“That surge is what stands out,” AJ told Brian, back at the kitchen table in Wisconsin.
“Can I explain though?” Brian asked, and soon he was playing more videos from January 6 on his computer, once again trying to put his actions into context so AJ could understand. He showed video of police firing ammunition into the crowd. It showed video of an older woman dressed in an American flag sweatshirt repeatedly running up the stairs toward the police barricade at 2:27 p.m., then being pepper-sprayed and pushed back into the stairs by a police officer. “Everyone is pissed at this point,” Brian said. “From now on, it’s a scrum.”
He began playing another video, starting at 2:34 p.m., that showed Brian in the seconds before Karlsen’s riot shield hit. During the trial, Karlsen testified that he was backing away from the crowd and toward a staircase with debris under his feet. He looked down for a split second to check his balance, and that’s when Brian took advantage and pushed him. But now Brian told AJ a completely different story: that he heard Karlsen threaten to shoot him, and that when Karlsen turned his head, Brian thought he was reaching for his gun. The push was a spontaneous act of self-defense, Brian said.
“It’s going to be sharp, but listen to him say, ‘Or I’m going to shoot,'” Brian said.
He played the video and looked at AJ, but AJ shook his head. All he could hear was a dull echo among the roar of the crowd. “Try again,” AJ said. He wanted to hear it. He wanted to reconcile his version of reality with that of his father. He leaned toward the laptop as Brian played the video a second time, then a third.
“Or will I shoot?” » Brian asked looking at his son, hoping for absolution. “Do you hear any of that in there?”
“No. Not really,” AJ said.
“But do you believe what I tell you? Do you understand?”
AJ studied his father across the table, looking for some kind of bridge. He believed his father was sincere. He believed that Brian loved his country and his children and wanted the best for both. But AJ also believed that some events could not be rationalized away – they were real or imagined, good or bad – and that any meaningful reconciliation had to begin from a place of responsibility and truth.
“I understand why you were found guilty of this push,” he said.
“Yeah, I pushed the shield,” Brian said, nodding. They sat together for a while, okay, then Brian returned to his computer.
Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst.