WASHINGTON — A man who previously held himself out as a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement came to the Capitol on Jan. 6 with the “goal of inciting the crowd,” a federal prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments at his trial on Wednesday.
John Earle Sullivan, also known as “Jayden X,” is a self-purported activist and journalist on trial in Washington, where he faces a host of charges including felony obstruction of an official proceeding and civil disorder.
Sullivan, who filmed the shooting death of rioter Ashli Babbitt after she attempted to enter the House Speaker’s Lobby through a window broken by the pro-Trump mob, has become a cause célèbre on the right for those seeking to blame “antifa” or left-wing provocateurs for the violent criminal actions undertaken by hundreds of rioters during the breach of the U.S. Capitol.
At trial, government prosecutors portrayed Sullivan as “anti-establishment,” a grifter and a chaos agent — his company was called Insurgence USA — who wanted to “burn it all down” during the Capitol attack.
“I’m gonna side with anyone who is ready to rip this s— down,” Sullivan said in one quote cited by prosecutors.
“It does not matter whether Sullivan was holding a camera to record his crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barclay told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday. “He incited the mob at every step. He knew why he was there that day. He wanted to tear it all down.”
Sullivan testified in his own defense during the trial, holding himself out as a documentarian just interested in getting the best shot.
“I was only observing,” Sullivan said during his testimony. “I followed the crowd, I’m there to document.”
But prosecutors played video after video of Sullivan doing much more than just documenting, including pulling out what they said was a knife as rioters tried to breach the House floor. Sullivan conceded that videos showed that he claimed to have a knife on him, and conceded to jurors that he brought a knife with him on his trip. But he also told jurors that he did not recall whether had the knife with him inside the Capitol, and said that he wasn’t sure whether the knife-looking object he was holding in one of the videos was actually a knife.
“I don’t remember bringing a knife specifically,” Sullivan said. “I’m not sure if that’s a knife.”
Sullivan described his rhetoric from that day as an effort to blend into the crowd. “I say whatever I can to keep myself safe,” Sullivan told jurors.
Prosecutors presented evidence indicating Sullivan’s rhetoric continued long after he left the Capitol. In a call with members of his Discord channel after the riot, Sullivan bragged about being “on the front line,” and the impact that his rhetoric had on the mob.
“I brought my megaphone to instigate s–,” Sullivan said. He said he wanted to “make those Trump supporters f— s— up.”
Sullivan’s attorney, Steven Kiersh, argued that his client’s “intent was to film the events that were happening on January 6th” and that jurors only needed to watch the 50-minute video he filmed inside the Capitol that day for proof.
“That recording of history is for everyone’s benefit,” Kiersh said.
Sullivan’s heated rhetoric, Kiersh argued, was “just words” that had no meaning, with the goal of helping him blend in with the crowd. “His intent was not to burn the place down,” Kiersh argued, noting that Sullivan didn’t have matches or lighter fluid on him. “His intent was to film.”
Citing a video in which Sullivan said he was only recording to keep himself from getting arrested, prosecutors said that filming was only “a ploy” for Sullivan to provide cover for his true goal of inciting the mob.
“Everything that came out of his mouth was a ploy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Lederer told jurors, referring to Sullivan’s testimony. The only thing more offensive than his testimony, she said, was his “request for you to believe it.”
“He came to engage in chaos,” Lederer added.
The government found that Sullivan “received at least $90,875 in payments from at least six companies” — including NBC News — for the rights to his Capitol footage, and seized more than $62,000 from his accounts.
About 1,200 defendants have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and about 400 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Thursday morning in Sullivan’s trial.