WASHINGTON It stood out among the turmoil as an unusual. On Jan. 6, as a raucous pro-Trump mob attempted to enter the Capitol, a Capitol Police lieutenant emerged from the Columbus Doors on the eastern side of the structure, where the mob had broken windows. The lieutenant led a line of riot gear-clad police officers down the stairs and through the crowd, being followed by a bystander in a brown Eddie Bauer jacket holding a police bullhorn.
The officer put on a red MAGA hat and maneuvered through the crowd of rioters. On the stairs, Trump fans rejoiced, believing that the police were relinquishing control of the structure and that possibly Donald Trump would still win the presidency.
drill a hole! They have left! In one of the numerous films that documented the event, one man yells. The police are departing! Another exclaims, “We won.” In a show of support, a man slaps the police officers’ helmets while others pat them on the back. As the officers exit the Capitol and pass through the crowd, a woman wearing a USA sweatshirt hugs them; the officers do not return the hug. None of the police officers appear happy through their face shields. As the officers descend the steps, a man wearing a black QAnon hoodie and a Trump cap gives them a blessing.
Stephen Ayres, a participant in the Capitol riots who was later charged and appeared before the committee on January 6, is present and seated to the sides. Jacob Chansley, the QAnon Shaman, is also currently serving a term of more than three years in prison after recently visiting the Senate chamber.
Roberto Minuta, a 37-year-old Texas resident, is standing at the bottom of the steps as riot-gear-clad police officers leave. Minuta, who is recording the scene on his phone, explains that the cops are being guided by the crowd because it is their building. Escorted!
The man leading them was an Oath Keepers member who was wearing an Eddie Bauer jacket and had a bullhorn. He may be seen in a video from earlier in the day asking to help and waving what looks to be a police badge at the officer.
In the days following January 6, The Wall Street Journal featured Tarik Khalid T.K. Johnson, a former Capitol Police lieutenant who was the officer wearing the MAGA hat, but there are still unanswered issues regarding what what transpired on the Capitol steps that day. Others on the right, including some attorneys for members of the Oath Keepers currently on trial for seditious conspiracy, contend that it is evidence that members of the Oath Keepers assisted law enforcement on January 6 and that the charges against them are overblown. Some saw it as evidence of a far too cozy relationship between law enforcement and the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol.
An investigation of the incident by NBC News, however, conflicts with those stories. With the aid of a team of open-source researchers who have concentrated on the Oath Keepers, NBC News looked over a number of videos of the incident and spoke with Johnson’s attorney and Michael Nichols, an Oath Keeper and former police officer who helped the Capitol Police on that particular day.
Johnson’s attorney stated that Johnson used the MAGA headgear as a ruse to persuade members of the crowd to assist him. He was attempting to save more than a dozen law enforcement personnel who were trapped inside the Capitol between rioters who had already entered the structure and a swarm of other Trump supporters who had busted a door and were attempting to press their way inside.
It appears he was successful. Once the officers were out of harm’s way, additional officers were able to momentarily close the doors that the rioters had penetrated by using the fire exit system, which gave them three seconds to push a bar to unlock the magnetically-locked doors. The cops Johnson saved were subsequently able to relocate to other parts of the Capitol, according to Johnson’s attorney.
According to NBC News, Johnson, who was demoted as a result of the event, recently left the U.S. Capitol Police.
Despite claims made by their defense attorneys in court and in the media that Nichols’ assistance to Johnson strengthens their case, Nichols does not appear to have any connections to the Oath Keepers accused of engaging in seditious conspiracy, and there is no proof he spoke with them prior to the attack on January 6.
In connection with their actions on January 6, eleven members of the Oath Keepers, an anti-government group made up primarily of former law enforcement and military personnel, are being prosecuted on seditious conspiracy charges, including Minuta, who recorded Nichols and Johnson walking down the stairs with the rescued officers. Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins, and Thomas Caldwell are the five of those members that are now on trial after entering a not-guilty plea. At the end of the year, a second set of Oath Keeper defendants—Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel, and Edward Vallejo—will stand trial.
Joshua James, Brian Ulrich, and William Todd Wilson, three further Oath Keepers, have previously entered guilty pleas to seditious conspiracy. Wilson is anticipated to testify that on January 6, following the Capitol disturbance, Rhodes, the head of the Oath Keepers, attempted to communicate with Trump personally in a hotel suite. Rhodes pleaded with his Trump contact to urge the then-president to contact organizations like the Oath Keepers.
