WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Tuesday that Republicans are blurring faces in security footage from inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to protect rioters from prosecution.
“We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ,” Johnson said at a news conference.
The Department of Justice has long had access to the footage and has used it in some of the roughly 1,200 criminal cases against people linked to the riot, when hundreds pushed past police to storm the Capitol.
Johnson’s comment is a remarkable statement of sympathy for supporters of then-President Donald Trump who illegally entered a restricted federal building as part of a violent attack on Congress as it met to certify the Electoral College vote before Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Though prosecutors already have the video, blurring people’s faces could prevent amateur investigators from sending tips to the FBI. Online sleuths have previously used social media and facial recognition software to help the government track down a number of suspects.
In a follow-up statement on Tuesday, a Johnson spokesperson said blurring faces would “prevent all forms of retaliation against private citizens from any non-governmental actors.”
Shortly after becoming speaker in October, Johnson announced that Republicans would release thousands of hours of footage from security cameras, fulfilling a pledge he made to the far-right flank of the House GOP conference. The video has previously been available to criminal defendants and reporters by request.
Johnson initially said that the footage would allow people to see for themselves what happened that day so that the public would not have “to rely upon the interpretation of a small group of government officials” ― as though Trump supporters had not really ransacked the building as part of an effort to undo his loss in the 2020 election.
Conspiracy theorists and some Republican lawmakers have pointed to video snippets as evidence that it was actually the Justice Department that orchestrated the riot. Several lawmakers claimed that video showed a Trump supporter flashing a badge at Capitol Police officers, for instance. The object in the man’s hand turned out to have been a vaping device.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who claimed from the House floor on the day of the attack that it had actually been perpetrated by leftists in disguise, led the push for releasing the footage.
Johnson said Tuesday that Republicans “trust the American people to draw their own conclusions” about Jan. 6, but the decision to blur faces suggests Republicans think it would inappropriate for members of the public to use the footage to try to identify suspects.
The chair of the subcommittee overseeing the gradual release of the footage said Tuesday that it was important to hide the identities of people who walked into the Capitol after the forward assault of rioters had already smashed through windows and forced open doors.
“When these people arrive, they see the doors open and Capitol Police just standing there with people walking in,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) told HuffPost. “There’s too many people out there just trying to go after anyone who was here.”