Nick Searcy's and Chris Burgard’s new January 6 documentary exposes ‘the war on truth’

“The War on Truth” isn’t the first January 6 documentary I’ve seen or reviewed. It isn’t the first in which some of my own video footage from that infamous day has appeared. But it is the first documentary that has featured so many people I’ve come to know and befriend, including the film’s producer and director.

I attended the documentary’s premiere at the Angelica Film Center in Dallas on May 17. There was no shortage of tears in the sold-out theater. “The War on Truth” packs a powerful emotional punch.

‘The War on Truth’ isn’t a whitewash. It makes no excuses for people who engaged in questionable or wrongful acts that day.

The documentary is a follow-up to 2021’s “Capitol Punishment.” Both films were directed by Chris Burgard, best known for his award-winning 2007 documentary, “Border.” Nick Searcy, who produced and narrates both films, is best known for his role as Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen in the hit FX series “Justified.”

I had the privilege of driving Searcy the next day to another screening of the film at a private ranch two and a half hours east of Dallas. The long drive gave me a chance to get more details about the challenges of bringing this long-overdue documentary to the screen.

One complication was how quickly the January 6 narrative has changed — and is changing. Ongoing revelations, new evidence, and almost daily arrests make it difficult to sort the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” That makes telling a succinct story difficult. The documentary’s first edit was three and a half hours long, cut down from more than seven hours of useful interview footage, which was eventually trimmed to the film’s final run time of two hours and five minutes.

Rather than focus on the more conspiratorial questions surrounding the events of the day, Burgard, Searcy, and editor Tim Lowry chose to focus on a handful of the more tragic stories of Americans whose lives have been upended by the Justice Department’s overly zealous prosecutions. This was a sound decision, setting “The War on Truth” apart from most all other January 6 documentaries and eliciting emotional responses from the premiere’s live audience.

“The War on Truth” isn’t a whitewash. It makes no excuses for people who engaged in questionable or wrongful acts that day. For three years, I’ve recounted witnessing bad people doing bad things, good people doing good things, and good people making foolish choices in the heat of the moment. The undeniable truth is that the government has pursued a two-tiered and overly broad prosecution of those involved, regardless of their individual level of culpability. That’s what the film is about.

Searcy is a compelling narrator. He is an anomaly among Hollywood actors for having somehow avoided “cancellation” for his beliefs and political activism. What’s more, he was at the Capitol on January 6, but he didn’t enter the building. He opens his narration by telling us what he saw “didn’t look like a riot; it looked like a tailgate party.”

Of course, we now know that because of the actions of fewer than 300 violent offenders, tens of thousands of people have been painted variously as “insurrectionists” and “domestic terrorists.” The roughly 3,000 of those who entered through the open and unprotected doors of the Capitol Building with no intention of “insurrection” or stopping the 2020 election certification have suffered the worst of the Biden administration’s wrath.

“The War on Truth” highlights several of these low-level misdemeanor offenders who’ve had their lives ruined by the loss of family, jobs, careers, and businesses and even spent time in prison for simply being on the Capitol grounds or doing their jobs as journalists that day. Some were randomly charged with felony obstruction when their actions weren’t more significant or rowdy than those who only faced misdemeanors.

The film highlights individuals for whom video evidence contradicts the government’s claims against them. Take, for example, former Tennessee Deputy Sheriff Ronald Colton McAbee. Video footage shows him assisting law enforcement officers who were being assaulted during the battle at the Capitol’s west tunnel entrance. He also made desperate efforts to save Rosanne Boyland, who had been trampled and beaten during the melee. Boyland was one of four protesters who died that day. Federal prosecutors twisted McAbee’s heroic actions into felonious crimes, leading to his conviction and a 70-month prison sentence.

Some people featured in “The War on Truth” are high-profile political activists. One such activist is Dr. Simone Gold, founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, who argued for alternative therapies during the COVID-19 pandemic that have since proven effective. Gold was a scheduled speaker at one of the legally permitted side stages on the Capitol grounds. When the protests turned into riots, she and her partner/bodyguard, John Strand, entered the Capitol Building for about 20 minutes.

