Joe Biden’s Justice Department is using every legal maneuver at its disposal to keep under wraps more than 14,000 hours of surveillance footage captured by the United States Capitol Police security system on January 6. Prosecutors insist the recordings are “highly sensitive” material; USCP’s general counsel warns that releasing the videos would provoke another “attack” on the Capitol complex.
But the trove of footage held by USCP isn’t the only video used as incriminating evidence in court proceedings, particularly hearings where prosecutors argue that a January 6 defendant should remain behind bars awaiting trial. The Justice Department also has footage recorded by body cameras worn by D.C. Metropolitan Police officers. (According to the USCP’s general counsel, Capitol police officers don’t wear body cameras. Interesting.)
Federal prosecutors routinely petition the court for pre-trial detention of January 6 defendants; judges have concurred in dozens of cases. Proof that the accused is a “danger” to society largely rests on cherry-picked video clips created by the government from video footage exclusively held by the government.
After news organizations complained their reporters could not see the clips during virtual court hearings, Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the D.C. District Court handling each one of the 500 or so Capitol breach cases, set up a way for journalists to access video evidence on a case-by-case basis.
The Justice Department now is using that ruling to perpetuate the idea that law enforcement officials were savagely attacked by bloodthirsty Trump “insurrectionists” on January 6. Earlier this month, the agency released a brief clip of a former New York City police officer angrily confronting a D.C. cop at around 2:30 p.m. on January 6. CNN, which obtained the clip, described the 56-second video as “horrifying.”
Thomas Webster, a decorated Marine and ex-NYPD officer with no criminal record, was arrested in February and charged with seven counts including assaulting the officer with a flag pole that was attached to his U.S. Marine Corps flag. (He did not hit the officer with the pole.) He’s been behind bars ever since.
So, what provoked Webster’s physical exchange with another cop? In the clip, Webster screams at officers from both USCP and D.C. Metro police who were fortified behind a row of bike racks. “You fucking piece of shit. You fucking commie motherfuckers, man. You wanna attack Americans? No, fuck that.”
Had the government decided to include video of the situation several minutes before Webster’s meltdown, it would have shown, according to court filings, police officers attacking and provoking protesters outside the Capitol who were doing nothing wrong.
In a June 17 court filing asking for his client’s release, here is how Webster’s attorney described part of the body cam footage that wasn’t released to CNN:
For the ten minutes prior to encountering the defendant, Officer N.R. can be seen reaching over the metal barrier and pushing a female protester holding a flag to the ground on two separate occasions. The protesters . . . were by and large peaceful. It was only after tear gas and pepper spray were deployed by police upon this group of peaceful protesters that the crowds changed.
Officer N.R. [the cop Webster allegedly assaulted] was equipped with a helmet, a shield, a gas mask, and a full complement of body armor. [P]rotesters—who did not attend the protest with a mask or face shield—are observed suffering the effects of being gassed and pepper sprayed by police. Officer N.R. can also be observed mocking several protesters who were complaining about this Officer’s excessive use of force.
Angered by the use of police force . . . Webster is heard angrily referring to the police officers as ‘commie motherfuckers.’ The video depicts this officer reaching beyond the metal barriers and pushing Webster on the chest. It is at this point that Officer N.R. again reaches over the metal barricade and punches Webster on the left side of his face.
The Justice Department disputes Webster’s account. But he made the same accusation under oath during a February court hearing. In his interview with the FBI, Webster also said the officer “was encouraging me to jump over the barrier . . . like waving me on with his hand.” Webster told agents the officer landed “a big sucker punch” on him.
Why would Webster lie? The fact is, he didn’t. (His bond hearing is Tuesday afternoon.)
One of the most underreported aspects of January 6 is how law enforcement attacked Americans doing nothing wrong. Covering up the fact that police officers, including federal USCP officers, incited violence on January 6 is very likely a key reason why the government refuses to release security footage.
And cherry-picked body cam footage released by the Justice Department tells only one side of the story, of course.
But more emerging evidence seems to support the idea that police intentionally agitated protesters to provoke bad behavior, including verbal and physical attacks on law enforcement.
