Jay Johnston, 'Bob's Burgers' actor from Chicago, pleads guilty to Jan. 6 charge

He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty to civil disorder, a felony.

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Actor Jay Johnston attends a 2008 event for “The Sarah Silverman Program” in Beverly Hills, California.

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A Chicago native who played a street-brawling newsman in the movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and a pizzeria owner in the television series “Bob’s Burgers” pleaded guilty on Monday to interfering with police officers trying to protect the U.S. Capitol from a mob’s attack.

Jay Johnston, 55, of Los Angeles, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty to civil disorder, a felony. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols is scheduled to sentence Johnston on Oct. 7.

The estimated sentencing guidelines for Johnston recommend a prison term ranging from eight to 14 months, but the judge isn’t bound by that term of his plea agreement with prosecutors.

Johnston’s attorney, Stanley Woodward, told his client not to comment to reporters as they left the courtroom.

Johnston, who was arrested last June, is one of more than 1,400 people charged with federal crimes stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.


This image from Washington Metropolitan Police Department body-worn video, released and annotated by the Justice Department in the statement of facts supporting an arrest warrant for Jay James Johnston, shows Johnston, circled in yellow, at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

U.S. Justice Department

Video footage captured Johnston pushing against police and helping rioters who attacked officers guarding an entrance to the Capitol in a tunnel on the Lower West Terrace, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. Johnston held a stolen police shield over his head and passed it to other rioters during the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, the affidavit says.

Johnston “was close to the entrance to the tunnel, turned back and signaled for other rioters to come towards the entrance,” the agent wrote.

Johnston, a 1993 graduate of Columbia College Chicago, performed in Chicago at the Annoyance Theatre and with a Second City touring company.

He was the voice of the character Jimmy Pesto on Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers.” The Daily Beast reported in 2021 that Johnston was “banned” from the animated show after the Capitol attack.

Johnston appeared on “Mr. Show with Bob and David,” an HBO sketch comedy series that starred Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. His credits also include small parts on TV’s “Arrested Development” and “The Sarah Silverman Program,” and in the movie “Anchorman,” starring Will Ferrell.

A court filing accompanying Johnston’s plea agreement says he used his cellphone to record rioters as they broke through barricades and sent police officers retreating. Facing the crowd on the Lower West Terrace, Johnston pounded his fist together and pointed. Another rioter handed him a bottle of water, which he used to help others flush out chemicals from their eyes.

After passing the stolen shield, Johnson joined other rioters in collectively pushing against police officers guarding the tunnel entrance. He left the tunnel minutes later, according to the agreement signed by Johnston.

Three current or former associates of Johnston identified him as a riot suspect from photos that the FBI published online, according to the agent. The FBI said one of those associates provided investigators with a text message in which Johnston acknowledged being at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“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,” Johnston wrote, according to the FBI.

Also on Monday, a Texas woman pleaded guilty to assaulting a Metropolitan Police Department officer during the Jan. 6 riot. Video captured Dana Jean Bell cursing at officers inside the Capitol and grabbing an officer’s baton, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.

Bell, 65, of Princeton, Texas, also was captured on video assaulting a local television journalist outside the Capitol that day. The FBI affidavit says Bell appeared to reach out and try to push or grab the journalist, who worked for the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Bell faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is scheduled to sentence her on Oct. 17. Her estimated sentencing guidelines recommend a term of imprisonment ranging from two years to two years and six months.

Bell and her attorney, Joe Shearin, declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

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