Anchorman Star Jay Johnston Pleads Guilty to Capitol Riot Charges


Hollywood came face-to-face with the tumultuous reality of Washington as Jay Johnston, 55, star of both the big screen as a fist-fighting newsman in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, and the small screen as a lovable pizzeria owner in “Bob’s Burgers”, stood before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in a courtroom with solemnity hanging heavy in the air. This was no movie set, and as the actor pleaded guilty to interfering with police officers while they attempted to shield the U.S. Capitol from the rage of an attacking mob, the real-life gravity of his actions began to unfold.

Johnston, a resident of the glamourous city of Los Angeles, now teeters on a precipice, looking out at the prospect of a maximum five-year sentence following his confession to civil disorder, a serious felony. The courtroom, a stark contrast to the comedic scenarios in which he typically found himself, will reconvene on Oct. 7 to render his fate.

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Under the medley of lamps casting their unflattering light onto the proceedings, Johnston’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, hushed any attempts by his client to comment to the swarm of reporters eagerly awaiting statements, as they exited the austere courtroom.

The actor’s name had been flashed through media outlets after his arrest in June, making him one of over 1,400 individuals implicated and charged with federal crimes stemming from the shocking attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Video evidence presented a stark image of Johnston situated far from his accustomed stage, in this instance pushing against the line of police and aiding others who were forcefully attempting to breach the guard stationed at an entrance to the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace. In an act that may well be seared into popular memory, the affidavit, provided by an FBI agent, reports that Johnston lofted a stolen police shield high overhead before passing it along to his fellow rioters.

The actor, known to many as the voice behind the animated character Jimmy Pesto on Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers”, found his career silenced in the wake of the Capitol attack, with The Daily Beast reporting that he was effectively “banned” from the show.

Johnston’s history in the industry shone brightly, punctuated by his appearances on “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” an HBO sketch comedy series featuring Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. His performance repertoire also embraced roles in the television show “Arrested Development” and the Will Ferrell led movie “Anchorman”.

Evidence presented by prosecutors showed that Johnston had deployed his cellphone to capture the rioting masses breaking through barricades and compelling police officers into a retreat. Johnston was seen in footage gesticulating towards the crowd on the Lower West Terrace, rallying them with clenched fists, and was even handed a bottle of water, which he then utilized to aid others in flushing chemical irritants from their eyes.

As chaos reigned, Johnston joined the swarm of rioters in pushing back the police officers stationed at the tunnel entrance. Mere minutes later, he exited the tunnel, according to the agreement signed by Johnston.

Three individuals, previously known to Johnston, stepped forward and confirmed his identity as a riot suspect from circulating FBI photos, launching an investigation that unearthed a text message from Johnston acknowledging his presence at the Capitol on that fateful day.

Johnston’s message, riddled with attempts at self-deprecation, is heart-rending in its blithe ignorance of the severity of the situation – “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,” he wrote.

In another courtroom on that same day, Dana Jean Bell, a 65-year-old Texas woman, admitted to attacking a Metropolitan Police Department officer during the infamous riot. Captured on video as she verbally abused officers inside the Capitol while seizing an officer’s baton, Bell soon found herself swept into the legal proceedings. As if that wasn’t damning enough, she was also caught on camera assaulting a local television journalist outside the Capitol.

Her fate lies in an eight-year maximum sentence, set to be passed on Oct. 17 by U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly. Guideline estimates suggest a sentence that spans anywhere from two years to two and half years imprisonment.

Exiting the courtroom, Bell and her attorney, Joe Shearin, mirrored Johnston’s strategy, declining to comment to the media.