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Judge releases Utahn charged in U.S. Capitol riot despite objections

Restrictions ordered for John Sullivan, who prosecutors say ‘thrives at inciting chaos’

John Sullivan, 26, of Sandy, was charged Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with being on restricted property, civil disorder and violent entry or disorderly conduct in connection with riots at the U.S. Capitol.
John Sullivan, 26, of Sandy, was charged Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with being on restricted property, civil disorder and violent entry or disorderly conduct in connection with riots at the U.S. Capitol.
Tooele County Jail

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man who faces federal criminal charges accusing him of storming the U.S. Capitol with a violent mob of pro-Trump demonstrators last week will be released from jail over the objections of government prosecutors.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Daphne Oberg placed strict conditions on John Earle Sullivan, 26, including barring him from social media and from attending protests and subjecting his electronic devices to monitoring and searches.

Sullivan also must wear a location monitor, remain at his Sandy residence and find a job outside of Insurgence USA, a social justice group he founded that calls itself anti-fascist and protests police brutality. He also cannot possess firearms.

Oberg said in a hearing in Salt Lake City on Friday that any violation of those conditions would “not be taken lightly.”

Sullivan was charged Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with being on restricted property, civil disorder and violent entry or disorderly conduct. The case will be tried in Washington.

Assistant U.S. attorney Bryan Reeves argued that Sullivan should remain behind bars pending the resolution of his case, saying he “thrives in chaos. He thrives at inciting chaos.” Sullivan, he said, also poses as a member of other organizations for “self-aggrandizing attention.”

Defense attorney Mary Corporon said Sullivan is willing to find a more “traditional” job, but said it’s almost impossible to work without the internet. She argued that he should not be stripped of all his First Amendment rights.

Sullivan, who also faces criminal charges in connection with a Provo protest he organized in June, told the Deseret News last week that he attended the rally in Washington in order to see “the truth” about the protests for himself and the organization he represents.

Reeves also cited reports of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitols and in Washington ahead of the presidential inauguration among the reasons for keeping Sullivan in custody. He said Sullivan intended to return to Washington for Inauguration Day next week.

Sullivan told authorities that he works for an organization that “incites violent acts,” the prosecutor said.

Reeves also said Sullivan recently traveled to Portland, Oregon, where he urged people to resist the police. Sullivan also appeared virtually at a hearing in his Provo case from Washington, D.C., the day before the riot at the Capitol, he said.

Sullivan has a “reckless disregard” for the court and for the health and welfare of innocent people, Reeves added.

Sullivan was detained by Washington police the day after the Capitol was seized after giving interviews to local and national media about what he witnessed. He claimed he was only there to document the event.

But even though he “claimed to be an activist and journalist that filmed protests and riots,” he also admitted “that he has no press credentials and the investigation has not revealed any connection between Sullivan and any journalistic organizations,” according to charging documents.

Federal investigators say that Sullivan could be frequently heard encouraging the crowd inside the Capitol.

The charges say Sullivan can be seen in a video posted on YouTube “telling a crowd, over a microphone, ‘We about to burn this (expletive) down,’ and ‘We ain’t waiting until the next election ... we about to go get that (expletive).’ Sullivan then can be seen leading the crowd in a chant of, ‘It’s time for a revolution.’”

Sullivan also wore a ballistic vest and gas mask when he entered the Capitol, according to the charges.

“He further stated that he entered the U.S. Capitol with others through a window that had been broken out. Sullivan stated he followed the crowd as the crowd pushed past U.S. Capitol Police and followed the crowd into the U.S. Capitol,” the charges state.

Sullivan was recording on his phone when Ashli E. Babbitt, 35, of San Diego, was shot and killed by Capitol Police. The shooting occurred in an area Sullivan was not allowed to be in, prosecutors say. Babbitt was among five people who died in the riot.

Federal investigators reviewed the videos Sullivan recorded. In one video, he is filming as the crowd breaks past the last police barricade.

“Sullivan can be heard in the video saying at various points: ‘There are so many people. Let’s go. This (expletive) is ours!’ ... ‘We accomplished this (expletive). We did this together. ... We are all a part of this history,’” according to the charges.

Sullivan is also currently facing charges in Utah of organizing a protest in Utah County last summer that resulted in one motorist being shot.

Charging documents say Sullivan recorded several hours of that June protest and is seen in the recordings “kicking vehicles and threatening drivers.” He later admitted to police that he knew who the gunman was who shot a 60-year-old Provo man in the elbow after protesters blocked his vehicle, but Sullivan failed to report it to authorities, according to the charges.