DOJ Moves to Label John Sullivan a Professional Provocateur

Yesterday, the government released a superseding indictment for John Earle Sullivan, the guy who filmed video of the insurrection and then sold it to CNN and other media outlets. In addition to adding two crimes for his possession of a knife he boasted of having in his own video but then allegedly lied to the FBI about, the government moved to seize almost $90,000 in forfeiture. The move is an aggressive step that may be justifiable for Sullivan, but has implications for the five or so other propagandists arrested as part of the riot.

Sullivan was first charged, with civil disorder and trespassing, on January 13, after several FBI interviews. His arrest affidavit described how, repeatedly during the video he filmed of the riot, he made comments egging on the rioters. At the moment he caught Ashli Babbitt’s shooting on film, he had pushed himself to the front of that mob by calling out that he had a knife.

When the government first indicted Sullivan on February 3, the added obstruction and abetting charges to the civil disorder and trespass charges. That happened at virtually the same time the government moved to revoke his bail, based off several violations of the limits imposed on his use of social media. Sullivan responded by arguing that all that media contact was his job; his lawyer even provided evidence of the funds CNN have paid him to obtain his video of the insurrection. In response, Sullivan remained on bail with more explicit limits to his Internet access.

The one public discovery notice provided to Sullivan so far includes:

  • Earlier publications showing his efforts as a provocateur, including “Let’s start a riot” and “How to Take Down a Monument”
  • His criminal arrest record that includes association with past outbreaks of violence at protests
  • An interview he did on Infowars after the riot
  • Subpoenas to CenturyLink and Beehive Broadband, suggesting they were tracking traffic on Sullivan’s website

Then things went quiet in his case until, on May 7, his lawyer filed a motion to get funds in a Utah bank released he said had been seized without warning. It argued that Sullivan is entitled to a hearing at which he can contest that he committed a crime and the funds being seized came from the crime.

Accordingly, the federal courts have held that when the government restrains a criminal defendant’s assets before trial on the assertion that they may be subject to forfeiture, due process requires that the defendant be afforded a post-deprivation, pretrial hearing to challenge the restraint. If certain minimal conditions are satisfied, “[t]he wholesale use of…forfeiture proceedings [should cause] grave concern when the Government has clearly focused its law enforcement energies and resources upon a person and attempts to restrain his property….” United States v. $39,000 in Canadian Currency.” 801 F.2d 1210, 1219 n.7 (10th Cir. 1986).

The United States Supreme Court has made clear that pretrial seizure, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. Sec. 853 (f) requires two probable cause findings: (1) that the defendant committed an offense permitting forfeiture and (2) that the property at issue has the requisite connection to that crime.” Kaley v. United States, 134 S. Ct 1090,1095 (2014).

At the outset, defendant notes that he needs the funds in the seized bank account in order to pay his rent and household necessities. Additionally, the proceeds of the seized bank account are not the product of criminal activity alleged in the indictment.

Thus the new indictment, I guess.

The indictment ties the forfeiture not to Sullivan’s civil disorder charge, which would seem to make sense given Sullivan’s past history of profiting off inciting violence at peaceful protests, but instead to Sullivan’s obstruction charge. That seems to argue that Sullivan’s filming of the insurrection, in which he cajoled police to step down (including from the confrontation before Babbitt was shot) and cheered on the seizure of the Capitol, was part of the successful obstruction of the vote count.

Given Sullivan’s past incitement (which, ironically, was well-documented by leftist activists months before Trump supporters and Sullivan’s own brother tried to base an Antifa false flag claim on Sullivan’s presence), this may be a reasonable argument for Sullivan.

But there are at least five other right wing propagandists who were present at the insurrection for whom that might be a really troubling precedent (an InfoWars video editor Sam Montoya also witnessed and magnified Babbitt’s death).

Again, this may all be merited. And perhaps DOJ is tying Sullivan’s new charges for his knife to the seizure. But it seems an important development to track.

Update: Sullivan’s motion for a hearing on the seizures alluded to more discovery. This letter may describe that discovery. It describes a slew of subpoenas, including Square, JP Morgan, Venmo, Discover, Amazon, and others. In other words, the letter reflects a concerted effort to figure out how Sullivan’s finances work.

But the more interesting detail is item 21, reflecting the HIGHLY SENSITIVE estimate from the Architect of the Capitol estimating the cost of replacing a window. Sullivan’s own video strongly implies he broke that window. But he hasn’t been charged with it yet. That’s important, because he could be — and if he is, it could trigger terrorism enhancements.

