One of the biggest mysteries to emerge from the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6 was the identity of the man known to feds as No. 247.
On March 4, the FBI shared a pair of photographs to its social media channels of a surly-looking fella spotted at the U.S. Capitol sporting a camouflage jacket and bandana. Many were quick to note that the man bore a striking resemblance to Jay Johnston, a journeyman actor best known for his comedic roles on Mr. Show, Arrested Development, and voicing the character Jimmy Pesto in Fox’s animated hit Bob’s Burgers.
“I’m no detective, but I do know Jay. He said he was there. And that’s him in the picture. So…” Cassandra Church, an actress who worked with Johnston on the show Harmontown, tweeted at the FBI in March.
In the months since, Johnston has dropped off the radar and that, coupled with not being charged for his alleged participation in the Trump-incited riot, has made it difficult for anyone to confirm whether that was indeed him at the Capitol.
Last week, The Daily Beast broke the news that Johnston had been banned from further appearances on Bob’s Burgers owing to the whole wanted-by-the-FBI thing (Fox and Disney rather conveniently declined to comment; texts and calls to Johnston were not returned). But now, two sources who worked with Johnston on the upcoming film Wing Dad say he confessed to them that he was indeed at the Capitol on Jan. 6 in order to protest what he thought was election “fraud.”
“I reached out to him. I was curious about him walking into the Capitol, because I feel like that’s a really big offense to our democracy and our nation. That’s horrific,” Lucas Astrom, the director of Wing Dad, tells The Daily Beast. “But he said he was just at the protest and didn’t go into the Capitol physically, so I have to take him at his word on that. He hasn’t been convicted or served or arrested.”
He pauses. “But yeah, I asked him about it, and he said like, yeah, he was there, and he believed there was fraud and just wanted to show his support.” (Astrom’s account was confirmed by another actor in Wing Dad, who wished to remain anonymous.)
Johnston and countless others were spurred into action by then-President Donald Trump and various top Republicans who relentlessly spread anti-democratic lies about the 2020 election outcome—falsehoods and conspiracy theories that have fueled a failed coup and further GOP election and voting crackdowns around the country.
According to Astrom, Wing Dad was filmed in a matter of weeks in December 2020, not long before the tragic events of Jan. 6. The cast and crew lived together in Big Bear during the intimate shoot, and Johnston’s far-right politics never came up.
“We had this great time shooting and then I saw that he was there [at the Capitol] and was like whoa… did not see that coming at all,” offers Astrom. “I think we were shocked more than anything. It’s almost like going to a family dinner with people you’ve known for a while and then someone gets a little too drunk and starts talking crazy. You know what I mean?”
Wing Dad tells the story of “a coffee shop that’s struggling to survive during the pandemic, but it goes deeper into the father’s alcoholism and how the family is coping with that,” explains Astrom. Johnston plays Allen, the estranged father with the drinking problem who the family tries to rehabilitate. “But it’s a comedy more than anything,” he adds.
Paige Feldman, who co-wrote Wing Dad, was similarly taken aback by the news that one of the stars of her film was an insurrectionist.
“I saw that, and I freaked the fuck out…”
“I saw that, and I freaked the fuck out because this is the first feature that I’ve been hired to write, and it’s a super small indie, so it’s not like we can do a Tig Notaro CGI situation [who was digitally edited in to replace Chris D’Elia in Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead], as I would love to do,” she says, noting, “I wrote it and there’s a lot of liberal propaganda in there, because that’s just me.”
Things got even more surreal in October of this year, when a screening of Wing Dad was held for its cast and crew in Los Angeles and Johnston, who many hadn’t heard from since the FBI photo seen ‘round the world, showed up.
“There was the screening and then a little cast and crew drinks afterward. For me, it was slightly weird,” says Feldman.
“The vibe was cool,” maintains Astrom, who posted a photo of the cast and crew, including Johnston, to Instagram that evening. “I’m sure that people may have been dissuaded from going to begin with but everyone who was there was supportive. I’ve recently gotten some old comedian friends on Facebook coming at me out of the woodwork and really disapproving of him and the situation, but this happened after we shot and I wouldn’t have worked with him if I knew beforehand.”
In recent years, fellow comedians and others working in entertainment who know Johnston have described him in somewhat tragic terms, citing personal issues that the actor has struggled with, as well as his years-long descent into far-right politics, which included a 2015 appearance on Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes’ show.
Ever since the FBI tweeted what many suspected to be Johnston’s face, several former friends and associates of the Mr. Show alumnus told The Daily Beast they tried contacting Johnston, or at least attempted to figure out his whereabouts in the months since the deadly pro-Trump riot in Washington, D.C.
All of them said they came up empty, or had difficulty finding out where he was, if he had spoken to the feds, or if he had gotten himself a lawyer.
“It was clear that a lot of people just decided to shut the fuck up about it,” said one person who has known Johnston for years.
Turns out, if they wanted to find a post-Jan 6. Johnston, all they had to do was stake out a Wing Dad screening.
“For an alleged insurrectionist to be the star of the first feature I wrote… it is less than ideal. I mean, that’s obviously an understatement,” says Feldman. “I’m really proud of the work I did on this film and to have that tainted by an actor’s actions is a little painful.”