Photographer Who Filmed Ashli Babbitt’s Killing Remains a Man of Contradictions
John E. Sullivan, the social-justice provocateur who filmed the shooting death of Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol, at times says he doesn’t believe in God, yet at other times, he does believe.
He recently produced a series of Satan-themed music videos, but says he doesn’t idolize the devil. Despite the troubling and graphic imagery in some of his music, Sullivan said his work is artistic social commentary about the state of society and human relations.
He is often a polarizing figure, yet he insists he’s nonviolent and desires peace in American society.
A year after the Jan. 6 violence at the Capitol, Sullivan in many ways is a man of contradictions. Some of his music has dark, satanic themes, but he says he believes in God. Society is heading for dark times, he says, given the prevalence of anger and hatred in the public square.
He sometimes says the shooting of Babbitt outside the Speaker’s Lobby at the Capitol was justified, but his public comments over the past year indicate that her death affected him more than most people realize.
Not What You’d Expect
Sullivan, 27, who uses the trade name Jayden X, is not what you might expect, based on his public persona and the ire he has drawn from the right and some on the left.
Sullivan was arrested in January 2021 and charged with a variety of federal crimes for being at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He is among the 725 people arrested across nearly every state since the FBI launched a dragnet immediately after the Capitol incident.
Sullivan said the widely circulated story that he dressed as a Trump supporter at the Capitol isn’t true. The selfie of him wearing a Trump cap was taken on Jan. 5.
Sullivan filmed the Jan. 6 protests and rioting while seeming to encourage people to vandalize the Capitol and “burn this [expletive] down.” He said that what might have sounded like inciting was him covering himself so he didn’t become a target of violence.
“Anything that I might have said was to protect me among a crowd of Trump supporters, white supremacists, and terrorists,” he told The Epoch Times. “I am not about to have my black [expletive] lynched by a mob of raging idiots.”
Sullivan filmed the chaos in the hallway outside the Speaker’s Lobby the afternoon of Jan. 6. Shortly before Babbitt was fatally shot by U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, Sullivan told two officers guarding the doors to leave.
Sullivan then told the men nearby. “Go! Go! Let’s go! Get this [expletive]!” Two men then attacked the glass in the double doors. Babbitt, whose husband believes she was trying to escape the chaos, climbed through a broken window and was shot in the shoulder. She fell back to the floor, mortally wounded.
Sullivan’s views on the shooting of Ashli Babbitt have run the gamut. During the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Sullivan wrote on Twitter: “Whoever shot her, maybe should be held accountable. I guess that’s up to the law to decide.”
In 2022, he wrote in a pinned tweet on Twitter: “The Capitol police officer is a hero and did the right thing in shooting Ashli Babbitt. If he didn’t, Trump’s terrorist would have never stopped!”
That is a very different tone than he used shortly after the shooting when he told Rolling Stone magazine that witnessing Babbitt’s death was very upsetting to him.
“The guy who was pointing a gun at her was leaning with an intent to shoot; he was not playing,” Sullivan told the magazine. “There’s a difference between holding a gun up and warning somebody versus, like, really leaning into it. I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to show the world why she died. And I’m not going to let her death go in vain.’ Because I didn’t think that she deserved to die. She didn’t have a weapon. She didn’t have anything.”
Sullivan said he wasn’t prepared for what he saw.
“I remember she dropped to the ground, and I don’t think that’s the part I was ready for. That was emotional for me. I remember just like looking into her eyes, like she was staring at me.
“She’s just staring straight at me, and I just see her soul leave her body, just the light just leave her eyes. I felt a lot of anger, I felt a lot of sadness and sorrow, frustration. I don’t think I could ever have prepared myself for it. This was the first time I saw somebody die. I’m still trying to deal with it.”
Despite now saying Babbitt’s shooting was a heroic act, in a Jan. 9 exchange on YouTube, Sullivan said he wanted to prevent the shooting.
“I tried to save her, and the least I could do was document it for everyone to witness, regardless of political discretion,” he wrote on Twitter. “I believe you have the right to see the truth, regardless of my input, and I did exactly that. I could have run from those guns. But I thought of someone other than myself.”
Sullivan said he doesn’t bear responsibility for Babbitt’s death.
“I didn’t pull the trigger, so, no,” he told The Epoch Times. “I know who should feel guilty though, Trump and all the political figures who were at the Ellipse rallying the crowd to ‘Stop The Steal.’ They single-handedly imprisoned hundreds of their supporters, killed six people, and then left them out to dry.”
Not Embraced by the Left
In the public realm, while Sullivan has often been associated with Black Lives Matter and Antifa, many on the left reject him and his tactics, according to a 2021 profile on the journalism site The Grayzone. The profile said Sullivan is viewed by some on the left as a dangerous provocateur and someone seeking profit from societal upheaval. Sullivan’s online store at one time sold black riot-gear clothing; the site is no longer accessible.
On his new Twitter account (a previous one was suspended), Sullivan calls himself “Antifa Superman aka Jayden X,” and refers to his occupations as “Music and VFX Artist, Video Journalist, Social Justice Activist.” He said the Antifa reference is a jab at Alex Jones of InfoWars, who called Sullivan “the Antifa Superman.”
