By Joseph M. Hanneman
A video widely circulated in 2021 that showed a Capitol Police lieutenant asking members of the Oath Keepers for rescue help at the U.S. Capitol blows a hole in the seditious conspiracy charges brought against the group by federal prosecutors, two defense attorneys say.
In the video, Lt. Tarik Khalid Johnson asks a group of men to help him get more than a dozen trapped Capitol Police officers out of the Capitol and through a tightly packed crowd of protesters on the building’s east steps.
It was widely reported in January 2021 that Johnson wore a red Make America Great Again cap on Jan. 6 as a ruse to “trick” supporters of President Donald J. Trump into helping him rescue fellow officers from the Capitol. He was later suspended for wearing the MAGA cap. Johnson is a registered Democrat, according to online records.
The men who answered the call to help were members of the Oath Keepers, a nationwide group of current and former military, law enforcement, and first responders who have been targeted by federal prosecutors for allegedly conspiring to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The video is at least the second example showing the Oath Keepers coming to the aid of Capitol Police inside the building on that day.
Would a group of men seditiously plotting an attack on the Capitol, allegedly to prevent certification of Electoral College votes, rush into the building to extract police trapped inside—all while being followed by a filmmaker?
‘More Holes Than Swiss Cheese’
“The prosecutors’ narrative has more holes than Swiss cheese, but it [the video] does directly refute their claim,” said Jonathon Moseley, who previously represented Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs.
Prosecutors “just keep ignoring the self-contradictions in their stories,” Moseley said.
The video was shot by part-time filmmaker Rico La Starza. One of several versions of the video posted online includes an introduction by La Starza. He said the video shows “me helping a group of Oath Keepers help Capitol Police get out. They looked scared and tired.”
Attorney Brad Geyer said the video should open a lot of eyes about the Oath Keepers.
“America would probably find it surprising, based on how the Oath Keepers had been framed in these now seven superseding indictments,” said Geyer, who represents Oath Keepers member Kenneth Harrelson. “But as far as reality is concerned, this is just another day at doing security details.”
In the middle of the afternoon on Jan. 6, Lt. Johnson appeared on a terrace area near the bottom of the east stairs at the U.S. Capitol. He approached a group of Oath Keepers for help.
“If you guys can help me save some of the guys,” Johnson said to two Oath Keepers. “If you can help me get aside these people, I’d appreciate it. I just need to get these other officers out. They’re scared.
“We’re getting beat up, but the people who didn’t go for help are laughing at us,” Johnson said.
“I can do that. I can help,” said one Oath Keepers member named Michael. Turning around to face Johnson, Michael appeared to flash a badge and again said, “I can help.” Johnson handed Michael a megaphone and they went to the east stairs leading up to the Columbus Doors.
‘We’re Here. We’ve Got You’
“Just let me hold onto you,” Johnson said as they started ascending the steps.
“We’re here. We’ve got you,” Michael said.
The two Oath Keepers shielded Lt. Johnson and walked in a “stack formation” up the steps on the east side of the Capitol. Johnson radioed ahead to say some of the demonstrators were walking him through the crowd toward the entrance.
Some people in the crowd expressed support for the trio. “I’m with you brother,” one said. “Thank you, sir!” replied another.
“We’re Oath Keepers,” the second Oath Keepers member said. He has not been identified.
“Stand aside, make a hole. We’re Oath Keepers, stand aside!” he said as the group reached the historic Columbus Doors.
Two other groups of Oath Keepers that used the same stack formation to navigate the dense crowds and enter the Capitol were accused by prosecutors of using this military tactic as part of their alleged plan to attack the building and stop the certification of Electoral College votes.
“Watch out, man. They’re trying to get the cops out,” a nearby protester said.
They worked their way through a tightly packed crowd of protesters inside the Columbus Doors and through the interior double doors.
A short time later, Michael appeared at the doors with a megaphone. He advised the crowd—along with some angry agitators near the doors— to back up and let them through.
“We don’t do this (expletive). We don’t do this (expletive)! he said over the megaphone. “Back up and make a hole!”
“(Expletive) you!” one agitator shouted.
“Back up and make a (expletive) hole!” the Oath Keeper retorted.
Michael stretched his arms out and blocked the crowd, pushing backward.
As Capitol Police started to exit the Columbus Doors, they received pats on the back, hugs, and comments such as, “Thank you, sir!” and “Good job!”
‘Anti-Government Militia Group?’
In all, 16 Capitol Police officers were brought out of the Capitol by the Oath Keepers. All but one of the officers were wearing heavy riot gear.
The Wall Street Journal posted the rescue video with a story about Johnson on Jan. 15, 2021. The Journal referred to the Oath Keepers as an “anti-government militia group,” a term the group flatly rejects.
“We were there as a force of good,” Oath Keepers member Roberto Minuta, who was also part of the rescue operation, told The Epoch Times. “I was with the Oath Keepers, and we’ve always done positive work, disaster relief, protecting businesses, aiding people that need help.
“We have no history of violence and no intention of violence,” said Minuta, one of nine Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy on January 6. “We are strictly there to protect the First Amendment because we can’t have one side that’s permitted to have free speech and the other that’s not. That’s not America. That’s not what this country was founded on and when that’s gone, my children’s future looks grim.”
Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes III told The Epoch Times his group is hated because it reminds those who took an oath of their duty to disobey unlawful orders.
“And so, out of the gate, the left just hated us because of that,” Rhodes said. “Of course, the big smear is that we’re somehow anti-government, even though we’re defending the Constitution. We’re all about defending the Constitution, which established the federal government.”
Geyer said the rescue of the Capitol Police officers was no surprise to him.
“The Oath Keepers have been working as a volunteer auxiliary police force around the country now for well over a decade,” Geyer said. “It’s what one might expect that the police would seek Oath Keepers assistance if there’s a crowd-control issue or an issue related to police movements, or if the police needed assistance for whatever reason.
“They were there to support law enforcement,” Geyer said. “And so when their assistance is requested by law enforcement, just like every other time, they’re happy to respond. It’s what they view their role to be.”
In another Jan. 6 incident, a group of Oath Keepers reported that they intervened in a potential conflict between an angry crowd of protesters and Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn.
Dunn “was armed with an M4/AR-15 and was very agitated, scared-looking and was surrounded by a bunch of yelling Trump supporters,” Rhodes said. “The Oath Keepers jumped in between and dialed it all back, calmed him down, calmed the Trump supporters down, and escorted that black police officer to other Capitol police officers and hooked him up with his buddies. So that he wasn’t by himself.”
Rhodes said he mentioned the race of the officer because his group is often falsely maligned as racist and composed of white supremacists.