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Facial recognition used in arrest of 9/11 conspiracy theory lawyer accused of trying to disarm officer on Jan. 6


WASHINGTON — The FBI on Thursday arrested a New York lawyer who is accused of trying to disarm an officer protecting the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, law enforcement sources told NBC News.

John O’Kelly of East Williston, New York, faces two felony charges — assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, and civil disorder — along with four misdemeanor charges, according to court documents.

WNBC in New York observed law enforcement activity at O’Kelly’s home on Thursday morning.

Authorities say O’Kelly tried to “disarm” a D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officer on Jan. 6 by grabbing an officer’s baton and “attempting to wrestle it from the officer’s hands.” Body camera footage cited in court documents showed the man identified as O’Kelly pushing metal bike rack fencing that was being used to secure the Capitol perimeter.

John O'Kelly.
John O’Kelly.U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia

O’Kelly, known to online sleuths investigating the Jan. 6 attack as “MidWhiteCrisis,” was No. 294 on the FBI’s Capitol Violence page, which features images of more than 500 people wanted in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.

O’Kelly was previously an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, which believes that the Twin Towers were brought down by pre-planted explosives. In a 2019 lawsuit, the group sought to force the Justice Department to present their claims to a grand jury. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in March 2021, and an appeals court upheld the lower court ruling in August 2022.

When reached for comment on O’Kelly’s arrest, the group’s litigation director, Mick Harrison, told NBC News: “John is no longer with us and we’re unfamiliar with the circumstances of the matter you’re inquiring about.”

An FBI affidavit says that the bureau received a tip about O’Kelly on July 8, 2021, in connection with Jan. 6 from someone who used “open source photo ID software” and identified O’Kelly as a likely match.

“Following this tip, the FBI reviewed New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) photos of John O’Kelly, and used facial recognition software to compare O’Kelly’s DMV photos to footage taken at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Facial recognition software indicated that O’Kelly’s DMV photo matched a second video taken at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 by an unknown individual filming with what appears to be a cellular telephone,” the FBI affidavit said.

The FBI also said it reviewed a photo of O’Kelly on the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry website, and confirmed his identification by interviewing a “longtime friend of the O’Kelly family who knows John O’Kelly personally.” FBI special agents further said they found a hotel reservation for O’Kelly outside of Washington, D.C., used phone records to confirm his identification, and went to O’Kelly’s home to surveil him to confirm identification.

More than 870 people have been arrested by the FBI in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. On Thursday, a 20-year-old North Carolina man who had been enlisted in the Air Force pleaded guilty to assaulting law enforcement and was ordered jailed until his sentencing.

Zoë Richards contributed.



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