Photo: Video screenshot, Steve Baker
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Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the legal travails of Blaze Media contributor Steve Baker and his reporting surrounding the events of January 6, 2021.
I’ve been under federal investigation for the better part of two years. Last Wednesday morning, my attorney spoke with FBI Special Agent Craig Noyes, one of the lead investigators in my case. He confirmed that the Department of Justice is continuing its probe into my journalistic activities on January 6, 2021.
I haven’t been charged with any crimes — yet. But I’ve been told what’s likely to happen.
Like many other reporters and photojournalists — both independents and those working directly for established media companies — I followed the story that day where it went. And it happened to be inside the Capitol Building. Depending on who is doing the counting, between 100 and 200 journalists were either already inside the Capitol, covering the event from restricted grounds, or followed the crowd inside.
The left-wing Sedition Hunters compiled a rather impressive spreadsheet of all types of journalists, with designations of “Interior (Breach),” “Interior (Press Corps),” and “Restricted Grounds” assigned to 160 different “confirmed” journalists, and an additional spreadsheet tab listing 45 “unconfirmed” reporters and videographers.
When I first looked up the Sedition Hunters' spreadsheet over a year ago, I wasn’t listed. So I contacted them and asked to be added. They didn’t respond to me directly. Instead, they blocked me from their Twitter page. A more recent search shows they added my name, along with my Locals blog link, my Twitter handle, and my Rumble page, with the “Interior (Breach)” designation under the “confirmed” tab.
(My journalistic activities on January 6 took place before I became a Blaze Media contributor.)
I made no effort to hide what I was doing on January 6. I did two different interviews that same day with WUSA, a CBS News affiliate in Washington, D.C. I also uploaded a short YouTube video commentary later that same evening.
Upon returning to my home in Raleigh, North Carolina, I socked myself away for five days, doing a frame-by-frame analysis of my own videos. I then wrote and published on January 13, 2021, a 9,500-word opus to my blog detailing what I experienced that day, titled, “What I Saw on January 6th in Washington, D.C.”
That piece, and a February 24, 2021, follow-up, “Who was ‘Up the Chain’ on January 6?” has been viewed and read by hundreds of thousands of readers on my blog and various social media pages.
I always expected that I would be contacted by the FBI at some point, at the very least to acquire my videos for the bureau's investigations. I did no violence or property destruction on January 6, and I certainly did not interfere with the election certification, as I didn’t enter the Capitol Building until well after both the Senate and House of Representatives had been evacuated.
Several months passed. Finally, around 10 a.m. on Thursday, July 22, 2021, I received a call from someone who introduced himself as FBI Special Agent Gerrit Doss.
My immediate response: “What took you so long?”
Doss told me he knew I was scheduled to speak at a Libertarian Party meet-up in Leesburg, Virginia, the next evening and asked if I might have time earlier in the afternoon to meet with a couple of agents. (Thus tipping me to the fact that the FBI had been watching me and tracking my activities.)
I politely informed Doss that I would be in Leesburg earlier in the day. Unfortunately, my attorney would not be with me, so I would be unable to speak with him.
“Oh, oh ... I understand,” Doss replied. “Is there a good time when you can meet with us, along with your attorney?”
I asked the agent for his contact number and told him I’d have my attorney reach out to him as soon as possible.
Through my attorney, we agreed to a voluntary meeting at the FBI’s Cary, North Carolina, office on August 5, 2021. Upon arrival at the FBI office that morning, Agents Doss and Craig Noyes greeted us and informed my attorney and me that they “may not” be able to conduct an interview that day after all. They invited us to have a seat in the lobby and said that they would return “in about 10 minutes.”
Doss and Noyes re-emerged from behind closed doors about 30 minutes later to let us know that they couldn’t conduct the interview without “special permission” because of my “press” status.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, a federal investigative agency must first secure “authorization by a United States Attorney or Assistant Attorney General” before conducting an interview with a member of the media.
My lawyer and the U.S. attorney’s office then negotiated a proffer agreement for my voluntary interview, which said in effect that nothing I said in the interview could be used against me should I be charged with a crime unless I perjured myself. Keep that in mind.
