prosecutors. “To the contrary, he quite literally spearheaded [the breach],” Lamberth wrote.
Chansley entered the Capitol with a six-foot pole topped with a spear tip. He wore horns, fur and face paint. In the Senate chamber, he sat in Vice President Mike Pence’s chair and left a note declaring, “It’s only a matter of time justice is coming!”