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Jan. 6 rioter who sought to 'incite violence' by Trump supporters sentenced to six years

Federal prosecutors sought a lengthy prison sentence for John Sullivan, who said in video evidence that he wanted to "make those Trump supporters f--- s--- up."
John Sullivan
John Sullivan at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

WASHINGTON — A Jan. 6 defendant who federal prosecutors said sought to "incite violence," "instigate s---" and "foment anarchy" during the attack on the Capitol was sentenced Friday afternoon to six years in prison.

John Sullivan was convicted in November on numerous charges, including felony obstruction of an official proceeding and civil disorder. During closing arguments, a federal prosecutor told jurors that Sullivan went to the Capitol with the "goal of inciting the crowd," and prosecutors presented evidence of him bragging about being "on the front line" during the attack.

"I brought my megaphone to instigate s---," Sullivan said in footage played for jurors, in which he bragged that he'd sought to "make those Trump supporters f--- s--- up."

A tearful Sullivan said he was "very sorry" and that he had "learned my lesson" before his sentence was handed down on Friday.

Prosecutors had argued for a lengthy sentence of more than seven years in federal prison, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Lederer saying Sullivan "came to Washington looking for a fight" and had become a "poster child of conspiracy theories on the deep far-right."

Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee who has spoken out about the seriousness of the Jan. 6 attack and ordered Sullivan locked up following his conviction last year, noted that this case was "unusual." While most Jan. 6 defendants "wrongly but sincerely believed the election was stolen," Sullivan had different political beliefs, the judge said, describing him as perhaps the only Jan. 6 defendant "who showed up to the Capitol despite not subscribing to the goals of the protest."

Sullivan, also known as "Jayden X," had been a cause célèbre for conservatives seeking to shift attention away from what drove the actions of the overwhelmingly pro-Donald Trump mob that stormed the Capitol and brutally attacked officers on Jan. 6, 2021. Sullivan is a political outlier among Jan. 6 defendants, many of whom still believe in the lies about the 2020 election that drove the attack. Sullivan is not a Trump supporter; prosecutors described him as an “antiestablishment” activist who wanted to “burn it all down.”

He also held himself out as a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, but BLM activists had distanced themselves from Sullivan in 2020. His brother James Sullivan is a right-wing activist with ties to the Proud Boys.

In court Friday, Lederer quoted a Black Lives Matter activist from Salt Lake City who said Sullivan "exploited Black people, profited off of our pain and hurt the movement.”

John Sullivan outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
John Sullivan outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Sullivan captured some of the better-known footage of the death of Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot after she jumped through a broken window leading into the House Speaker's Lobby. Babbitt's mother — Micki Witthoeft, a regular presence at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. — was in court for Sullivan's sentencing hearing on Friday.

Sullivan argued after the riot that he was there filming as a journalist, but prosecutors showed evidence during the trial that he believed that filming was simply a "good ploy so I don’t get arrested" and argued in a sentencing memo that "the real purpose of his presence at the Capitol" was "to foment anarchy."

NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, is one of the media outlets that paid to license Sullivan’s footage in the aftermath of the attack. Federal prosecutors previously seized the $90,875 in funds that Sullivan received from various media outlets and asked the judge to impose a fine of $90,875, saying he "should not be able to ‘capitalize’ on his participation in the Capitol breach and should be fined the entire amount of his proceeds." Lamberth indicated during the sentencing hearing that Sullivan would not be getting the money back.

Sullivan told documentary filmmaker Jade Sacker, who also entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, that he was "siding with anyone willing to rip this down and put something new in place, put something better in place," prosecutors said. When he began efforts to license the footage, Sullivan shifted how he described himself, prosecutors said.

"As his campaign to sell footage to news outlets evolved, Sullivan suddenly began relabeling himself as a journalist—even changing the caption of his website from 'activist' to 'journalist,'" prosecutors wrote. "The reason for Sullivan’s reinvention is clear: he went all in on the 'good ploy' he had hatched with Sacker earlier that day in order to bury the real purpose of his presence at the Capitol—to foment anarchy."

Sullivan was also armed with "a retractable knife with an almost four inch blade" that "during two of the most serious inflection points of January 6, 2021 ... he offered up to rioters at the House Main Door and the Speaker’s Lobby Door," prosecutors said.

Sullivan's defense team said that the former Eagle Scout had a "passion for in-line ice skating" and speed skating, but his Olympic prospects were derailed by injury. They said Sullivan "had led an admirable and a caring life in which he displayed a sense of responsibility, a commitment to his family, friends and community and an individual who tried to enhance the lives of those around him," and urged the judge to "consider the whole man."

Since Sullivan was locked up after his conviction, his lawyer said there's been a "dramatic decrease in his mental stability and his overall physical presence." Sullivan has been segregated from other Jan. 6 defendants in the Washington, D.C., jail because authorities believed that being locked up with Trump-supporting Jan. 6 defendants would be "a threat to his physical safety."

During Friday's hearing, Sullivan said that he has been "completely isolated" under "very terrible conditions" since he was convicted.

More than 1,387 Capitol attack defendants have been charged, and prosecutors have secured nearly 1,000 convictions. While hundreds of low-level rioters have received probationary sentences, more than 520 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration ranging from a few days behind bars to 22 years in federal prison. The median term for Jan. 6 rioters sentenced to prison is about eight months, according to an analysis by NBC News.

There are about 15 defendants in pretrial custody, meaning they haven’t been convicted of a crime, but a judge determined they are either a threat to the community or a risk of flight.