Defense attorneys claim that video showing Nichols assisting law officers undermines the prosecution’s claim that the Oath Keepers planned to overthrow the American government on January 6 in advance. One of several conservative media outlets that have disseminated false information regarding January 6 is Video of Oath Keepers Rescuing 16 Police Officers, which claims an headline in the far-right Epoch Times. Once the rescued officers reached the bottom of the steps, they were helped, according to their attorneys, by members of the second layer of Oath Keepers charged, which includes Minuta. According to Rhodes attorneys wrote in one brief, that organization helped frightened Capitol police officers escape that imminent threat and danger by providing security and escort.
However, Nichols oversaw the rescue operation, and there is no proof that he was in contact with the Oath Keepers who are accused that day. After aggressively assisting law authorities on January 6, it is unlikely Nichols will be charged himself, barring some unanticipated development.
Nichols claimed that the FBI had twice visited him: in January 2021 and in September. He claims that questions were asked regarding his affiliations with the Oath Keepers group, whether he was speaking on the radio with anyone, and whether there were any plans to attack the Capitol again. Nichols remarked, “I’m like, whoa, we were there for a speech. Officials from the FBI declined to comment on Nichols.
They wanted to introduce me to these organizations and associations that I’m not a part of, said Nichols. I’ll stand up for anyone at any moment since I’m a former police officer and soldier for the United States. Stewart Rhodes and the other individuals are unknown to me. I wasn’t corresponding with any of these individuals.
Nichols stated that despite the fact that you may be a Boy Scout, you do not know every Boy Scout in the world.
HOW MAY WE ASSIST?
On the morning of January 6, Nichols was in a prime location for Donald Trump’s speech at the Ellipse; footage shows him and his wife towards the front of the audience. They stayed throughout the entire event, too: video demonstrates that he is still present when YMCA starts to play after Trump instructed his supporters to march down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol after his speech ended at 1:10 p.m., just as the first barricades on the western front of the Capitol grounds were breached.
However, he claimed that Nichols and his wife didn’t head straight for the Capitol. He stated in an interview that they initially took a short stroll before ending up at some food trucks with the intention of returning to their hotel in Arlington. He can be seen on video striding down toward the Capitol while holding his wife’s hand. Even without crowds or a rest stop, the distance between the White House and the Capitol is more than a mile and a half. Given the timing of Trump’s address, Nichols would have arrived to the Capitol after the barricades had been removed, having been breached by the mob on its east side at around two in the afternoon.
We just strolled about because there were no barricades, no police, and only civilians in the area, according to Nichols, who spoke to NBC News. They moved to the east side of the Capitol, where, according to Nichols and the footage seen by NBC News, they joined a group that was praying and singing Christian songs on a staircase leading to the Senate.
On January 6, Nichols said that traveling to the Capitol wasn’t on his itinerary; however, his wife later wrote on social media that he accompanied her because he understood how crucial it was for us to see this momentous occasion.
As rioters attempted to enter the Capitol, Nichols claimed he observed a commotion at the top of the stairs and rushed to assist. He then noticed Johnson.
Nichols stated that he believed, “I’ve got to let him know and see if I can help him get this crowd off the stairs.”
Picture captures what took place next. Johnson, who is donning a MAGA hat, informs Nichols and another man that police officers are being assaulted and attempts to position himself as a like-minded conservative by claiming that those who didn’t support him are laughing at us. His attorney verified that Johnson is a Democrat.
How can we assist in assuming control? Nichols queries. Johnson requests assistance in freeing the officers from inside. Nichols offers his assistance, flashes his badge, and agrees to go up the stairs with the cop. Johnson says Nichols, “You can even use my megaphone, and I’ll follow you.
They occasionally walk hand-in-hand as they ascend the stairs. One onlooker is informed by another man who is with Nichols and Johnson that they are Oath Keepers; neither he nor the other man has been charged. A number of police officers are soon being led out of the building and down the stairs, where Minuta is waiting with his phone, as the three guys make their way to the doors.
Johnson, unlike his coworkers behind him, is only wearing his blue medical mask as additional protection. Being a Black police in a crowd of neo-Nazis, people waving Confederate flags, and several fascists and bigots rendered him more exposed.
A lawyer for Johnson claimed that at least one video shows a rioter using a racial epithet to refer to the lieutenant during the rescue, telling other members of the mob: That n——- is tricking us. Several Black police officers and first responders have claimed they were the targets of racist taunts that day. According to Johnson’s attorney, he did not hear the slur that particular day.
The east rotunda door was temporarily secured by police shortly after the men descended the stairs, allowing them to stop additional rioters from entering or exiting the Capitol.
