Utah activist inside U.S. Capitol says woman killed was first to try and enter House chamber
John Sullivan claims he entered Capitol during rally only to document event, but his own video shows him encouraging others as they rioted
SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah activist who faces criminal charges in connection with a Provo protest he organized in June claims he attended a pro-Trump rally that turned into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol in order to see “the truth” about the protests for himself and the organization he represents.
“For me, it’s important from the group and the people around me to see that side of things, to see the truth,” John Sullivan said Wednesday night. “I don’t care, like what side you’re on, you should just see it raw.”
Sullivan, who is the founder of Insurgence USA, a social justice group that calls itself anti-fascist and protests police brutality, was detained by Washington police for about an hour and a half Thursday night, a day after he talked to local and national media about what he witnessed Wednesday.
He was handcuffed the entire time, and said police questioned him about being inside the Capitol and witnessing the shooting death of one of the protesters. He was not arrested.
Sullivan said he also intended to “support the Black community” with his attendance, but also feels it was “important to understand” those who were protesting in support of President Donald Trump.
But some of the 40-minute video he posted to his social media sites contradicts his assertion that he and another woman were “only filming” the actions and not participating as he can be heard in the video encouraging people to join them as they push their way through police barricades.
Just after people broke into the building, Sullivan — wearing a gas mask and wielding an iPhone on a stabilizing stick — and a woman who said Wednesday that she was making a documentary on Sullivan, are on the first porch area outside the entrance looking back over the throngs of people around the Capitol. They can be heard encouraging people to climb the wall, saying, “Come on. Let’s go!”
Others, wearing Trump gear and carrying various flags, are shouting the same and helping people over the stone or marble railing around the section of Capitol steps.
He can be heard saying, “We’re all part of this (expletive) history” as they enter the rotunda around 15 minutes in, and he says to his companion, “2021! (expletive) This is insanity. I am shook. What is this? What is this painting, you know? King (expletive) bro (expletive)!”
He exchanges social media information with another man, and then he and the filmmaker talk about what they’re witnessing.
“Is this not going to be the best film you’ve ever made in your life?” he says. “Dude, I was trying to tell you. I couldn’t say much.”
Sullivan said he followed online conversations about Wednesday’s protest, which coincided with a rally by the president and the counting of the country’s electoral votes in a joint session of Congress. That largely ceremonial act was interrupted Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of protesters pushed past Capitol Police and metal barricades, broke out windows and smashed open doors to gain entry into the building.
On Friday, Sullivan insisted that he didn’t encourage violence or vandalism.
When asked about some of the things he said during the 40-minute video, he said, “When you’re in a massive crowd like that, you have to blend in.”
The riot was not an impromptu act, Sullivan said.
“As far as them storming the Capitol, I knew that was going to happen,” he said. “I’m on chats that are underground that are sending out flyers that are just like, ‘Storm all Capitols on the 6th.’ It wasn’t anything that was secret. It was something that was out there ... and they did it.”
After making his way inside the Capitol during the riot, Sullivan said he witnessed the shooting death of protester Ashli Babbitt, and the Twitter account for Insurgence USA retweeted video from someone with Sullivan that shows the shooting and the aftermath.
“I have video of it,” he said, describing in detail seeing the flash of the gun, the bullet strike Babbitt, and Babbitt’s reaction as she died there on the floor. “I am hesitant to post it. ... It’s something I have to take in. I hope that people get a grasp of that situation. Whoever shot her, maybe should be held accountable. I guess that’s up to the law to decide.”
He claims Babbitt was the first one to try and get inside what he believes was the House chamber.
“There was a glass wall, and she, the woman, was the first person to actually try to get inside,” Sullivan said. “All you see is hands come out the doorways with their guns. ... You don’t see their face, nothing. And I literally yell at everybody else, ‘There’s a gun! There’s a gun! Don’t go in there!’ And a shot goes off. And she gets shot as soon as she goes through.”
The shooting of Babbitt is near the end of the video and is not edited or obscured. Capitol Police move away from the doors before several people use a variety of objects to try and break through the glass windows on the doors. Chairs stacked in front of the doors are visible through the glass.
Throughout the video Sullivan can be heard telling police that they shouldn’t try to stop them from going different places because he doesn’t want them to get hurt. He appears to take his gas mask off at one point, but he is not shown in his own video except for a few seconds of an 18-minute video that has now been removed from his social media accounts. The shorter video appears to include what led to the start of the 40-minute video and most of it is the same.
In the wake of widespread condemnation, including from some lawmakers who support Trump and had planned to object to the electoral votes, there were assertions that those who stormed the Capitol, fought with police and injured officers, ransacked offices, and damaged public property, were actually members of groups like antifa or Black Lives Matter. In fact, Sullivan’s picture was circulating on social media as “evidence” that the rioters were not Trump supporters.
Sullivan said that while he is not a Trump supporter, he claims he wasn’t there to join the protest, only to listen and document, and he saw no one else that aligned with his ideology in the crowd.
“I was probably the only person that supported BLM (Black Lives Matter),” he said. “I could say, from my knowledge ... there were just seas of Trump supporters, Proud Boys.”
He said some of what they were yelling were insults about antifa and Black Lives Matter.
At several points in the video, crowds chant, “Stop the Steal!” a term initiated by one of Trump’s allies and his attorneys, and also “We want Trump!”
When he was asked if he was a member of antifa, as he has used the hashtag in his social media posts, Sullivan said he understands where there could be confusion.
“If people are saying I’m antifa, as far as a terrorist organization, I’m not,” he said. “Am I anti-fascist? We all are anti-fascist. And that’s what we should all strive for being. I have my own organization, Insurgence USA, and that’s what it is for. That’s really what it is.”
He said the protesters who stormed the Capitol were all ages and genders, and his video confirms this. Police can be seen helping some of those who are older or who have been injured in the pushing and shoving of the crowd.
“There were kids, there were women, there were old, old men,” he said, “and they were all participating in this insurrection at the ... Capitol. ... It should awaken you to the anger that people might have that’s seriously, you know, a problem. And maybe they need to address it.”
At about 17 minutes into the 40-minute video, someone yells, “Do not deface the statues!” Sullivan can be heard saying, “I can respect that. Well, people might burn this down, not going to lie. Might be too late for that.”
A minute later he narrates what he’s filming with his personal feelings, “This is surreal. This is real life, though. This seems like a movie. ... This is a revolution. You guys treasure this moment. This is history.”
On Friday, Sullivan acknowledged that he was afraid at some points, but he denies trying to incite violence. In fact, he insists he was only trying to diffuse situations he saw as potentially volatile.
Sullivan, 26, faces two criminal charges stemming from a protest he organized in Provo last June.
Charging documents say Sullivan recorded several hours of the protest and is seen in the recordings “kicking vehicles and threatening drivers” and directing protesters to block intersections.
During that protest, a Provo man, 60, was shot in the elbow after protesters blocked his vehicle. Sullivan later admitted to police that he knew who the gunman was but failed to report it to authorities, according to the charges.