As Republicans downplay Jan. 6 violence, Missouri man’s case tests argument in court

Update: Yoder took the stand during the second day of his trial. Coverage of his testimony can be found here.

Isaac Yoder entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Dressed like a Revolutionary War soldier, Yoder climbed scaffolding, walked past broken glass through a fire exit and stayed in the building for about 15 minutes, after the certification of the 2020 presidential election had been delayed and lawmakers were hiding in a secure location.

But some argue Yoder, a locksmith from Nevada, Missouri, did nothing wrong.

Republicans have increasingly attempted to obfuscate the violence surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as former President Donald Trump runs for their party’s nomination. They’ve used examples like Yoder to downplay the violence that day.

Tucker Carlson, the popular Fox News host, used footage obtained from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to present the day as largely peaceful. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican whom some blamed for the riot, has said he thinks people who just entered the building have an argument that they didn’t break the law.

This week, those political arguments are being tested in court as Yoder stands trial at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Yoder is expected to take the stand on Tuesday.

The Missouri resident is charged with breaking four laws: entered and remained in a restricted building, disorderly and disruptive conduct in the Capitol, violent entry and disorderly conduct in the Capitol and parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol.

Earlier this year, he turned down an offer to plead guilty on one charge of parading, demonstrating and picketing in a Capitol building and requested a trial by jury and asked that it be moved to Missouri. When that was denied, Yoder requested a bench trial, meaning the judge will determine whether he’s guilty.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Yoder traveled with some members of his family to Washington to attend Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally. Yoder frequently dresses in Revolutionary War replica clothing and on that day, he put on his hand-sewn outfit, complete with tricorn hat, a replica flag circa 1776 and a sword in a scabbard.

He wasn’t allowed past security at the rally, given the sword and flag, and so he stood by the Washington Monument, posed for pictures with other attendees and listened to Trump’s speech.

After the speech, he headed toward his car parked by the Capitol so he could wait for his family, who went to the rally. When one of his brothers arrived and told him that “Pence had caved” according to prosecutors and an FBI agent who interviewed Yoder, he headed off in the direction of the Capitol.

John Machado, Yoder’s attorney, isn’t arguing whether Yoder entered the Captiol — there’s video and photographic evidence that he did. Instead, he’s arguing that Yoder didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to enter the Capitol and cooperated with police once he was there.

Machado’s argument isn’t unprecedented, but only one other defendant was found “not guilty” of all charges for entering the Capitol on Jan. 6, also in a bench trial.

While cross-examining retired FBI agent Allen Purcell, who originally led the case, Machado tried to make the case that Yoder felt grief about the fact that people had broken into the Capitol. Machado said Yoder was encouraging people to break up the riot, that he and his family left Washington in response to the curfew, that he didn’t pick up or steal anything from the Capitol, that he didn’t do any damage at the Capitol and that at no time did law enforcement attempt to stop him.

Yoder even gave a short speech once he was inside the Capitol, saying, “We don’t riot, we don’t do bad things,” according to video shown in court. When he finished his speech, he walked deeper into the Capitol, into the crypt, an area underneath the rotunda where there are statues.

Federal prosecutors spent the day arguing that to enter the Capitol was to break the law. They called three witnesses — a Secret Service agent, a Capitol police officer and an FBI agent — to build a case that it would have been difficult for Yoder not to know that he was breaking the law on Jan. 6.

Much of the trial centered around the Capitol’s security that day. The Capitol was closed to the public, just as it had been since March 2020, at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Capitol Police Capt. Ronald Ortega described in detail his efforts to fight back against protesters, including one who came after him while wielding a hammer.

He testified that Yoder’s flag and sword would never normally be allowed in the Capitol and that he walked in through a door where an alarm was blaring because it was a fire exit, not an entrance to the Capitol, and that people were climbing through nearby windows.

“This individual would not be authorized to be inside the Capitol,” Ortega said.

Federal Judge Royce Lamberth appeared aware of some of the media coverage surrounding the event.

As a video played of people climbing through the window into the Capitol, Lamberth said people have tried to argue officers waved them in, and noted the location of the officers in the video, saying they weren’t in position to wave anyone into the building, particularly “having just been beaten up outside.”

“For a long time sir,” Ortega said.

Yoder’s trial is taking place as New York City officials and Secret Service are preparing for potential violence after Trump called for protests in anticipation of a potential indictment by a New York grand jury.