WASHINGTON, D.C.–At a conference where many speakers touted the importance of seeking the truth, hundreds of attendees hungered to learn more about a seemingly taboo topic—the events of Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.
Most Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) events feel like pep rallies, with speakers whipping up applause and cheers from fans. But the mood was much more somber in a small conference room upstairs at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.
Many in the overflow crowd of about 250 people were moved to tears on March 3 after hearing firsthand accounts of four “J-6ers.” All faced federal charges and long prison terms, although they were nonviolent participants.
On Jan. 6 two years ago, thousands gathered for the Save America rally. They supported then-President Donald Trump and his concerns about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election. Although many protesters were peaceful, violence did break out; and some people smashed windows and got into confrontations with police.
Three people who spoke at the CPAC program said they walked into the Capitol that day through open doors, along with dozens of other people. One of the speakers said he was criminally charged just for standing on the steps outside the Capitol and shooting a video of the protesters.
Dr. Simone Gold, who is both a medical doctor and an attorney, served two months in federal prison after she gave a speech inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, opposing COVID-19 lockdowns and mandated vaccines.
Gold had been invited to give that speech outside, just one of many on her schedule as the founder of America’s Frontline Doctors. But Gold said she resorted to speaking inside the building after officials dismantled an outdoor stage.
Much of the real story about what happened that day hasn’t come out yet, Gold said. That’s partly because plea agreements limit what she and others can say. But it’s also because information has been suppressed; and the topic quickly became politically poisonous for anyone who dared to talk about it.
“There’s been tremendous silencing of the most important story of our time!” Gold exclaimed, her voice rising. The crowd clapped and cheered.
Several audience members said that all conservatives, including CPAC leaders, must devote more attention to the persecution of J-6ers–and they need to dig harder for facts.
Gold and others on the panel said they were hopeful that more than 40,000 hours of video surveillance footage from that date, which the federal government has kept under wraps until recently, will help reveal what really happened.
The incident underscores the importance of people daring to question what officials or experts say, to think critically, and to seek independent sources, Gold said.
“That’s why we speak out: To activate you. Not for our own benefit,” she said.
Anyone Could be Next
As the two-hour session in a CPAC side room wrapped up, a woman, who said she was from Iran, tearfully announced, “This panel, and people like them, is the only thing that stands between us and what’s coming.”
If people don’t stand up against the wrongs perpetrated against many of the Jan. 6 defendants, “we will be sitting in those seats” of the persecuted, the woman said.
Brandon Straka, known for his WalkAway Campaign to encourage Democrats to switch parties (as he did), said he paid to rent the small side room to be part of CPAC.
After seeing the outpouring of compassion and questions during the first two-hour session with the J-6ers, Straka put together an impromptu second program.
“The humanity and the empathy were just flowing in the room,” Straka said, noting that the panelists were crying, and so were many spectators.
After someone suggested that the panel belonged on the CPAC main stage in a ballroom that can hold 5,000 attendees, Straka made a tongue-in-cheek remark: “Let’s ‘insurrect’ the main stage! Charge!”
As the audience laughed, Straka mocked how his statement might become a headline: “Brandon Straka Plans Second ‘Insurrection’ at CPAC!”
But that was one of few lighthearted moments.
Many in the crowd appeared stunned, with jaws dropping and heads shaking in disgust, as Straka and others spoke during the program entitled “True Stories of January 6th: The Prosecuted Speak.”
Stories Finally Being Told
Gold said she and the other J-6ers have spoken publicly only a few times. But recently, they conducted a “Twitter Space” chat for about six hours because there was so much interest.
She found it “eye-opening” to learn that most people had no idea what she and other J-6ers had been through. “The way our government has punished average, law-abiding, American citizens is incredible,” Gold said, “and it’s worse that you don’t know it.”
Gold said what happened to the Jan. 6 protesters is unprecedented in America.
She pointed out that, in January 2017, there were a lot of political protests opposing Trump taking office as president, and some of those protests turned violent. Vehicles were even set ablaze. Gold said more than 200 people were arrested. But just one person served jail time for assaulting a police officer. All the other charges were dropped, she said.
“They’re all dismissed because our government understands that we don’t go down the road of arresting and prosecuting people who have high passions at a political event,” Gold said.
But on Jan. 6, “for the first time in American history, we are arresting people and throwing the book at them with charges that aren’t even applicable for completely nonviolent behavior,” she said.
Elizabeth Ohmen, a spectator at the program, told The Epoch Times, “It’s like we’re living in a Third-World dictatorship.”
Straka said left-wing media reporters have repeatedly twisted the facts.
If any such reporters were present for the March 3 program, Straka said he wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to make it look like “J-6ers are making comments that can be construed as contradictory to their plea deals.”
Or maybe they would report that “Donald Trump supporters are not expressing enough remorse for their misdemeanor charges from over two years ago,” Straka said.
“They’re going to use the power of the press to further punish… for some reason, it doesn’t dawn on these people that perhaps the story is that authoritarian power is crushing individuals in this country,” Straka said.
Conservatives Are Usually Peaceful
Straka said that, like Gold, he was also scheduled to be a speaker at a permitted event on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6.
He started getting text messages from people who saw television reports indicating protesters were entering the building.
Straka said he thought about the TV footage he had seen of left-wing protesters disrupting Congressional hearings or other official proceedings.
Such incidents usually last just a few minutes before security officers drag away the protesters, “and it’s news for about one hour, and then we all move on,” Straka said.
