The J6 Pastors
One of the first people to illegally enter the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was a man from Maryville, Tennessee, who used a board to bash in a window. He also kicked open an emergency exit door to let others in and helped throw a police officer to the ground. The FBI arrested Edward Kelley in March 2022 on charges of violent entry, assault, destruction of government property, and more. He also faces charges filed in December 2022 alleging he conspired after his earlier arrest to kill federal agents working on his investigation.
And how did Kelley get to the Capitol on that fateful day three years ago? His pastor arranged a ride.
The FBI complaint against Kelley notes a witness said they drove Kelley to Washington, D.C., at the request of Pastor Ken Peters. The pastor also went to D.C. for the protests leading up to Jan. 6, but he flew on a private jet owned by pillow-hugging conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell (who also paid for Peters to stay at Trump International Hotel).
Peters preached at a D.C. rally on Jan. 5 about the “stolen” election and how “we are in a kingdom war. This is the kingdom of darkness versus the kingdom of light.” On Jan. 6, Peters and some other pastors with him posted a few videos of the crowd at the Capitol, but they spent much of the insurrection in a hotel room tweeting complaints about Mike Pence and praise for the “patriots” at the Capitol. Peters also appeared in a March 2021 CBS documentary about Christian Nationalism — which he preaches along with conspiracy theories and praise of Donald Trump (and I appeared in the film to argue against Christian Nationalism).
While Peters ate pizza and tweeted in a hotel room, one of his congregants assaulted a police officer and broke into the Capitol — all while wearing a hoodie from the church. Peters hasn’t been accused of breaking any laws on Jan. 6, but he did help inspire some of the crowd with his preaching. And he helped some of those present find transportation from Tennessee. He and other clergy who push Christian Nationalism helped fuel the deadly insurrection.
But some pastors also practiced what they preached and entered the Capitol as part of the pro-Trump mob. As a result, some clergy are among the more than 1,200 people arrested over the past three years for their actions that day. Although a small segment of the insurrectionists, these pastors offer insights into the dangerous ways Christian Nationalism distorts the Christian witness. So this issue of A Public Witness introduces you to six ministers who have been charged for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.
‘Probably Going to Lose My Job as a Pastor’
Amid the chaos of the insurrection, Tyler Ethridge seemed able to predict the future — at least for himself. Filming a video inside the Capitol — and pausing to cough and catch his breath after having been pepper-sprayed — the youth minister complained about people talking about a “stolen” election but doing nothing to stop it.