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Actor Jay Johnston of 'Bob's Burgers' and other comedies pleads guilty in Jan. 6 case

Jay Johnston has pleaded guilty to a felony charge related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He's seen here in an image from an FBI affidavit.
U.S. Justice Department
/
Screenshot by NPR
Jay Johnston has pleaded guilty to a felony charge related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He's seen here in an image from an FBI affidavit.

Actor Jay Johnston, known for his roles on Arrested Development, Bob’s Burgers and other TV and film comedies, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Johnston, 55, was arrested in June of last year, charged with a felony count of interfering with law enforcement officers during civil disorder and several misdemeanors. He pleaded guilty on Monday to the felony civil disorder charge before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols — who is scheduled to sentence Johnston on Oct. 7. 

On eyewitness video, Johnston, who stands well over 6 feet, was initially seen filming protesters confronting police at a barricade as Congress met to consider electoral votes from the presidential election that resulted in former President Donald Trump's loss.

As the protest escalated into an assault on the Capitol and lawmakers were forced to evacuate their chambers, the FBI said in an affidavit, Johnston joined a mass of people in a tunnel leading inside the building, where he used a stolen U.S. Capitol police riot shield to help shove police officers backward toward a door.

“This was the site of some of the most violent attacks against law enforcement that day,” the Justice Department said as it announced the guilty plea.

Federal investigators said Jay Johnston, seen here circled in red holding a stolen police shield over his head, helped a crowd push police down a tunnel at the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
Justice Department/ Screenshot by NPR /
Federal investigators said Jay Johnston, seen here circled in red holding a stolen police shield over his head, helped a crowd push police down a tunnel at the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

In the weeks after Jan. 6, authorities knew Johnston only as individual 247-AFO, a tall man in a black jacket wearing a camouflage neck gaiter — which he sometimes lifted above his nose, in an apparent attempt to conceal his identity. After the FBI published images of the person and asked the public to help identify him, the actor’s lawyer contacted the FBI's National Threat Operations Center. Johnston was arrested in June 2023, after surrendering himself at the FBI Los Angeles field office.

Investigators said at least two other pieces of evidence helped link Johnston to the crime: he booked a three-night trip to Washington, D.C., returning to Los Angeles on Jan. 7; and he texted a friend about his experience.

“The news has presented it as an attack. It actually wasn’t. Thought it kind of turned into that. It was a mess. Got maced and tear gassed and I found it quite untastic,” Johnston wrote in that text, which the FBI said it acquired from “three current or former associates” of the actor.

In his acting career, Johnston was a regular on the 1990s HBO comedy Mr. Show with Bob and David and appeared in Anchorman. He has repeatedly portrayed police officers and agents, from Arrested Development to The Sarah Silverman Program and Men in Black II. But after his actions against police in 2021, the long-running Bob’s Burgers show cut ties with Johnston. Last fall, another actor replaced him as the voice of Italian restaurant owner Jimmy Pesto Sr., according to the Collider website.

The Justice Department says it has now filed charges against more than 1,450 people in dozens of states for their role in the deadly attack on the Capitol. Of that number, more than 880 have pleaded guilty and only three have been acquitted of all charges.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.