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J6 Unmasked: Security footage confirms Capitol door opened, allowing 300 to enter building freely

Capitol Police officers eventually made their way to the Upper West Terrace doors but didn't block the entrance as more rioters flowed into the building

Published: June 5, 2023 7:55pm

Updated: June 6, 2023 7:29am

A door on the West side of the U.S. Capitol was left open and mostly unguarded for key moments during the Jan. 6 riot, allowing more than 300 people to enter the building unimpeded even as officers fought valiantly to keep protesters out of other sections of the official home of Congress, according to police security footage obtained by Just the News.

The footage -- which confirms concerns first raised by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., two years ago -- shows an episode in a narrow hallway in the middle of the Capitol that began around 2:30p.m. on Jan. 6, 2021 right after the first breaches were reported elsewhere in the landmark building.

Capitol Police officers usher a few intruders already inside the building through the non-public Upper West Terrace hallway and toward a fire evacuation door, which is clearly marked by a sign declaring it was an emergency exit, the footage shows.

"Emergency exit only," the sign reads, instructing evacuees to "push until alarm sounds" and the "doors will unlock in 10 seconds." After one person exits, the doors appear to open from inside as 309 individuals pass through it over a period of less than 20 minutes from the outside.

Capitol Police officers, who didn't have riot gear or helmets, eventually made their way to the unlocked Upper West Terrace doors but did not block the entrance and more rioters continued to flow into the building, according to the footage reviewed by Just the News and released for publication by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the GOP-led House Administration Committee.

Video footage of other locations of the Capitol that day show officers attempting to physically block entrances to stop rioters from coming into the building, with rioters at some times striking the officers or spraying them with pepper spray. 

The Capitol Police press office did not respond to requests from Just the News seeking comment. Its official after-action report barely mentions the episode, simply noting that at 2:34 p.m. the "Upper West Terrace is breached."

The Upper West Terrace is located between the House and Senate sides of the building and has been a major focus of many trespassing prosecutions by the U.S. Justice Department.

Current and former Capitol Police officers as well as congressional aides briefed on security told Just the News the video footage should be used to create a powerful lesson learned since it did not involve a forced breach but rather a fateful decision to move a few intruders through the emergency doors. That decision, they said, most likely triggered the emergency fire system and unlocked the entrance, creating a new entryway for protesters and a new vulnerability for officers trying to protect the Capitol.

Johnson, who first highlighted that such footage existed back in June 2021, said its release by Just the News was important so that vulnerabilities unaddressed by the Democrat-led Jan. 6 committee could be addressed now.

"Some people did enter the Capitol, not by committing acts of violence, but were literally let in," Johnson told the Just the News, No Noise television show after watching the video anew on Monday evening.

Steven Friend, a former FBI agent who worked the Jan. 6 case but left the bureau after blowing the whistle on what he alleges were civil liberty violations of some J6 defendants, told Just the News the footage could prove useful to some defendants on appeal.

"I think it's sort of a game changer. I mean, here, they didn't even position authority figures there who would admonish folks not to use that door," Friend said. "And that's the Capitol, the people's house. And I think there was a general sentiment among people there who even might have thought that it was more of just a regular tour of the building."

Some of the footage was made available by a federal court in 2021 in the case of Ethan Nordean, one of the 630-plus defendants charged with participating in the riots who prosecutors alleged was a leader in the Proud Boys extremist group, was charged with conspiring with other alleged rioters to assault the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election. Nordean's lawyer argued the footage was evidence he was permitted to enter the building, a claim the prosecution scoffed at.

Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, a former sheriff who wrote a book challenging the Democrats' portrayal of Jan. 6, said the new footage shows the tragic day was far more complex than the original narrative set by the media and House Jan.6 committee. 

"They picked and chose what they wanted to expose during that sham committee," Nehls said. "They got people screaming, and they found the worst 10 minutes inside the Capitol. But when you truly see the video, there are hours and hours of no violence, non-violent protesters just walking around inside the Capitol, waving their flags, singing God Bless America.

"I mean, there are many, many people inside that Capitol building that day that didn't violate any law, didn't hurt anybody, didn't do anything wrong," he added.

The Upper West Terrace footage accentuates that complex reality: some protesters peacefully file through the door past officers without incident, while others tussle with officers and don gas masks clearly preparing for confrontation. The scene, however, was not nearly as violent as others captured elsewhere in the Capitol.

The Closed Circuit Television (CCT) footage, which doesn't include sound, was first referenced in a letter that Johnson first wrote to the Capitol Police in June 2021.

"Over the span of a 14-minute period, approximately 309 unauthorized individuals entered the Capitol on January 6 through the upper west terrace doors," Johnson wrote. "At approximately 2:26 p.m. on January 6, a security camera showed a male inside the Capitol attempting to open one of the upper west terrace doors to exit the building. This unauthorized individual, who was by himself at the time, walked through a narrow hallway to the double doors and attempted to exit through the left door by pushing the door’s crash bar." 

The Wisconsin lawmaker also wrote: "The door did not open and the individual turned around and walked back through the hallway and away from the doors. Approximately seven minutes later, at 2:33 p.m., security footage showed five unauthorized individuals walking down the same hallway, past a police officer.

Read Johnson's letter here.

The security footage, which did not include audio, appeared to show the police officer gesturing toward the doors as these individuals walked past him.

Johnson said Monday his office never got any answers from Capitol Police. "We do not have, we don't know the truth," he said.

"And what always haunts me is that history is written by the victors and we know the Democrats -- we know the liberal left -- wants to paint conservatives as potential domestic terrorists.

"I didn't see any armed insurrectionists there," he said. "There may have been a few insurrectionists in there but there weren't thousands of armed insurrectionists. And yet, that was a narrative that the left wanted to push. They continue to push it. It's just dishonest. "

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