A Utah activist who recorded the shooting of Ashli Babbitt during the January 6 Capitol riot has been convicted of eight federal charges, including civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, and unlawful possession of a dangerous weapon.
John Sullivan, 27, faces up to 30 years in prison for his involvement in the violent mob that stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Sullivan claimed he was there as a journalist and a documentarian, but prosecutors argued he was a participant and an instigator of the riot, who encouraged violence and destruction.
Sullivan’s video footage captured the moment when Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran and Trump supporter, was fatally wounded by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a broken window into the Speaker’s Lobby. Sullivan can be heard saying “We did this s***. We took this s***” and “Let’s burn this s*** down” in the video.
Sullivan’s case raises ethical and legal questions about the role and responsibility of journalists covering protests and riots, and whether they can be distinguished from activists and rioters. Sullivan, who described himself as an “antiestablishment” activist, had previously attended and organized protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
“There’s a difference between being there and being part of it,” said Jade Sacker, a freelance photojournalist who accompanied Sullivan on January 6. Sacker said she was working on a documentary about Sullivan and his involvement in various social movements.
However, prosecutors said Sullivan was not there for journalistic purposes, but rather with a different agenda. “He was not a reporter. He was not there to observe what was going on. He was there to be part of what was going on,” said Michael Sherwin, former acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
“The First Amendment does not give anyone license to incite violence or engage in criminal activity,” said Steven D’Antuono, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Kelly McBride, chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute, said journalists have a responsibility to report the truth, not to shape it. “Journalists should not be participating in the events they are covering. They should not be cheering on one side or the other. They should not be trying to influence the outcome,” she said.
– John Sullivan filmed Ashli Babbitt’s death at the Capitol riot. What is he guilty of?, Deseret News, August 11, 2021
– Rioter or journalist? Man who said he was only filming Jan. 6 convicted., The Washington Post, November 16, 2021
– Utah man who filmed rioter Ashli Babbitt’s shooting convicted over Jan. 6, MSN, November 17, 2021
– ‘Antiestablishment’ activist sought to incite Trump supporters on Jan. 6, DOJ argues, AOL, November 16, 2021