Nichols went back to the door later in the day. There is a video of him chatting to rioters close to the Capitol’s door before talking at length to police officers through the door. He claims he was attempting to diffuse the situation and assist officers in securing the door, which wasn’t latching.
According to Nichols, there was something like a broken piece of metal stuck to the magnet component of the device well above where it would have closed the doors.
One of the cops asked Nichols if he could close the larger, ornate Columbus doors after learning that he was a former law enforcement officer, he claimed. But the bulky doors wouldn’t budge, and the people around him began to turn against him. There wasn’t much more Nichols could do, he claimed, and he was concerned about his safety and the safety of his wife. A moment that was also captured in a photo examined by NBC News occurred when they went down and located Johnson once more and told him what was happening.
In Cortland, New York, which is near Syracuse, Nichols worked as a police officer in the past. Nichols resigned in February 2017, and Lt. Dan Edwards of the Cortland Police verified that the agency does issue retirement badges like the one that Nichols seemed to flash during his conversation with Johnson.
Our officers battled valiantly.
Johnson lost his job after the attack because he was wearing a MAGA hat. According to Mr. Johnson’s counsel, Mr. Johnson opposed the disciplinary procedure, including the promotion.
He “Johnson” did not assist the rioters prior to, during, or after the attack, according to a thorough inquiry. The U.S. Capitol Police said in a statement to NBC News that the Department took proper action to address the officials’ conduct over his personal choices and the acceptance of the hat. It is crucial to keep in mind how hard our officers fought to retake the Capitol that day so that Congress could do its legislative duties.
While some on the force undoubtedly questioned Johnson’s tactics, two officers who were on duty on January 6 claimed that nobody questioned that he had the correct intentions that day—protecting officers and defending the Capitol.
Johnson’s attorney claimed that Johnson provided tactical guidance on the eastern side of the Capitol until the rioters dispersed in order to save U.S. Capitol Police officers from being surrounded and facing potentially fatal attacks by the rioters (who had already severely assaulted and threatened to kill other USCP officers on the Capitol West Front).
According to his attorney, Johnson was unaware that Nichols was an Oath Keeper or what an Oath Keeper was.
The head of the U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee, Gus Papathanasiou, told NBC News that he doesn’t think any USCP officers ought to have faced punishment for their actions on January 6 because no management officials higher up were punished. Johnson was a lieutenant at the time, thus the union did not defend him in the incident. Nevertheless, he claimed that Johnson’s actions were respectable and that the organization was fighting for other officers who had received punishment in connection with the incident on January 6.
T.K. Johnson should have been promoted after January 6th, not demoted, according to social media video of him and what I heard on the radio that day, Papathanasiou said, calling the department’s treatment of him a travesty.
On January 6, Johnson allegedly went above and beyond and put his life in danger, according to Nichols.
According to Nichols, he was on his radio, calling for guidance, and they were simply left without any resources.
According to Johnson’s attorney, the then-lieutenant spent the first hour of the attack providing tactical guidance to more than 20 officers and was crucial in leading the evacuation of senators and their staffs from the Senate Chamber and then house members and their staffs from the House Chamber, all just before the rioters entered those Chambers in search of senators and house members.
Johnson’s counsel stated that he made the decision to quit, with effect from September 23, when he returned to duty while being degraded from his position as a lieutenant but in good standing as a USCP police officer.
THEY ARE CAPEGUATING
According to the government’s evidence, the Oath Keepers accused of the seditious conspiracy arrived on January 6. Prosecutors claim that Rhodes, the leader, set up quick reaction forces or QRFs outside of Washington, D.C., and communicated with a Trump ally on the evening of January 6 to ask them to connect him with Trump and ask Trump to solicit the support of organizations like the Oath Keepers.
Given that these defendants don’t seem to have interacted with Johnson, it’s unclear how much of Nichols and Johnson’s cooperation the Oath Keepers attorneys will be able to incorporate into the first trial. The Oath Keepers case Wall Street Journal0 court has ruled that only direct witness testimony from the defendants is admissible as evidence. After Monday’s opening statements, defendant Harrelson’s lawyer, Brad Geyer, told NBC News that he planned to present as much circumstantial evidence as he could.
Although Nichols makes a distinction between the Oath Keepers group, of which he is a member, and himself as an oathkeeper—someone who took an oath to preserve and defend the nation—he becomes defensive over those members who have been accused.
He claimed he thought they went there to defend speakers at events leading up to January 6 and not to overthrow the government.
Nichols stated, “I don’t know those people. I don’t know what anyone is thinking, but from what I can see, they’re being used as a scapegoat.