Gold accepted a plea deal from the government and, for her entirely nonviolent and nondestructive actions, received a 60-day prison sentence. Strand, on the other hand, refused to plead guilty to crimes he did not commit and went to trial for the same charges as Gold. For rejecting the government’s plea offer and ultimately being found guilty, Strand was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

Gold’s and Strand’s story hits particularly close to home, as the judge who sentenced them, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, is the same judge assigned to my case.

Another too-close-for-comfort story is that of Jesus “J.D.” Rivera, a Florida-based videographer and professional photojournalist contracted by a Mobile, Alabama, television news affiliate to cover the events in D.C. on January 6.

The truth is, we likely won’t know the whole truth about January 6 for a very long time — maybe not in our lifetimes.

Rivera’s only crime that day was “following the story where the story went.” Eventually, the story led him inside the Capitol Building, essentially paralleling the path of the New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson. Rivera entered the building with his expensive, bulky, professional camera gear. Mogelson documented his time in the building with his cell phone.

In one of the film’s most emotional sequences, Searcy and the camera crew followed Rivera and his wife to the Georgia federal penitentiary on the day he began serving his eight-month prison sentence. Rivera committed no acts of violence and did not engage in any chanting, parading, or picketing. As a professional journalist, he behaved just like Mogelson and approximately 60 other journalists who entered the “restricted” Capitol Building and were not charged. Nevertheless, Rivera was placed in solitary confinement for the first two months of his sentence at a federal facility, where he was the only defendant charged with a misdemeanor.

But the most compelling scene of the film — and the one that seemed to resonate most with the audience in Dallas — was Searcy’s gut-wrenching interview with Victoria White.

Exculpatory video and audio evidence make clear that White intervened against violent provocateurs who were trying to break windows on the Capitol’s west side. She can be heard shouting, “We don’t do that! We don’t do that!” Unfortunately, she made an errant judgment to join the crowd pressing through the west tunnel, evidently believing it was a pathway to a higher terrace on the west side of the Capitol.

Video evidence then shows White was caught in a crushing surge of people pushing into the tunnel while she tried to extract herself from the crush. Unable to move, all she could do was try desperately to stay on her feet and not be trampled. Eventually, she was pushed inside the tunnel, where video shows her doused in chemical sprays point-blank from law enforcement officers. She was beaten over the head more than 30 times with a metal baton by a D.C. Metropolitan Police officer.

Stunned and barely conscious, White was dragged into the Capitol Building by police and arrested. She did no violence or property damage. Suffering extreme emotional and physical trauma, she eventually pleaded guilty to “interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder” and was sentenced to 10 days in prison.

“The War on Truth” also presents expert testimony from FBI whistleblowers Kyle Seraphin and Steve Friend, intelligence expert J. Michael Waller, and journalists Tayler Hansen and Julie Kelly. Searcy and Burgard told me that they had to cut at least eight other stories for time. Some of those may be presented eventually in shorter vignettes on the film’s website and DVD release.

My contributions to the film, including those in the sequence about Ashli Babbitt’s fatal shooting, were filmed more than a year ago. Considering what I’ve been through personally since December — and since my interview with Burgard — I would have liked to have offered somewhat more current input. But I’m not complaining. January 6 and its aftermath remain an evolving story, and “The War on Truth,” though incomplete, needed to see the light of day.

The truth is, we likely won’t know the whole truth about what happened that day or why for a very long time — maybe not in our lifetimes. But what we do know, and what “The War on Truth” depicts so well, is that far too many well-intentioned Americans have been ensnared in an establishment narrative trap that has successfully tarred half the country as right-wing extremists with the goal of silencing them. It’s a lie. To counteract that lie, we need more documentaries like “The War on Truth.”

“The War on Truth” can be streamed now on the film’s website. The filmmakers’ earlier January 6 work, “Capitol Punishment,” can be viewed free of charge on Rumble.

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