The FBI was quite accommodating of my travel and work schedule, and my attorney and I ultimately reappeared at the Cary, N.C., FBI office for that interview with Doss and Noyes on October 18, 2021.
The interview lasted for exactly two hours and began with both agents thanking me for not doing violence against law enforcement on January 6. The only really contentious moment in an otherwise cordial meeting was my request to record the interview for my own benefit, which the agents rejected. With my agreement, we proceeded.
At the conclusion of the interview, we volunteered to turn over my videos from January 6. Again, I had nothing to hide. My attorney even asked that in exchange for the videos, I might receive immunity from prosecution. (No such luck.)
Under the circumstances, it’s never a good feeling when you see your attorney’s name pop up on caller ID. On November 17, I got the call I had been dreading.
“I’ve got bad news,” he told me. “I just received an email from Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita Eve, which says you can expect to be ‘charged within the week.’”
“With what?” I asked.
“Well, that’s the weird part,” my attorney continued. “According to the criminal statutes she sent — 18 USC 1952 (a)(1)-(2) and 40 USC 5104 (e)(2)(d) and (g) — you’re being charged with interstate racketeering and property damage.”
To the first charge, the only thing we could surmise is that during the FBI interview, I had been asked how much money I had made from the licensing of my January 6 videos. Several of my video clips had been used in January 6 documentaries produced by HBO and the New York Times, as well as by news services all over the world.
Was the federal government really trying to claim that I had traveled from Raleigh, N.C., to Washington, D.C., with the foreknowledge of a criminal event and conspired with others to profit from it?
All I could do was laugh.
As to the second charge, I’d informed the agents during the interview that at one point while inside the Capitol, I stood on a bench to get above the crowd to get a better camera angle on the crowd's activities. Agent Noyes asked, “You stood on a bench?” He then feverishly wrote something on his notepad.
According to federal law, “A person may not step or climb on, remove, or in any way injure any statue, seat, wall, fountain, or other erection or architectural feature, or any tree, shrub, plant, or turf, in the [Capitol] Grounds.”
Good grief. I’d damaged nothing! But, yes, I stood on a bench.
Anita Eve’s notification arrived on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving week in 2021. I was on the road, traveling for the holiday. My attorney and I immediately went on offense. On Monday morning of Thanksgiving week, we sent out over 200 copies of a press release notifying media organizations large and small that an independent journalist was being prosecuted for his coverage of January 6.
Right away, I began receiving interview requests from radio hosts, podcasters, and print journalists. At 1:47 p.m. that day, my attorney received an email from Eve, with an attached copy of the press release.
“I’m not thrilled with this press release that was forwarded to me today,” she wrote.
My attorney responded: “Mr. Baker is obviously feeling threatened by the charges and is using his First Amendment right to garner support. ... Are you suggesting that he refrain from making further statements? ... He has nothing to hide. But he does have a right to speak truthfully about his experiences and share his opinions. ... It’s not fair to ask him to be silent while he endures federal prosecution.”
In that same email, my attorney again offered that I would voluntarily provide the government with my videos from January 6.
“I have absolutely no objection to Mr. Baker exercising his First Amendment rights,” Eve answered. “He can continue that as often as he so desires. My concern is what impact this will have with the Judge who gets assigned to his case. Also, I may make use of his commentary at some future proceeding.”
An assistant U.S. attorney looking for notches in her career-advancement gun belt is concerned about what a judge may think about my actions? I wasn’t buying it.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I received a message from a dear friend telling me that Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wanted me to call him. He’d been forwarded my press release. So I did.
“Hello, this is Ron,” a man answered.
“Is this Senator Johnson?” I asked.
“This is Ron.”
And so it went. Without pretense of any kind, here was a U.S. senator from a state where I was not a constituent, and to whom I’d never made a campaign contribution, asking how he could help me. After about a 15-minute chat, Senator Johnson gave me the phone number of his chief January 6 investigator, with whom I had a rather lengthy call the next week.
The government’s prosecutor and FBI agents then went silent. Despite the assistant U.S. attorney warning that I would be “charged within the week,” we didn’t hear from her office again until 20 months later.
In part two of this series, Baker explains what happened next and the current status of the federal investigation into his January 6 reporting.
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Steve Baker is an opinion contributor for Blaze News and an investigative journalist.