TOPEKA — A former candidate for the Topeka City Council who can be seen in a video that shows the fatal shooting inside the U.S. Capitol says he has notified the FBI of his involvement in the breach.
Will Pope also says he didn’t damage any property and that he entered the building with rioting supporters of President Donald Trump because he wanted to exercise his First Amendment rights.
“I’ve reported myself to the FBI and remain loyal to the United States of America,” Pope said in a text message after hanging up on a phone call.
Pope appears for a few seconds, starting at about the 8:45 mark, in a graphic video posted by the Jayden X account on YouTube. Draped in a flag and wearing a backpack, Pope stands in a doorway on the east side of the Capitol, in the Senate Carriage Entrance, as police struggle to gain control of an angry mob rushing past.
Officers can be seen reaching past Pope to spray tear gas, and Pope’s stars-and-stripes hat is knocked to the ground in the chaos.
The video follows the swarm of violent insurrection as rioters approach the House chamber and attempt to break through a barricaded door. As first reported by the Washington Post, the video shows police fatally shooting Trump supporter and Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt.
In a now-deleted Facebook post from after the breach, Pope wrote: “The people wanted their house back, so they took it.”
Pope said the FBI hasn’t said anything to him yet.
“They may be prioritizing people who were violent or destructive,” he said.
A regional spokeswoman for the FBI said she couldn’t comment on specific individuals and referred to a statement issued this week by FBI director Christopher Wray.
“We do not tolerate violent agitators and extremists who use the guise of First Amendment-protected activity to incite violence and wreak havoc,” Wray said. “Such behavior betrays the values of our democracy. Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol.”
Pope ran for the 2nd District seat on the city council in 2019, losing to Christina Valdivia-Alcala. He is now a graduate teaching assistant at Kansas State University in the Department of Communications Studies and an adjunct instructor at Fort Hays State University in the Department of Leadership Studies.
Scott Cason, spokesman for FHSU, said Pope hasn’t taught a class since the 2020 spring semester and that consideration for future employment would be a private personnel matter.
“The university does, of course, join so many others across this great nation in condemning the violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol this past week,” Cason said.
Pope’s LinkedIn resume shows he previously worked for the U.S. National Park Service in Montana and as an associate performance auditor for the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit.
He is an outspoken, frequent commenter in the private Blue Shield Facebook group, which was formed by retired Topeka police detective Ron Gish to oppose police reforms sought by community activists after the death of George Floyd.
Facebook posts indicate Laura Tawater, 1st District chairwoman for the Kansas Republican Party, and several members of the Blue Shield group attended the rally.
“RIGGED ELECTION!” Tawater wrote in a post on her own Facebook page early Wednesday. “Communists hijacked our country and destroyed our election process. TAKE IT BACK PATRIOTS!”
The post included the hashtags #LibertyOrDeath and #AmericanRevolution and a photo of her with U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, a Republican from the 1st District who attempted to block the counting of Electoral College votes.
When Tawater returned to Kansas the next day, she vowed to continue to fight for liberty.
“Will miss the presence of so many freedom-loving Patriots from coast to coast that joined together to support President Trump and stand against election fraud,” Tawater said. “We didn’t riot or hurt anyone like the fake news would have you believe. It’s a lie! We prayed together, served one another, and made our voices heard.”
Pope used his posts on Blue Shield to organize a Sept. 11 remembrance event by group members, launch personal attacks against Mayor Michelle De La Isla, who was the Democratic candidate for the 2nd District Congressional seat, and ask members of the group to support Republican Mike Martin’s legislative campaign against state Rep. John Alcala, a Democrat from Topeka who won re-election in November. Pope also appeared in a live video with Gish to promote a Back the Blue rally in August in Topeka.
In a series of emails to Kansas Reflector, Gish complained about the Blue Shield group being named in a story published Friday about Kansans who took a bus to Washington, D.C., to participate in Wednesday’s rally.
Gish promised to pursue a lawsuit for criminal defamation because the story referenced racist comments posted on the site by members. Screenshots show Blue Shield members repeatedly promoting violence against Antifa and Black Lives Matter supporters, who are referred to as murderers and terrorists. One comment, which Gish unpublished following a story by The Topeka Capital-Journal, called for the Brown v. Board of Education historic site to be torn down.
Gish said he believes Black Lives Matter members have infiltrated his group with fake profiles and posted comments to discredit the group.
“Our group is open to anyone regardless of political party or race,” Gish said. “If they support law and order and want a law enforcement to have the ability to respond to threats and keep us safe, they are welcome to join.”
Community activists in Topeka were a driving force behind the council’s consideration of a ban on no-knock warrants and police chokeholds. Black Lives Matter supporters demanded more transparency for police actions in cases that involve the use of force.
“Our group was formed to support law enforcement and hold political leaders accountable,” Gish said. “It is not about the pigmentation of any person’s skin. It is about radical policies that will take away tools that allow our law enforcement to protect themselves and the public from a threat of serious bodily harm or death.”
In a post in August, Gish urged group members to stand up for police officers after community activists Ariane Davis, Angela Lee and Danielle Twemlow spoke to the city council about proposed policy changes.
The women “have ZERO understanding of law enforcement practices,” he wrote.
A group member responded: “Publish where they will be staying so we can help them feel at home.”
Twemlow provided a copy of a recent email she sent to city council members in which she accuses Gish and the Blue Shield group of covert racism.
“He consistently preaches that ‘we’ shouldn’t bring outside problems to our community — what is happening in other cities and states are not happening here,” Twemlow said. “Yet he proceeds to talk about riots taking place elsewhere. Even more egregious, Will Pope, who has preached time and time again about respecting law and order, was filmed participating in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He is seen within the prohibited section of the Capitol ignoring Capitol Police instructions to leave the premises.
“It is proof that the opposition is not about police reform, but about the fear of losing his white privilege and being put in check.”