“We stormed the capitol, it’s insane.”
So proclaimed John Strand in a text after entering the halls of Congress last Jan. 6. The message was part of a seemingly endless procession of evidence — including photos, videos, tweets, texts, and more — documenting Strand’s role in the riot that was displayed before a jury at the D.C. District Court in Washington last week. Strand was convicted on all five charges he faced on Tuesday, and now faces up to 24 years in prison.
Strand’s potential sentence is so harsh because he refused to take a plea deal, instead opting to fight the charges against him before a jury and through an absurd online campaign for vindication. Strand, a model-turned-Covid-19 conspiracy theorist, posts regularly on his social media channels about how he’s being persecuted, and set up a website splashed with glamour shots and links to donate. “FROM GUCCI TO GUILTY,” reads a banner on the site. It’s as if Derek Zoolander stormed the Capitol and then did all he could to secure the longest prison sentence possible.
Strand wore a pair of stylish silver loafers during closing arguments on Monday, during which his own lawyer called him a “poseur,” according to Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones, who was the first to report the conviction on Tuesday. It didn’t work. He was found guilty a day later of four misdemeanors related to unlawfully entering the Capitol, and a felony charge of obstructing an official proceeding. The felony conviction itself could put Strand away for 20 years.
The silver loafers he wore on Monday were typical for Strand, who seems to have put more thought into styling himself than his legal defense. He worked as a model and actor prior to the pandemic, scoring contracts with Wilhelmina Models and Envy Models, landing features in industry publications, and appearing in shows like Vanderpump Rules and Breaking Amish: LA. Strand and his abs also scored a spot on the cover of the erotic wolf romance novel Howl For It.
Strand’s focus seemed to have shifted to pushing Covid-19 conspiracy theories after the pandemic began. He served as the spokesperson and creative director for America’s Frontline Doctors, an anti-vax group founded by Simone Gold, who is also his former partner. Strand and Gold were in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, and were among the first throng of rioters to breach the Capitol. In a text message to his brother displayed before the court, Strand bragged that he and Gold were “with the first dozen patriots” to enter the building. “We literally made history just now,” he wrote. Gold, unlike Strand, accepted a plea deal for her role in the riot and in June was sentenced to 60 days in prison. She was released in September.
Strand argued during his testimony on Friday that his “responsibility” to Gold was the reason he accompanied her into the Capitol, and that he was practically forced into the building by the crowd surging around him. He testified that their relationship was “highly imbalanced” from the beginning, characterizing Gold, who is “quite a few” years older than him, as a bully. He was with her both in his capacity as her partner and as her bodyguard, he said. Nevertheless, he admitted that he never tried to stop her as they went into the Capitol, as they worked their way to the front of the crowd attempting to reach the doors of the House chambers, or when they stopped to film Gold’s attempt to deliver a speech.
Strand’s impeccable image has been present throughout the case, even becoming a matter of evidence. Dressed Friday in a dark suit, hair poofed and gelled, Strand was identified by his lawyers in video footage from Jan. 6 by his trademark coif and large black sunglasses, as well as a pair of fingerless leather gloves he was wearing. Chuckling could be heard throughout the courtroom as the judge quipped “no rhymes please,” a reference to Johnnie Cochran’s infamous quote about a glove not fitting. The defense argued later that Strand’s lack of visible MAGA apparel or tactical gear was an indicator of Strand’s lack of intent, and Strand testified that interfering with the certification of the election results “never crossed my mind.”
The claim is contradicted, however, by a trove of contemporaneous social media posts displayed to the Jury expressing Strand’s displeasure with the results of the 2020 election, many of them featuring a “StopTheSteal” hashtag. The day after the riot, for instance, Strand posted an image of himself outside of the Capitol on Twitter with the caption, “I am incredibly proud to be a patriot today, to stand up tall in defense of liberty & the Constitution, to support Trump & #MAGAforever, & to send the message: WE ARE NEVER CONCEDING A STOLEN ELECTION.” In another tweet posted days before the attack, Strand wrote, “seriously, this what the [Insurrection Act] is for. THIS. IS. WAR. #TruthMaverick #TheElectionWasRigged.”
The mountain of evidence against Strand has forced him to resort to tactics like requesting the trial be moved out of D.C. due to the city’s generally liberal population. “Mr. Strand … would not be judged by his peers, but by his political foes,” his attorney wrote in one filing, citing a political cartoon of a dog being judged by a jury of cats. The citation indicated that “Counsel once saw a cartoon where a dog was on trial, and the jury was composed of twelve cats. The caption read ‘a jury of his peers?’”
Strand’s decision to go to trial was doomed from the start, but it’s allowed him to cast himself as a martyr online. Since being charged shortly after the riot, Strand has pivoted from Covid conspiracies to decrying tyranny more broadly, or the “outright evil being perpetrated on the American citizen,” as he puts it on his website. The site features several other comically lofty descriptions of his fight for justice, including a self-attributed quote about the future being “what you fight to make it” on top of a black-and-white image of Strand serving his best Blue Steel, as if he’s contemplating how the Justice Department could possibly prosecute someone as really, really, ridiculously good looking as him.
He’s relayed a similar message on his social media channels, where along with his website he’s branded himself as everything from a model, actor, musician, host, director, influencer, and activist, to, according to one of his Twitter accounts, someone who is “reigniting biblical masculinity to inspire a millennial resistance.”
“Today, I take a stand — the witness stand, to testify on my own behalf, that I am innocent, and not guilty by association or proximity,” Strand wrote last week on Truth Social below a header image of himself shaking hands with Matt Gaetz. The morning of his conviction, he wondered on Telegram if people would be willing to trade the rest of their lives for “one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!!!”
Strand’s online crusade has had little discernible effect other than gathering some plaudits from right-wingers. OAN White House Correspondent Chanel Rion has been covering the trial. A few weeks before it started, Strand was able to discuss his decision to reject a plea deal in a two-hour interview with Brandon Straka, a right-wing influencer who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor related to the insurrection. “I’m going to be in the courtroom in front of 12 human beings,” Strand said, “and I just want to share my heart with them and say, ‘This is who I am.’”
The 12 human beings on Strand’s jury responded by convicting him of every charge he faced, all but guaranteeing Strand will be heading to prison for years. He will find out how many when he’s sentenced on Jan. 12. If there is anything that this case can teach us, it’s that a male model’s life is a precious, precious commodity. Just because they have chiseled abs and stunning features, it doesn’t mean that they, too, can’t go to jail.