WASHINGTON — A staffer with Doug Mastriano's Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign who helped block media access to an event over the weekend was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when he appeared to smile and laugh as rioters smashed media equipment on Capitol grounds.
Grant Clarkson is one of the Mastriano campaign associates who prevented reporters from covering an event over the weekend hosted by Mastriano and Kathy Barnette, a Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, according to an NBC News analysis of photos and video from the event matched with his online social media presence. Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Mastriano, a far-right state senator who supported Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and was himself on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Photos and video obtained by NBC News appear to show Clarkson, a former congressional intern who more recently worked as a legislative assistant for the Republican caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature, present on the restricted grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Images unearthed by members of the “Sedition Hunters” community investigating the Capitol breach appear to show Clarkson on the west side of the Capitol just over a retaining wall, standing on a pillar at the top of the stairs on the eastern side of the Capitol, as a mob breaches doors with shattered windows and then watching and smiling as rioters smash media equipment on Capitol grounds.
There's no evidence that Clarkson entered the Capitol, and he denied that he did so. But additional photos and videos obtained by NBC News appeared to show a childhood friend who accompanied Clarkson on Jan. 6 breaching the Capitol and joining the mob pushing against officers struggling to protect lawmakers inside. The friend, who was first identified by members of the “Sedition Hunters” community after they began looking into Clarkson, has not been charged with a crime.
Reached Monday on his cellphone, Clarkson did not deny that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 or that he was accompanied by a childhood friend who entered the building. He also did not deny his role in blocking the media at the event Saturday.
"I, uh, don't recall smashing any cameras," Clarkson said when he was asked why he was smiling as he watched while media equipment was destroyed.
"You're clearly going to put my name out there, and probably some photos of me," Clarkson said.
"I didn't go inside," Clarkson said. "That's the only thing I will tell you is that I didn't go inside."
In an exchange with Robert Costa of CBS News on Saturday, the man who appears to be Clarkson denied he was with the campaign. Clarkson has an email account on Mastriano's campaign website and has denied an NBC News reporter access to a previous campaign event.
Clarkson did not say whether the FBI had contacted him about his presence on Capitol grounds. The FBI, which typically does not comment on ongoing investigations, declined to comment on whether anyone from the bureau had talked to Clarkson about his friend or about any videos Clarkson may have recorded on Jan. 6 that would be useful to the investigation.
Mastriano's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Clarkson's activities at either the Capitol riot or the campaign event Saturday.
At least two of the other men who blocked media access to the campaign event Saturday have previously been photographed with Mastriano, including a man wearing a trifold hat.
Videos and photos from the Capitol riot appear to show Mastriano passing police barricades on the north side of the Capitol just after they were breached and walking by the bottom of the eastern stairs.
Sam Lazar, a who had been photographed with Mastriano at least a half-dozen times, bragged that he “maced” officers during the Jan. 6 riot. Video shows Lazar using a bullhorn to tell other members of the mob to steal officers' guns and shows him repeatedly ripping away police barricades around the Capitol while clad in military gear.
Before his arrest in July, when his image was featured on the FBI's Capitol Violence page, Lazar attended a Mastriano event featuring former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another supporter of Trump's lies about the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held on charges of assault and obstruction of law enforcement.
Another Mastriano supporter, Sandra Weyer, has been charged with unlawfully entering the Capitol on Jan. 6. Federal authorities say she encouraged other rioters to “mace” a New York Times photographer who was being attacked by two rioters. Weyer was also at the eastern doors leading to the rotunda on Jan. 6, not far from Clarkson. She entered a not guilty plea after she was indicted in February.
Barnette, the GOP Senate candidate who held the joint rally with Mastriano, was also in Washington on Jan. 6 and was spotted marching toward the Capitol with members of the Proud Boys. Barnette’s campaign said that she was in the city “to support President Trump and demand election accountability” but that she had no connection to the Proud Boys.
Nearly 800 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and more than 280 have pleaded guilty. More than 2,500 people are believed to have entered the Capitol, and hundreds more assaulted law enforcement or members of the media outside the building.