A judge is allowing a Broadway actor arrested for his alleged walk-on role in the Capitol riot to remain free on pretrial release, despite his bizarre claims to be beyond the jurisdiction of the court.
At a contentious hearing held via videoconference Monday, James Beeks — a Michael Jackson impersonator who starred as Judas in a traveling “Jesus Christ Superstar” company until his arrest last week — narrowly escaped being jailed after a tense exchange with Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
“I am an American standing under public law and I am here by special divine appearance,” Beeks told Howell.
Beeks, whose cast bio was removed from his theater company’s website over the weekend, initially refused to accept assistance from the two public defenders on the line, but he also demurred when Howell asked if he wished to represent himself.
“I cannot represent myself because I am myself,” he said. “I reserve all rights at all times and waive none, ever.”
Howell snapped back at Beeks, declaring his statements unintelligible.
“That’s all gobbledygook. I have no idea what you’re saying,” the judge said.
Beeks’ case is one of the strangest of the more than 700 arising from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Prosecutors say he joined the Oath Keepers two weeks before the attack and introduced himself to them the morning of Jan. 6. Carrying a shield and wearing a Michael Jackson tour jacket, he then joined the infamous “stack” of a dozen Oath Keepers who were among the earliest to breach the Capitol.
During the hearing Monday, Howell said that two affidavits Beeks attempted to submit to the court suggested he subscribed to a “sovereign citizen” theory that rejects government authority. But that description clearly irritated Beeks.
“I’m not a sovereign citizen. There’s no such thing. That’s an oxymoron and it’s even an insult,” the actor declared.
Beeks’ comments frustrated Howell, who indicated she couldn’t release a defendant who refused to submit to legal authorities.
“A defendant who objects to jurisdiction of the court rejects being subject to the laws of the United States, who objects to the rule of law, is typically not released pretrial,” Howell said following Beeks’ rant.
The exchange also caught Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler off guard. Nestler said that given the revelation, and Beeks’ refusal to submit to court authority, he would request Beeks’ pretrial detention even though prosecutors did not ask that he be detained when he was arrested last week in Milwaukee.
But one of the public defenders, Washington, D.C.-based Michelle Peterson, huddled privately with Beeks on Monday and convinced him to agree to strict terms of pretrial release that include GPS monitoring and a curfew.
Howell briefly puzzled over how to ensure that Beeks would travel from Wisconsin to his home in Gotha, Fla., in order to check in with the court there. Beeks said he planned to drive as soon as the FBI returned his car keys, cash and “gold and silver” seized from him at the time of his arrest.
The judge ordered the FBI to return Beeks’ car keys by noon on Monday to facilitate his trip home. Whether he will get his gold and silver back anytime soon remains unclear, but Peterson said she didn’t see how they could properly be subject to seizure “in a case like this.”
Either way, Beeks appears to be out of commission as “Judas” for the near future. His touring company is set to open a monthlong run on Tuesday at Toronto’s Prince of Wales Theatre.