Brady Knowlton entered the U.S. Capitol building at 2:35 p.m. on January 6, 2021. Like hundreds of other people that day, he walked the halls of Congress — first the Rotunda, then the lobby, then the Senate chamber gallery.
A 40-year-old law student, Knowlton and a friend gained access to the Capitol through the Upper West Terrace doors. To do so, they and others passed several police officers walking in their opposite direction, according to footage and discovery materials reviewed by The Daily Wire. Knowlton told The Daily Wire that an officer said, “You can go in, as long as you don’t break anything.” He says he watched police shake hands with protestors. He broke nothing, and left after 18 minutes.
He now faces about 20 years in prison. His law degree has been withheld, his lawyers say, Airbnb has banned him and his wife, and, for reasons that remain undisclosed, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stripped his Global Entry access.
The FBI arrested him in April. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged him with obstruction of an official proceeding, entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and other misdemeanors.
FBI agents also raided his home and searched it. Documents obtained by The Daily Wire show they were looking for items that were not found. This included evidence “concerning the breach and unlawful entry” of the Capitol, “of any conspiracy, planning, or preparation,” Capitol “maps or diagrams,” or “materials, devices, or tools” used to breach it.
The FBI declined The Daily Wire’s request for comment.
A First Amendment Case
At least 800 people have been charged in the Capitol riot, and hundreds with obstruction.
But Knowlton, now 41, has recruited a team of high-profile attorneys who hope the court examines the evidence without judging him by the actions of other defendants. They view his case as having major First Amendment implications.
“He went to Washington to exercise his First Amendment right to petition the government for what he believed was a redress of grievances,” Alan Dershowitz, an attorney for Knowlton, told The Daily Wire in an interview. “And he’s been lumped together with people who caused damage or who intended to obstruct. He wasn’t intending to do that. He just intended to protest.”
A few minutes before Knowlton entered the Capitol, police held the door for a group of protesters inside who exited through the Upper West Terrace. Soon after, another protestor held the exterior door open and waved for others to flood in. The defendant’s lawyers say Knowlton heard a message echo through the crowd that officers were allowing people inside.
Surveillance footage shot inside the Capitol after Knowlton entered corroborates that officers were shaking hands with protestors — furthering an argument held by some January 6 defense attorneys that police did not take necessary steps to protect the building. At 2:51 p.m., Knowlton and a group walked peacefully with an “officer escort” and left two minutes later, according to a memo based on discovery.
Hundreds of protestors trekked through the Upper West Terrace doors, as officers turned their backs, until 2:47 p.m. The U.S. Capitol Police declined to comment.
‘Unprecedented’ Statute Use
Knowlton’s attorneys cite judicial precedent as a key factor in showing his innocence. He was nonviolent and not “stopped or told by any officer” that his conduct was “unlawful or prohibited in any way,” they say.
But arguably the most significant prosecution flaw, the lawyers say, is the DOJ’s decision to prosecute him for obstructing a congressional “proceeding.” Ronald Sullivan, who directs Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute and is an attorney for Knowlton, called it “a unique” and “unprecedented use of the statute.”
Section 1512, which carries a hefty sentence and could have the effect of “strongly encouraging defendants to accept plea bargains,” has never before been applied to protests “of this sort, or any sort,” Sullivan said in an interview.
David Warrington, a constitutional lawyer who is a partner at Dhillon Law Group, told The Daily Wire that the statute relates to things like the destruction or alteration of evidence and witness tampering — not an electoral certification.
Warrington said its usage by the DOJ against defendants who trespassed, vandalized, or committed violence is “unprecedented” and an “expansion” of its scope. Lawyers who The Daily Wire interviewed questioned whether the certification of an election even constitutes an “official proceeding.”
In a motion to dismiss the obstruction charge, Knowlton’s attorneys contrasted how, ahead of the 2018 vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, protestors ignored barricades and occupied the office of then-Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Hundreds were arrested on Capitol Hill. However, there remains “no record or indication” any were charged with “obstructing that proceeding,” the motion states.
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, says the DOJ has been engaging in “broad overreach” with respect to the Capitol riot and has been “manufacturing serious charges against individuals who were involved in criminal trespass.” He called it an “abuse” of “law enforcement authority.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. declined to comment on Knowlton’s case. Prosecutors previously cited footage, in a court filing, of Knowlton telling officers outside then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) office, “Our vote doesn’t matter, so we came here for a change,” as evidence of him knowingly obstructing Congress.
Knowlton has also faced repercussions outside of the legal system.
As part of its Capitol Safety Plan, Airbnb announced prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration that “individuals identified as involved in criminal activity” on January 6 would be banned. This included those “associated with violent hate groups.”
An executive at a financial consulting firm who travels to Mexico for business, Knowlton was labeled a security risk and banned from the platform. His wife Bekka, who faces no charges, was informed in May that she was banned for her affiliation with “someone not permitted to be on Airbnb,” presumably referencing Knowlton.
“When we remove a user, we may also take action to suspend the accounts of people who are closely connected or likely to travel with that removed user — such as a spouse,” an Airbnb spokesperson told The Daily Wire.
In April, CBP removed Knowlton’s Global Entry access under the Trusted Travel Program — which allows expedited clearance for low-risk and pre-approved travelers upon arrival in the U.S. The agency did not respond to The Daily Wire’s request for comment.
Knowlton was also set to graduate from The University of Denver’s law school in May. But later that month, the student was told that he may have violated its honor code and other policies, such as “endangerment,” “harassment,” “property damage,” and “violation of the law,” according to a letter obtained by The Daily Wire.
Nearly two months later, the director of student rights and responsibilities told him the school would “defer” scheduling of his conduct resolution hearing. Now, the school is withholding his degree, Knowlton’s lawyers say.
The University of Denver declined to confirm whether they are withholding his degree, citing federal laws barring it from releasing academic records. The school also declined numerous requests asking for reasons a student might have their degree withheld.
The defendant’s attorneys are hoping that the Washington jury, which has not been selected yet, puts aside any potential bias in light of a poll showing 73% of D.C. voters think anyone in the Capitol should be guilty of insurrection. Sixty-four percent said anyone inside should be responsible for property destruction and violence done by other protestors.
“They’ve done something very un-American,” said Dershowitz. “The prosecution has lumped everybody together and they haven’t individualized the cases. We’re insisting on individualized justice. We want justice for what Brady did, not what other people may have done. There was no conspiracy here.”
A federal judge ruled this month to dismiss a count of January 6 defendant Garret Miller’s superseding indictment charging him with obstruction under the same statute used for Knowlton. The move sets a precedent, Warrington says.
“Judge Nichols’ holding places the government on notice that in all of the January 6th cases where it has charged obstruction under 1512(c) for trespass or even violence, that those alleged crimes are not the types of criminal acts covered by the federal obstruction statute,” the lawyer said.
Knowlton has pleaded not guilty. A status hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
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