It was harsh of the government to seize Sullivan’s funds. But what might come next will be far more harsh.

Update: Justin Rohrlich found and shared the seizure warrants. The logic behind this seizure is as follows:

¶31: The affidavit lays out evidence of Sullivan admitting he’s not a journalist, including hims saying on January 5 that he made that claim up “on the fly.”

¶32: A description of how after the riot, Sullivan changed his webpage description to incorporate a claim to be a journalist.

¶34: Citations to the hearing on his release violations in which he presented the contracts he got for the video.

¶35: A brag, right after he left the Capitol, saying, “Everybody’s gonna want this. Nobody has it. I’m selling it, I could make millions of dollars. … I brought my megaphone to instigate shit.”

¶36: A summary of the deposits paid for use of the video.

23 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    And thus another chapter in the forfeiture/criminal charge intersection. The issue in Bordenkircher keeps appearing in law and life. So you say you want a fair hearing, here are your new and upped ante charges!

    • subtropolis says:

      Civil forfeiture in the US is utterly terrifying. It’s right up there on my list of reasons to avoid the United States if at all possible. (Yes, I know that I’m being unreasonable, but these are unreasonable times.)

      Is “highway bandit” forfeiture done under 21 U.S.C. Sec. 853 (f)? If so, how the heck do they get away with it? Is it just a matter of not retaining a lawyer who will call them on it?

      I ask because many of the cases that I’ve heard about did not appear to me to satisfy those two probable cause restrictions.

  2. subtropolis says:

    I had just commented, over at the Daily Kaos, about this guy, though I couldn’t recall his name at the time. The context was a post suggesting that the Dems call the Republican bluff by inviting a closer look at the violence surrounding the BLM protests last summer. The reason being that not enough attention was paid to the fact that so many white guys with guns had been stirring up shit. Someone mentioned also “moles” within BLM and I responded that I could only think of this guy. Who happens to have friends in the Proud Boys. The bottom line being that, besides some opportunistic looting by PoC having nothing at all to do with the marches, much of the violence was perpetrated by those very much not on BLM’s side.

    Which leads me to the fact that prosecutors are not just hitting Sullivan with a slew of charges, but taking the money he’s earned from his provocative activities. One might be excused for thinking that they wish to make an example of him. That is, to make a big deal of the fact that he’s got a history of this shit. To, perhaps, shine a light on the fact that the Right does what they (surprise, surprise) are always accusing their opponents of.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it. As Marcy points out, the forfeiture is tied to Count 1 — the obstructive behaviour at the Capitol — not his career in incitement. But, it also seems a convenient peg to hang it on.

    • Rayne says:

      This: “besides some opportunistic looting by PoC” you had better bring supporting documentation because agents provocateur were engaged in a lot of destruction including burning buildings in order to frame POC.

      I’m not going to put up with off-the-cuff racism here. You’ve already pissed me off with your last comment which demonstrated you couldn’t be arsed to read the underlying source documents, don’t press your luck.

      • subtropolis says:

        You’ve misunderstood me, it appears. I suppose that it’s just because you’re pissed off. Which is on you.

        I was referring to the actual OPPORTUNISTIC looting that very much did go on in several cities, not ANYTHING to do with BLM or anyone else who took the time to march peacefully in the streets seeking justice.

        I am not parroting the bullshit coming from the Right, who like to take things out of context to smear those who speak out against them, iow. (Of late, it’s calling those seeking racial justice “marxists”.) I really hope that, in seeking to rebut their lies, you haven’t taken the position that there was absolutely no looting, whatsoever. To acknowledge that fact is not to take sides with the fascists.

        Indeed, if we are to be successful in fighting back against their misrepresentations, the very last thing we should be doing is creating our own fairy tale histories.

        There WAS opportunistic looting. In some cities, people were driving around in cars, hitting shops and making off with whatever they could carry. That is a sad, but inevitable, fact that did follow from the exuberance of the marches, like night follows day. But, was that BLM’s doing? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

        You demand supporting documentation, as though you somehow missed the hours and hours of video. I did not. In fact, I watched an awful lot of it, because I was keeping an eye out for — dun dun dun — agents provocateurs! Of which I found much evidence. I was watching all that video, not because I get drool over watching buildings burn, but because I was seeking to track all of those shitty WHITE GUYS causing trouble.

