Govt seizes money from sale of Jan. 6 riot footage

Somebody’s bank account is considerably lighter this week and, for once, it’s not because the Democrats have already jacked up his taxes through the roof. John Earle Sullivan is alleged to be one of the more than 400 people who stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 and has since been arrested. We’re still technically still supposed to say “alleged” but, like many of the attackers, Sullivan filmed himself and others engaged in the riot. But unlike many of the other participants who simply posted their photos and videos to social media for the world to share, Sullivan’s camera was rolling outside of the House Chambers at the moment that Ashli Babbitt was shot by a Capitol Hill Police officer. Rather than giving that footage away for free, he sold the rights to it to several media outlets for roughly $90,000. But now the federal government has seized that money. Wait… can they do that? (Reuters)

U.S. authorities have confiscated roughly $90,000 from a Utah man who sold footage of a woman being fatally shot during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump, according to court filings.

Prosecutors also have filed additional criminal charges against the man, John Earle Sullivan, a self-described political activist who is accused of entering the Capitol building and participating in the riot, the filings unsealed on Thursday showed.

Sullivan now faces a total of eight criminal counts, including weapons charges, related to the riot. Sullivan’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

I’m not here to present some sort of defense of John Earle Sullivan on all charges. He was obviously one of the people who didn’t remain out in the streets protesting. He went in through the shattered windows and made it all the way to the House Chamber. He’s also facing weapons charges among eight criminal counts. There’s no word yet as to when he might face trial.

But the main question I wanted to raise here concerns which laws might have been broken by selling his footage to news outlets? Nearly everyone in that mob was filming the riot (making the job of the investigators far simpler) and blasting the clips all over social media. While I may have missed it, I’m not seeing any record of anyone being charged for recording those events with their cell phones and then posting the films publicly.

There doesn’t seem to be any law against filming inside the Capitol Building in general. You can go on YouTube and type in “tour of Capitol Building” and find an endless list of videos people have posted after taking a tour there. Of course, they weren’t in the middle of sacking the place, but the point still stands. So was this a case of filming people in the act of committing a crime? That seems to happen pretty often too and the videos aren’t removed and the posters aren’t arrested that I know of. Just go search for “Chicago riots” and you’ll find enough to keep you busy for months.

So if it’s just the act of selling the video that’s illegal, what about the news organizations who bought it? The names of those outlets are redacted in the report, but we all watched that shooting playing endlessly in a loop on CNN and many other outlets. If the sale was illegal, aren’t the purchasers equally culpable? I’m not trying to be redundant here, but this really isn’t making much sense to me.

Please don’t take this as some sort of plea to let Sullivan off the hook if he’s guilty of the other charges. I’m not saying that at all. But if the federal government is going to seize the funds of a citizen they need be following the law themselves. And at least thus far, I’m not finding any basis for that. We’ll update this as required if additional research warrants it.

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