Presented with the contradictory assertions of two estranged, highly competitive, attention-seeking brothers, which would you be inclined to believe: the conservative activist, self-described “strong black Republican,” or the brother who has claimed to be a “BLM/Antifa leader” but is also on record distancing himself from Antifa?
For our readers, it may seem an easy choice. But is it? I don’t know … yet. The trial of John Earle Sullivan is effectively challenging my long-held assumptions about the very first of many dubious January 6 figures.
Sullivan, also known as “JaydenX” and “Activist John,” was among the first “stars” of the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. His video of Ashli Babbitt’s shooting by United States Capitol Police Officer Lt. Michael Byrd remains the most dramatic and often-viewed video from that day. Sullivan and Jade Sacker, the documentary filmmaker who accompanied Sullivan on his trek through the Capitol, appeared with Anderson Cooper on CNN that evening.
Sullivan licensed his video of Babbitt’s shooting to several media organizations, including CNN and NBC News. Each outlet paid him up to $35,000. Court documents showed he earned as much as $90,000 for that video in the days following January 6.
A week later, he was arrested in Utah on a felony charge of civil disorder and two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully entering a restricted building and violent entry. A federal grand jury later added six more charges.
After scores of hearings, motions, court orders, and a change in the presiding judge from Emmet G. Sullivan to Royce C. Lamberth in October 2022, Sullivan now faces seven counts, including a felony charge of obstructing an official proceeding. His trial began Thursday and continued Monday.
Disputed Ties To The Left
Describing himself as a “civil rights activist” aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, Sullivan distanced himself in early media appearances from MAGA activists and supporters of President Donald Trump.
In addition to Sullivan’s many media interviews, videos began to emerge of his participation in other riots and protests, where he delivered inflammatory speeches following the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Right-leaning commentators claimed Sullivan also had ties to Antifa. A video on his YouTube channel showed him demonstrating in “black bloc” attire and using tactics typically deployed by the left-wing anarchist group at violent protests around the country. Sullivan wore the same all-black attire to the Capitol on January 6.
In the months following Sullivan’s arrest, allegations of his BLM and Antifa involvement seemed to be the smoking gun evidence among right-wing media punditry and podcasters that Trump loyalists were not the sole participants or cause of the January 6 melee.
But the fact-checkers stepped in quickly.
USA Today, PolitiFact, and Snopes all attempted to debunk claims of Sullivan’s Antifa affiliation, variously citing Senate testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who claimed the bureau hadn’t “any evidence of any anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th.”
Left-wing activist groups have distanced themselves from Sullivan, publicly expressing their distrust and raising suspicions that he might be a “double agent.” Labor activist Talia Jane told the Intercept that Sullivan is “reviled throughout the activist space.”
Even before January 6, Seattle-based activists published a “community alert” on Twitter warning that “a likely infiltrator/agent provocateur by the name of John Sullivan, or “Activist John,” is attempting to insert himself in the Seattle protest community.”
The post claimed that Sullivan had been ousted from protest scenes in Salt Lake City and Portland for “alarming behaviors” that included “grifting/profiteering, self-promotion/clout chasing, sabotage of community actions, threats of violence, and — maybe most disturbingly — ties to the far-right.”
Sullivan has both denied involvement with Antifa and described himself as a leader of the group.
In a podcast I posted on Rumble in July 2022, I revealed that Sullivan had violated court orders against having any social media presence. Sullivan relaunched a YouTube channel in March 2022, where he posted “news” about the war in Ukraine and reposted older speeches he’d made in during the 2020 George Floyd protests.
Sullivan’s YouTube channel has since been taken down, but I took screenshots for my podcast. The title of one of those videos, which he uploaded on June 19, 2022, was “John Sullivan Leads Antifa and BLM | Abolish The Police | Portland Oregon.”
Hidden From The Jury: BLM, Antifa, Ashli Babbitt’s Death
One of the most interesting aspects of Sullivan’s trial so far is that both sides have seemingly agreed on two points beforehand. The first is that no one will mention “BLM” or “Antifa.” The second is that no one will show a video of the actual moment Ashli Babbitt was shot. (Lawyers danced all around that one on Monday.)
Sullivan’s connections with Black Lives Matter and Antifa never came up in the government’s or his defense counsel’s opening statements last week, either as an allegation or a denial.
If Sullivan’s lawyer wanted to increase the likelihood of his client’s acquittal, and if John Sullivan was, in fact, part of Black Lives Matter, he would play the BLM card. Sullivan faces a Washington, D.C., jury, after all, and 92.5% of voters in the District voted for Joe Biden in 2020. What’s more, hundreds of people were charged following the January 20, 2017, Trump inauguration riots, but in the D.C. courts, the result was either acquittals or hung juries. (The Justice Department subsequently dismissed all remaining cases.)
The government’s primary argument in this trial is that Sullivan was at the Capitol on January 6 to — in his words — “create chaos” and “burn the system down.” The defense’s case is centered around the claim that Sullivan was present only as a photojournalist “with a tripod and a camera” to record history and that “the world knows what happened that day because of John’s videos.”
