A federal magistrate judge has turned down prosecutors’ effort to block a man accused of participating in the Capitol riot from using Twitter and Facebook, but ordered him to end his involvement with a business he founded that the Justice Department says promotes and glorifies violent protests.
The defendant, John Sullivan of Utah, has maintained that he attends raucous demonstrations as a journalist, sharing videos through his Insurgence USA website and social media platforms. Sullivan’s defense attorney even filed invoices with the court showing that CNN and NBC each paid Sullivan’s firm $35,000 last month for rights to video he filmed of chaotic scenes outside and inside the Capitol, including the deadly shooting of protester Ashli Babbitt by a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
However, prosecutors contend that Sullivan is not a mere bystander or chronicler of protests. Instead, they say, he actively encourages violence, telling viewers how to make Molotov cocktails and evade identification by police. He was arrested last month on charges stemming from the Jan. 6 riot, including interfering with police during a civil disorder. Sullivan was later hit with an additional charge: obstruction of Congress.
At a hearing on Tuesday afternoon on Sullivan’s release conditions, Washington-based Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather split the difference between prosecutors seeking to eliminate Sullivan’s presence on the United States’ most popular social media platforms and a defense lawyer who decried what he said was an assault on his client’s constitutional rights.
“I am rejecting the broader prohibition on Twitter and Facebook and encrypted social media platforms,” Meriweather said, also ordering that Sullivan be taken off of 24-hour location monitoring via GPS.