Video obtained by American Greatness last month shows Capitol police throwing flashbangs into a crowd of protesters outside the building. The device, also known as a stun grenade, emits flashes of light and a sound louder than a jet engine. It can cause temporary blindness and disorientation; some flashbangs contain rubber pellets, which some protesters claim were the ones used by police on January 6.
“They’ve been throwing flashbangs, shooting us with bullets,” Kash Kelly said on the video. “These are Americans protesting the right way . . . and we’re getting treated like we’re not even citizens.” (Kelly has been charged and currently is detained in the D.C. jail used to house January 6 defendants.)
Micajah Jackson, charged last month with four misdemeanors for his involvement in the January 6 protest, also witnessed violent attacks by police against protesters. “When I was walking to the Capitol, I saw cops dressed in riot gear and it didn’t make any sense to me,” Jackson told me in a phone interview Monday. Law enforcement, Jackson told me, were dressed in all black like “paramilitary” uniforms.
Jackson said cops waved protesters up the steps near the inauguration stage. “Next thing I know, a riot squad comes out of nowhere and starts attacking people, hitting them with batons and their closed fists. People are getting tackled. That’s when people got turned up and started to get agitated.”
Older women, teenagers, and some children, Jackson said, were getting attacked with flashbangs. “The crowd started yelling, what are you guys doing? That’s why you see people cussing and swearing at police.” (Another recently-released video shows protesters yelling at D.C. Metro cops for attacking them. “We’ve always supported you!” one man can be heard saying to the officers. The USCP inspector general confirmed D.C. Metro police used sting balls during the protest.)
This was the same area where Robert Sanford, a retired firefighter from Pennsylvania, allegedly threw a fire extinguisher at three USCP officers calling them “traitors” and “cowards.”
An infuriating video included in Jackson’s charging documents shows when police started throwing the flashbangs into a crowd assembled outside. The attack, which started at around 1 p.m., begins at the one minute mark in this YouTube video. People, most holding Trump or American flags and shouting “USA,” react with shock and anger. They start swearing at the assaulting officers; some complain about getting hit in the legs and buttocks with rubber pellets. “That got me good,” one man is heard saying.
Another recording in Jackson’s complaint shows how the situation escalated with more aggressive behavior by police. At the 15-minute mark in this video, a line of both D.C. Metro and USCP officers started to move metal racks into the crowd, knocking people over. As people resist and fight back, officers start hitting protesters with their batons and spraying them with a chemical irritant.
The aggression prompted more altercations between protesters and police; at the 20 minute mark, a woman climbing steps in front of the line of police is shoved three times by a cop with a riot shield, once directly in the face, and knocked down.
There is no question that some protesters behaved badly on January 6—but it’s time to examine the conduct of USCP and D.C. Metro police to determine if they did, too.
Why did police start launching explosive devices into peaceful protesters outside the building at 1:00 p.m. on January 6 when no one was doing anything wrong? Why did police use “super soaker” sprayers to attack the crowd with pepper spray and tear gas? Why did they arrive on the scene in full riot gear, including gas masks and weapons? Did any police officers assault nonviolent protesters with batons or riot shields or fists?
Seeing the surveillance video from January 6 would answer a lot of these questions, which is another reason why USCP does not want the public to see the footage. While USCP and D.C. Metro officers seek martyr status on Capitol Hill and cable news interviews, the reality of their conduct on January 6 would certainly undermine the public image they’ve tried hard to create.
But, as we’ve been told by everyone including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the American people deserve the truth about what they consider an “attack on our democracy.” If so, then this should also apply to the way law enforcement handled the crowd on January 6. Who attacked whom?
For a year, the public was told President Trump ordered police to pepper spray violent protesters occupying Lafayette Square to clear the way for a photo op at a church they had set on fire. Democrats and even some Republicans demanded an investigation. But an inspector general report confirmed U.S. Park Police cleared the area so a contractor could install security fencing.
“This report does not address allegations of individual use-of-force incidents, as those are the subject of separate inquiries as well as ongoing lawsuits,” Mark Lee Greenblatt disclosed in his report.
Shouldn’t we know the same about law enforcement’s role in the January 6 protest?
Release the tapes.