Both sides’ strategies remained unchanged on Monday. The government simply rolled video, from multiple sources and angles, of Sullivan’s nonviolent slog through the Capitol, authenticated by the testimonies of both U.S. Capitol Police Deputy Chief Thomas Loyd and former USPC Officer Kyle Yetter.
Yetter, now an FBI special agent, was one of three USCP officers standing at the doorway into the Speaker’s Lobby where Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed. Yetter testified that the three officers removed themselves from that doorway just as a group of “better-equipped emergency response units” arrived up the nearby staircase. Before they were replaced, Babbitt leaped into the broken window space in the door and was killed.
The defense repeatedly droned on with the same question during cross-examinations. “Does the man in black [Sullivan] have anything in his hand other than a tripod and a camera?”
Sullivan’s Brother Affirms Antifa Ties
So, which side was John Sullivan on? His brother James has maintained that John was not only active with Antifa but also in the Washington, D.C., Black Lives Matter Plaza on the morning of January 6, handing out Trump ball caps before marching toward the Capitol Building.
James Sullivan, who describes himself as a “strong black Republican,” told me in a podcast interview two weeks after January 6 that his brother’s group Insurgence USA organized a July 2020 protest in Provo, Utah, where a motorist was shot. Subsequently, Sullivan was arrested for “rioting, making a threat of violence, and criminal mischief.”
James also told me his brother “has a Marxist mindset” but has never been able to work with other people, which is why Oregon and Utah BLM and Antifa chapters have shunned him. So he often works alone.
Nevertheless, James Sullivan claimed in that same interview his brother was coordinating with Antifa members on January 6.
“He put out a bunch of media sites for Antifa to infiltrate the caravans” that were headed to Washington, D.C., that day, James told me. He added that his brother “had coordinated with a lot of Antifa members.”
In more recent interviews, James Sullivan also made the eyebrow-raising claim that his brother had been allowed to travel to Ukraine — despite his court-ordered home detention — to cover the war there. I have been unable to verify that claim from any source.
Before the trial began last Thursday, I met John and his mother, Lisa Sullivan, in the courthouse cafeteria. I introduced myself and asked if he’d be open to an interview after the trial’s conclusion. We exchanged contact information. In our brief meeting, I asked about his brother’s claim that he’d been allowed to leave the country.
Sullivan told me that not only has he been on home detention since his arrest but that he’d also been required to surrender his passport. His mother quietly shook her head.
Jade Sacker, the videographer accompanying Sullivan on January 6, has produced a documentary, “A House Divided,” about the two brothers and their family rivalry and widely disparate political views and activism. It is reportedly ready to be released soon after the trial’s conclusion. You can see the trailer here.
Blaze Media reached out to Sacker for comment and information about the documentary’s release date but did not hear back before this article’s publication.
Conspiracy Theories And Media Disinterest
John Sullivan’s January 6 activities, his proximity to the Babbitt shooting, and the Sullivan brothers’ family background are subjects of abundant and heated speculation online.
Both men were adopted into a white, devout Mormon family in Utah. Their father, John Sullivan Sr., is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. But several conspiracy-theory-laden clickbait sites are adamant that John’s father is, in fact, retired Air Force Lt. General Kevin J. Sullivan.
“General Kevin” was one of 17 officers reprimanded for “breach of trust that occurred on their watch” for poor oversight in connection with the mistaken shipment of fuses for nuclear warheads to Taiwan back in 2007. The general’s reprimand for involvement in some sort of “nuclear malfeasance” was all the grist the conspiracy theory mill needed to tie John Jr. to all manner of wild “fed psyop” imaginings.
Before Monday morning’s trial session, I spoke with Lisa Sullivan about the debate over Lt. Col. John Sullivan vs. Lt. Gen. Kevin Sullivan. She told me the family feels bad that Kevin Sullivan has endured “this nonsense.”
Despite intense interest in the case online and across social media, mainstream press interest in John Sullivan largely disappeared after July 2021. As I detailed in a July 2022 podcast, all major media went silent, except for a couple of local Utah television interviews on the first anniversary of January 6.
The media’s general lack of interest has persisted as Sullivan’s trial has begun. On Thursday, only Blaze Media and a reporter from the Gateway Pundit sat in the courtroom for the entire day. Another reporter from WUSA came into the courtroom for about five minutes, and another from the Washington Post showed up about an hour and a half before that day’s session went into recess.
On Monday, Blaze Media was the only press in the courtroom from start to finish. Gateway Pundit, WUSA, and the Post, along with an NBC News reporter, made cameo appearances. But John Sullivan’s case has received nothing akin to the media interest surrounding the first Oath Keepers and Proud Boys trials.
Who’s Telling The Truth?
Was John Earle Sullivan a fed, a Black Lives Matter activist, or an Antifa agent provocateur on January 6? Or was he simply an attention-starved adoptee into a white conservative Mormon family trying to find and establish his own voice?
Or is Sullivan another one among millions of Americans — on the left and right — with a strong sense that something is deeply wrong with our government, which made it easy for him to blend in seamlessly with MAGA on January 6?
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know which Sullivan brother is telling the truth.
But I do know John Sullivan is just as guilty of using “scary words” as were Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs. On January 6, perhaps from opposite sides of the political spectrum, each hoped to see a corrupt government metaphorically “burned to the ground.” But none of them lifted a finger physically to do so.