Some of the accused Capitol rioters say the FBI got it all wrong – that they only crossed the barricades and entered the halls of Congress with the pro-Donald Trump mob to document the events as “citizen journalists.”
Two of those men – Daniel Goodwyn and Nicholas DeCarlo — are from North Texas and are claiming they’re being singled out for their conservative political views and activism. Both are aligned with the far-right extremist group Proud Boys, and are ardent Trump partisans.
“Daniel was there in the capacity as a citizen journalist to document hundreds of thousands of patriots peacefully assembling to petition their government for a redress of grievances,” an online fundraising website says about Goodwyn, a 32-year-old Denton County web designer who now lives in San Francisco.
And DeCarlo, 31, of Burleson, says he’s an employee of MT Media News, also known as Murder the Media News, according to a federal complaint. In a video posted to a fundraising website, DeCarlo says he is an alternative news journalist who was dispatched to Washington in early January to document events and conduct “field reporting” and “satirical interviews.”
“We wanted to show everything that was happening,” DeCarlo said.
The definition of journalism has broadened in the digital age, especially now that everyone has a video camera on their phone. And bloggers, livestreamers and other amateur journalists, often with large social media followings, have provided a valuable service documenting police and government abuses across the U.S. and the world; even if impartiality and balanced reporting are not necessarily the goal.
But legal experts say defendants accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C. will have a difficult time convincing federal judges of their innocence on this basis because even accredited, established journalists don’t get a free pass to break the law in pursuit of a news story.
“It is a flimsy defense at best,” said Amy Kristin Sanders, a media law expert and law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Any lawyer who is worth what you pay them will know that that’s not going to carry the day.”
Defense attorneys for Goodwyn and DeCarlo did not respond to requests for comment.
Sanders, a former journalist, said there is not a single Supreme Court case that gives journalists “additional authority to break laws.” She said that if journalists incite a mob or commit other offenses they can’t simply “pull out the ‘I’m a journalist card’ to get out of jail for free.”
The accused rioters’ claims of journalistic intent, Sanders said, appear to be “more for the court of public opinion.” The defendants, she said, are likely hoping this angle might put public pressure on prosecutors to drop the charges or help with their fundraising efforts.
“I definitely think it is really more a ploy in the court of public opinion than a sound legal strategy,” Sanders said.
Goodwyn studied computer programming in college, and his profession is web design, according to his Linkedin page. But his fundraising web page says he has been “involved in the conservative movement as an activist and journalist for several years.”
DeCarlo provides conservative and far-right perspectives on Murder the Media’s various online platforms such as YouTube. Like other contributors, he harbors distrust and contempt for traditional media.
An NBC News program called Left Field featured interviews in 2017 with a group of Proud Boys in Texas that included DeCarlo.
The FBI says he and Nicholas Ochs, leader of the Hawaii Proud Boys chapter, are featured in a YouTube video with the title, “Twas The Night Before REVOLUTION!!!!” The video streamed live on Jan. 6, showing DeCarlo and Ochs walking the streets of Washington D.C. in a crowd, an FBI complaint says.
Ochs, who also claims to be a Murder the Media reporter, says in the video, “As we’ve been saying all day, we came here to stop the steal.”
DeCarlo adds: “We did our job. We did our job,” authorities say.
While the riot temporarily interrupted the joint session of Congress, lawmakers eventually voted to certify the presidential vote. DeCarlo and Goodwyn are free while they await trial.
Goodwyn’s fundraising page says he’s worked “behind the scenes” to organize “free speech rallies” across the country.
He says he is employed by StopHate.com, an organization that has promoted the unfounded claim that the presidential election was stolen from Trump.
A representative of the organization could not be reached for comment.
When he arrived at the Capitol during the riot, Goodwyn followed a “small group of patriots” through an open door into the building and remained for a few minutes before leaving, his fundraising page says. He took video and photographs that were posted to StopHate.com’s social media accounts, it says.
“Daniel was a political prisoner plain and simple,” the fundraising page says. “Daniel was arrested because of his activist background, and he was kept in jail longer than he should have because of his beliefs.”
Goodwyn was released in February with conditions pending trial.
Imprisoning journalists is something that occurs under totalitarian regimes and should concern everyone, the fundraising page said. “Daniel has sacrificed greatly in his role as a citizen journalist. He is not in this for his own gain but for his love of country.”
Goodwyn’s supporters say mainstream journalists who entered the Capitol were not arrested.
Sanders, the UT professor, said if that’s true it could raise issues of selective prosecution but is “not a defense to the crime that was committed.” She also said many credentialed members of the media were already inside the Capitol at the time covering Congress before the mob attacked.
The FBI says Goodwyn messaged an associate on Instagram while he was at the Capitol to say, “Tell your dad if he doesn’t want his guns I can find some folks who will.” His Twitter account shows that he believed the presidential election was stolen from Trump.
On the day of the uprising, Goodwyn allegedly tweeted: “They WANT a revolution. They’re proving our point. They don’t represent us. They hate us.”
A 26-year-old Utah man who is charged in connection with the insurrection also describes himself as a journalist.
John Sullivan said he was in Washington to document events, and his video recording provided a detailed and valuable visual account of what happened. But his own footage shows him storming the Capitol and urging others to join the “revolution” and burn down the Capitol, authorities say.
Sullivan’s lawyer said he had no comment.
‘Doing his job’
DeCarlo, who has also used the name Dick NeCarlo, has continued to appear on YouTube broadcasts since his arrest. His fundraising site says DeCarlo is being “politically persecuted” for “doing his job” in covering the events of Jan. 6.
DeCarlo said in a video on the fundraising site that MT Media is an “online alternative media platform” that features satire and comedy as well as journalism. He said he and Ochs went to Washington to cover the Trump rally.
“Then we decided to document the march,” he says. “In our role as field reporters and journalists on the ground, we documented everything possible with our cameras.”
DeCarlo says in the video that he felt it was important to show what was happening because the “mainstream media” would try to exaggerate events and give a skewed version. He said the feds want to punish “to the fullest extent of the law everyone who covered the protest in the capacity of a reporter, and Nick Ochs and myself are on that list.”
But the FBI says DeCarlo was more than just a disinterested chronicler of events. And agents noted that DeCarlo did not have media credentials given to Congressional correspondents.
Joseph Larsen, a First Amendment lawyer in Houston, said all the rights given to the press, including access, are also given to the public.
“In the broader sense we are all journalists in the modern world,” he said.
Sometimes, the best coverage comes from non-journalists, Larsen said, because it’s shown “blow by blow” and unfiltered. As long as journalists don’t participate in illegal activity like the Capitol riot, they are protected, Larsen said.
Sometimes, even established professional journalists get arrested while covering protests. It’s rare, however, for them to be prosecuted in the U.S., but that’s exactly what happened to a Des Moines Register reporter who was acquitted Wednesday following her trial.
Andrea Sahouri was arrested while covering a May racial justice protest and went on trial this week for charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts. She is one of only a handful of journalists detained or arrested during last summer’s protests who did not have charges against them dropped.
Last year’s nationwide demonstrations, held to protest the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, led to frequent clashes with police. Sahouri was arrested by officers who claimed she was uncooperative while they attempted to clear people from the streets on May 31. Her case led to criticism from press freedom advocates.
As for the alleged Jan. 6 insurrectionists, it will come down to the individual facts of each case, Larsen said. Making claims of being a journalist, he said, is not a legal defense but appears to be an attempt to show lack of intent to commit a crime.
“They’re trying to paint themselves in an innocent light,” Larsen said.