Judge sentences Jan. 6 ‘chaos agent’ to 6 years in jail

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John Sullivan traveled to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, seeking to foment conflict with supporters of then-President Donald Trump. On Friday, he was sentenced to six years in federal prison for leading them into the Capitol, filming the shooting death of rioter Ashli Babbitt and then selling his footage to news organizations while claiming to be a journalist.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth called Sullivan a “chaos agent” unique among Jan. 6 defendants for exploiting the pro-Trump mob despite disclaiming the belief that the 2020 election was stolen.

Lamberth said, for Sullivan, “violence was an end unto itself.” And he chastised Sullivan for falsely claiming he was documenting the riot as a journalist, selling his footage to news outlets for more than $90,000.

The sentence closes one of the oddest Jan. 6 cases. Sullivan was arrested shortly after the riot, and prosecutors initially described him as a supporter of causes like “Black Lives Matter” and the anti-facism movement. His presence in the mob helped foment baseless claims of some Trump allies that the riot was sparked by anti-Trump agitators.

Prosecutors said Friday that Sullivan traveled to Washington intending to confront “fascist” Trump supporters. But they said when he realized the mob was preparing to storm the Capitol, he decided to exploit it to carry out his own anti-government agenda. Armed with a megaphone, Sullivan rallied the crowd to push past police.

Sullivan made his way to the “vanguard” of the mob, Lamberth noted, and twice offered a four-inch blade he was carrying to other rioters. He ended up just feet behind Babbitt before she was shot trying to climb through a window into the Speaker’s Lobby off the House chamber. Babbitt’s mother, Micki Witthoeft, was present in the courtroom Friday as Lamberth announced his sentence.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington had sought a more-than-seven-year sentence, saying that although Sullivan claimed to espouse “noble” goals like racial equality, he attempted to fulfill them in “completely unlawful and egregious” ways. They said despite cloaking himself as a supporter of far-left organizations, Sullivan was a “one-man show” who found common cause with anyone seeking to “tear it all down.”

Sullivan tearfully apologized for his conduct before lamenting what he described as abysmal conditions in the D.C. jail, where he’s been confined for five months since he was convicted by a jury. His attorney emphasized that Sullivan has faced uniquely challenging conditions in jail because while he’s confined to a wing meant to house Jan. 6 defendants, he’s been kept in isolation because other convicted rioters view him as hostile to their beliefs.

Sullivan’s father, who also spoke during the sentencing, noted that Sullivan was the oldest of four adopted children, had become an Eagle Scout and once trained to become an Olympic speedskater, describing him as a thoughtful and selfless member of the community.

Lamberth has long criticized conditions at the D.C. jail and has even once held officials there in contempt for their handling of another Jan. 6 defendant’s case. He told Sullivan he continues to “deplore” the way inmates are treated there and agreed to recommend that Sullivan serve his sentence in a low-security facility near his Utah home.