        Just in case it’s not clear yet: It’s my opinion that a great deal of the violence during the evenings of the BLM marches was perpetrated by WHITE GUYS seeking to make BLM look bad.

        That being said, it’s clear that many blacks joined in. Those who did, though, are NOT representative of the peaceful marchers, imho. However, in many cases (I couldn’t say how many, but it didn’t seem like a trivial number) it was WHITE GUYS who started shit.

        My overall point, then, was to discuss the WHITE GUYS who provoked a lot of shit that has since been blamed on PoC, BLM, ahhnteeeefah, and the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, I — incidentally — acknowledged the fact that there had been some OPPORTUNISTIC looting.

        Have I made myself clear? If that still seems like off-the-cuff racism to you, well … I’ve got nothing else.

        • Rayne says:

          This: “I was referring to the actual OPPORTUNISTIC looting that very much did go on in several cities, not ANYTHING to do with BLM or anyone else who took the time to march peacefully in the streets seeking justice.

          Still nothing to support your claim. You’re doing just as much damage with your bullshit as the agents provocateurs because you insist on both-sidesing this.

        • Bruce Fuentes says:

          No one is disputing that there was some looting at some demonstrations. Why do you feel the need to say “opportunistic looting by PoC”? Is looting by non PoC ok? Your comments reek of racism.

          • Hika says:

            “… some opportunistic looting by PoC having nothing at all to do with the marches”
            has some context to it that the out of context “opportunistic looting by PoC” lacks. Indeed, to attempt to maintain the position that zero looting was done by PoC through all of last year’s events is ludicrous. Such counter factual positions serve no useful purpose.
            What I read above was subtropolis suggesting that those seeking to impugn the BLM protests would have their comeuppance if the violence and its causes were closely examined by a careful investigation. The balance of what was written was that there was a great deal of incitement and bad acting by right wing provocateurs while allowing that *some* misdeeds had been committed by other people. It seemed a reasonable comment in the context of an article about Sullivan, who was quickly suspected of being an agent provocateur and avoided by left wing protest organizers on the left coast.

            • Rayne says:

              The continued repetition of the phrase impugning people of color with an extremely broad brush while providing zero supporting material does a crapload of damage. What’s the point? That agents provocateur like “umbrella man” haven’t been held to account? Then say that and just that.

      • pasha says:

        re: “besides some opportunistic looting by PoC”

        over one thousand BLM demonstrations occurred in the weeks following George Floyd’s murder, and most of them were peaceful. a lot of the property damage was caught on security cameras, and the vandals identified and arrested. some were just wreckers, some provocateurs. for example, the guy first breaking windows in the original minneapolis demonstration was an off-duty st. paul cop.

        here in michigan, all of those vandals identified after the grand rapids protest were white kids from the suburbs, who followed after the main protest had passed, taking advantage of the fact that police were occupied with the main body of protesters.

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah, I was thinking in particular of this whackdoodle blonde who actually videoed and live streamed her vandalism in Grand Rapids, MI and skipped out on bond, then asked for a trial. I don’t know if she’s been in court again since January. WOOD-TV did a shit job covering the protest and subsequent riot — incited in part by this same whackdoodle blonde on Facebook — making it sound like the city was being burned down by BLM protesters.

          Meanwhile, actual BLM protesters had been pleading in a number of cities for white people to stop their bullshit which would blowback on black people, like the Black women who begged white women to stop tagging a Starbucks store.

          ADDER: Still thinking about “opportunistic looting” and the amount of economic cleansing whites have done to Black Americans since Europeans first enslaved Africans and brought them to North America.

          We’re watching centuries-long piecemeal genocide and yet “opportunistic looting” still must be brought up to provide balance in the equation.

    • addison46 says:

      Not to mention isn’t this one of the 5 guys Rudy called to have released on 1.6? He is related to the PB brother, right?

  3. Milt Treshansky says:


    Sorry for leaving this query here, but I couldn’t find an alternative. I know it’s not in your immediate wheelhouse, but you’re the best detective I know.

    Do you know why Echidne of the Snakes stopped posting? I miss her viewpoint.

    • bmaz says:

      That is a no brainer for a court (they know how to do this, and it almost never works). I’d order one for his lawyer, Watkins, too.

    • Rayne says:

      Really torn about this one. Competent enough to get himself to DC, advocate for himself to get organic food as part of his religious observations, but not competent to stand trial? On the other hand, Chansley and a few other cases lay the groundwork for discussion of deprogramming much of the public who were taken in by a con man and other negative and criminal influences.

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