It seemed out-of-character for conservatives to “sort of be disruptive in that way,” because they’re known for being peaceful, Straka said. So he decided to shoot a video of the unusual activity.
When he reached the east side of the Capitol, Straka saw thousands of people standing on the steps.
“And there was a man in my video shouting down to the people below: ‘They’ve opened the doors; they’re letting us in. We’re going inside.’” Straka said. “I repeated what he said, literally verbatim, on my video.” Authorities later would use those words to assert that Straka was inciting the crowd to go inside the Capitol, he said.
“I shot a video outside of the building for eight minutes,” he said. Then a man with a bullhorn ordered everyone to leave. “I immediately turned around, and I told the people behind me: ‘They’re saying to move out,'” Straka said.
FBI Raided Home
“To be clear, I never entered the Capitol on January 6. I’ve never gone within 35 feet of entering the Capitol on January 6,” he said. “I was never accused of, nor did I engage in, any violence, vandalism, theft, or destruction.”
Even so, “because I took that video and posted it on Twitter, the FBI raided my house,” Straka said.
“A team of agents in tactical gear came into my apartment and stripped it of my computers, my phones, my iPads, my hard drives, my thumb drives, turned me around, put me in handcuffs, and took me to jail,” Straka said.
After that, Straka learned he was facing two felony charges and a misdemeanor. “And the government threatened to charge me with a third felony, a felony charge that they’re calling ‘Obstruction of Congress,’ a charge that they’ve never used in this way before,” Straka said.
Rather than face that charge, which carries a potential 20-year prison term, Straka accepted a plea bargain. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, “disorderly conduct for the eight minutes that I spent outside of the Capitol,” Straka said.
“That may sound like a happy ending to you, but it’s been anything but…I’ll leave it there,” he said.
Straka was sentenced to home detention and fined $5,000. But he says the impact on him goes way beyond that. One of Straka’s friends said she hardly recognized him in the aftermath of the charges because the stress took such a toll on him.
Ten Minutes In the Capitol
Derrick Evans, who was elected to the West Virginia legislature but resigned before beginning his term because of the Jan. 6 charges he faced, said, “This is the first time I’ve been allowed to travel since January 6th.”
On that day, Evans said he walked through the doors on the east side of the Capitol building and thanked an officer for his service. They exchanged a friendly fist bump.
Then Evans spent 10 minutes in the public rotunda area, “walked out the same set of doors—and was facing 24 years in prison,” Evans said.
Two days later, the FBI came to his house and arrested him; stories of his arrest were splashed all over the national news.
Evans pleaded guilty to felony civil disorder and spent three months in federal prison.
He said some J-6ers are being hit with “gag orders.” Evans said that one man he met in prison is forbidden from talking about what happened for five years.
“I think I speak for everybody up here: We are humbled that there are so many people who actually care that our stories are out now,” Evans said, “because the silence has been deafening for so long. It’s been very, very lonely for the last two years.”
Bodyguard Labeled a ‘Terrorist’
John Strand, creative director for Gold’s organization, was serving as her bodyguard on Jan. 6.
“Everything about J-6 is so dishonest. It’s really shocking,” Strand said. “It’s the most dishonest thing I’ve ever encountered in my life experience.”
Strand says he is characterized as “a violent terrorist.” Yet, in reality, he has been a Hollywood musician and actor. “I wasn’t trying to be political with my life…that wasn’t my mission or my platform,” Strand said. But he did take a stand against the 2020 lockdowns and led the Beverly Hills Freedom Rally that year.
But when he was arrested in Washington, D.C., after the Jan. 6 incident, he wasn’t protesting. He was doing his job—protecting Gold. “I was doing something appropriate, scheduled in advance … I kept my client from being injured,” Strand said.
Yet Strand said he was portrayed as a leader of the “insurrection,” and was slammed with felony charges.
“The facts didn’t matter to the Department of Justice,” he said. “And if you could have been at my trial, you would have seen the full extent of that … they were going to convict me of everything no matter what.”
Nevertheless, he refused a plea deal; he couldn’t bring himself to admit to things that he knew were untrue. Strand went to trial, where jurors are culled from a primarily Democrat pool, and lost.
After his conviction on five charges on Sept. 27, 2022, Strand is now facing 24 years in prison. He remains free while awaiting sentencing. In an online statement, Strand says he will appeal every charge.
“I am completely innocent of these charges, both as a legal matter and as a moral matter before God,” he wrote. “I know this with absolute certainty…I did not condone or encourage any of the violent criminal activities.”
Truth is Coming
Julie Kelly, a journalist who authored a book about Jan. 6, says that nearly 1,000 people have been charged, and the caseload is expected to reach at least 2,000 defendants.
More than 100 people have remained jailed under pretrial detention orders; some have been kept behind bars for two years for nonviolent offenses, she said.
“They are political prisoners,” Kelly said.
She thinks the truth is about to come out on “the video that has been hidden” by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Capitol Police for more than two years.
Originally, authorities said they had 14,000 hours of surveillance camera footage; it’s actually 44,000 hours, Kelly said. Previously, the government allowed certain handpicked news organizations to “get whatever they wanted out of that tape to bolster the narrative,” Kelly said.
But now, she said, “they’re crying foul” because Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s team has been given access to the videos.
Kelly predicts the result will be “a shocking and sickening revelation of one of the worst instances of police brutality that has ever happened.”
That’s why the government has fought to keep the video and all related documents under seal, she said.
But Kelly declared: “The truth is coming…and hopefully some redemption for all these people who have had their lives destroyed. It will be some measure of peace and justice for that.”