Sullivan told The Epoch Times that he’s not a BLM member.
“I believe that black lives matter and that there needs to be police reform, but past that point, I am not a member of the organization BLM. Antifa is not an organization, so no. I do love to have a good laugh and troll idiots who think so. Hence, my Twitter bio.”
Sullivan founded Insurgence USA, an organization promoting racial justice and police reform, after the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Police tactics used in Floyd’s arrest sparked outrage and a summer of rioting across the country.
Sullivan’s Satan-themed music video was greeted with hostility on YouTube. Commenters noted his role at the U.S. Capitol and his federal charges.
“You’re going to experience the same hell you created on earth forever,” a YouTube user named “Lauren D” wrote. “Literally. You won’t ever be able to escape it or leave. You will have to see all the problems you created and relive it forever. And feel what you did to everyone else.”
When another reader objected to Lauren’s harsh comments, she replied: “…He can take honest feedback. He doesn’t have a soul, so everything bounces right off him.”
Jayden X responded, “Bingo.”
Sullivan was criticized on Twitter by Joseph McBride, the New York attorney who represents a number of Jan. 6 defendants, including Victoria White, whose beating captured on video at the Capitol sparked a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.
McBride decried the fact that Sullivan is free pending trial, while many other defendants have been held for up to a year in pretrial detention under brutal conditions.
“January 6th detainees are held in solitary while this demon walks the earth,” McBride wrote.
Sullivan replied: “This right-wing nut thinks I don’t have due process. Also, he thinks I worship Satan because I have lyrics in my music about Satan. Logical connection.”
Sullivan added later: “…Nor are you God and nor can you cast stones. I’ll let the everlasting determine my fate and judgment, not man.”
Musical References to Hell
Some of Sullivan’s music speaks graphically about the netherworld. The “Last Goodbye” music video includes satanic imagery, although he curiously misspells the devil’s name in the lyrics on YouTube:
Satin [sic] is waiting
In his kingdom
So that he burn your body
Liberate you from Jesus
Get on your knees [expletive]
And beg him for mercy
The song is full of dystopian lyrics that speak of pain, suicide, gun violence, and hell:
Go and find a gun
So that you can
Blow their mind
Going on a killing spree
Just to kill some time
Destroy the world
Purge the populace
So that we all can go to hell
In the music video, Sullivan dons all-black riot gear similar to what he wore at Black Lives Matter and other racial-justice protests in 2020. In an August 2020 protest in Washington, Sullivan told participants to “rip Trump right out of that office right there.” He started a chant with the crowd: “It’s time for revolution.”
Sullivan said he’s not a satanist, but uses dark imagery with a message.
“I sing about Satan as it gives a real-world perspective on where the world is headed if we don’t change as a society,” he told The Epoch Times.
“I wish that I had happier things to talk about, but I feel too deeply for people and situations in general and it affects me greatly,” Sullivan said. He said he’s “especially disheartened by the events I witnessed at the Capitol. It was sickening to see so much hatred, racism, and evil in this world displayed so openly.”
Sullivan has more than 30 songs on his website and on music platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify. He says he left his sales job at age 24 and dedicated himself to music.
His music often references pain and contains suicidal ideation. In several songs, he uses the words “Don’t give up on me.”
He has several songs dealing with hell. In one, “Depths of My Soul,” he says, “You are about to realize that nothing is really as it [expletive] seems. You are about to realize that you made me into this. You turned me into this demon. You turned me into this [expletive] dark soul, on the edge of losing [expletive] control.”
His most disturbing music video, “Gates of Hell,” shows female figures swaying in a line of fire.
“Welcome to the gates of hell. Sorry, I really tricked you with a spell, so come on down, it’s warm in here, no need to fear because your soul is going to burn in eternal fire with the devil.”
His song, “Second Advent,” is liberally sprinkled with expletives.
“Jayden X is my name, your [expletive] king. [Expletive] bow down, you’re in the presence of a god. Pray for mercy or face my [expletive] iron rod.”
On Jan. 16, Twitter users challenged Sullivan to explain his behavior on Jan. 6, to which he replied: “I cannot confirm or deny, everything will be told at my trial. You’ll get your answer then.”
He said he’s not and has never been an informant for the FBI or other law enforcement entity. There has been online speculation amid evidence that seeming agents provocateur such as Ray Epps encouraged people to go inside the Capitol.
Sullivan was a 2018 U.S. Olympic speed skating hopeful and was a salesman who achieved $3 million in sales in one year, according to his video biography.
His brother James is a major Trump supporter. The brothers’ seemingly opposing political views led videographer Jade Sacker to spend months documenting the brothers’ lives. Sacker accompanied Sullivan to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and they both filmed the unrest.
Sullivan said that despite the assumptions, he is not a political person.
“I don’t care about politics, people keep trying to force that down my throat,” he said. “I only have personal quarrels with political figures that have targeted me. That has nothing to do with politics at all. That’s personal.”
Correction: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect description of John Sullivan’s attire on Jan. 6. The Epoch Times regrets the error.