Washington DC: For his involvement in the protest at the US Capitol on January 6, Michael Stepakoff was charged with 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(1) Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building; 18 U.S.C. § 1752(a)(2) Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building; 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(D) Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building; and 40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(G) Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building.
All four charges were federal misdemeanors, prosecuted in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
Mr. Stepakoff pleaded guilty to the lowest-level charge, Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building, a class B misdemeanor petty offense. All other charges were dismissed.
Judge Contreras sentenced him to 12 months of probation (with the conditions of remaining at his home during non-working hours for a period of two months and 60 hours of community service), a fine of $742, and restitution in the amount of $500 (the standard restitution amount ordered in all J6 participant cases).
January 6 Protest at the Capitol
Michael Stepakoff came to Washington DC for the patriot protest events scheduled for January 5th and 6th. Conservative politicians, activists, and religious leaders advertised rallies, speeches, and prayer groups ahead of the main rally event scheduled for the 6th with President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Stepakoff came to DC on his own to join the protest against election fraud, a demonstration in favor of election integrity. He brought his cell phone to live-stream his coverage of the various speeches and events to his Facebook followers, friends, and his congregation. (Religious leaders like Rabbi Mike are politically active in order to protect the rights and the interests of their religion and congregation. Like many of the more commonly known Evangelical pastors, Rabbi Mike includes political discussions in his sermons.)
On January 5, Mr. Stepakoff walked around the bazaar of speakers who came to take their turn sermonizing in front of the crowds of Trump supporters arriving for President Trump’s rally scheduled for the following day. Then he went sightseeing in DC. The 5th was rather uneventful.
On January 6, Michael Stepakoff ventured out to hear President Trump speak at the Ellipse. He stayed for most of the speech but left the area before President Trump concluded the address; he needed to use the restroom and had to return to his hotel. Afterward, Mr. Stepakoff made his way up Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. He made his way to the Capitol because he expected for there to be another protest event of Trump supporters — as President Trump encouraged his supporters during his speech to make their way towards the Capitol, to protest there. Indeed, there were large crowds of Trump supporters protesting in front of the Capitol when Mr. Stepakoff arrived. He took selfies in front of the Capitol and then followed the crowd of Trump supporters through open doors of the Capitol building.
After walking out, Mr. Stepakoff spent a few minutes on the lawn of the Capitol, again on his phone, and then went back to the hotel.
After arriving back at the hotel, Mr. Stepakoff began hearing reports of violence at the Trump rally that he had just left. Mr. Stepakoff immediately brushed the stories off as a combination of media embellishment and infiltration by Antifa or other malicious actors who were trying to make Trump supporters look bad.
Indeed, the videos shot by Mr. Stepakoff show peaceful Trump protestors. And, while Mr. Stepakoff was inside the Capitol hallway, there was no violence or destruction in his purview; instead, people were shaking hands with police officers and walking around peacefully.
He observed police officers interacting with the Trump supports entering the Capitol, but they were not asking the protestors to leave. The officers’ demeanor witnessed by Mr. Stepakoff did not indicate that the protestors who entered the Capitol were a threat to the officers or were committing crimes. Like many, Mr. Stepakoff was unaware that protesting inside the Capitol building was a criminal act.
That same evening, Michael Stepakoff decided to defend the peaceful Trump protestors he observed around him, even writing a Facebook post to comment on how his personal experience differed from what he saw on the news. “There was very little violence in this demonstration, despite the fake news images being shown, it was almost completely a peaceful demonstration within the context of the First Amendment,” he declared. It took Mr. Stepakoff a few weeks to comprehend the scope of everything that happened that day.
Michael Stepakoff: Rabbi Mike
Michael Stepakoff is a 56-year-old ordained messianic rabbi in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Mr. Stepakoff is fondly called “Rabbi Mike” by his congregation at Temple New Jerusalem, a messianic temple that he founded over 20 years ago in the Tampa Bay area.
Rabbi Mike conducts community outreach through public speaking and creative media, engaging in songwriting, book writing, event presentations, YouTube videos, Facebook engagement, and position papers on the topic of messianic Judaism — a Jewish cultural lifestyle that accepts Jesus as the Messiah and shares many of the same beliefs as Christianity.
Rabbi Mike also conducts weekly webinars and podcasts to reach Americans throughout the country who are interested in learning about messianic Judaism.
Outside the religious community, he is known as “Coach Mike.” He served as a head coach of youth sports in tackle football and basketball for over twelve years.
Michael Stepakoff was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Florida State University and went on to study law at the Stetson University College of Law. He comes from a solid and loving family, both in his upbringing and the family he leads today.
Mr. Stepakoff has been happily married to Tara Stepakoff for 27 years, with whom he proudly raised four wonderful children.
Before his rabbinical position, Mr. Stepakoff worked as an attorney. He practiced criminal defense from 1990 through 2000, representing indigent inner-city defendants for state-level offenses in Florida. He was ordained as a messianic rabbi in 1998 while still working as a lawyer. He transitioned into civil litigation in the year 2000 and practiced for six additional years, while simultaneously opening and running his own Temple. He left the legal profession and dedicated himself to religious life full-time in 2006. Of course, Mr. Stepakoff has no criminal record.
At his sentencing hearing, Mr. Stepakoff stated:
Entering the Capitol was a terrible mistake on my part. I deeply regret it. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. It was not done in defiance or as an act of civil disobedience, but because I failed to properly appreciate the situation.
I went up Pennsylvania Ave. amidst throngs of people, and I followed the crowd and entered thru an open door of the Capital building, in the plain view of law enforcement both inside and outside the Capital.
I note that as people were being allowed to flow into the Capital, no arrests were being made, no warnings and no instructions to leave the premises were being given, no violence was taking place, and there was a lot of friendly engagement between the police and the protestors. All of what I describe is clear to see in the CCTV video.
Although in hindsight, I now know that I was clearly mistaken, it seemed at the time, that the protest which I had come to DC to be a part of was continuing lawfully and without objection from law enforcement inside of the building in that lobby area called the “Senate Wing.”
I went to Washington to witness a historic event and to let my voice be heard as part of it. This seemed like a pivotal and historic moment in our country, and whatever the outcome I wanted to be a part of it, and be able to talk about it over livestream. If the GOP lost, so be it. There’s always another election in two years and then four years. That’s America.
I was horrified to learn of the chaos and violence that broke out, which contradicted and undermined the whole point of the gathering. I had no part in any of it, nor did I witness it. If I had witnessed it, I would have made an immediate U-turn and gone back to my hotel.
I accept that entry into the Capital was NOT lawful. I was wrong to think that it was. Even though I was only in there for a few minutes, in one small area, and all I did was lean up against a wall, take some selfies, and then I complimented the officers and thanked them for the service before exiting, still, I had no right to be there. I accept that. And that’s why I pled guilty to the unlawful parading charge.
I feel that I failed to properly assess and understand the situation, and I deeply regret it, and take full responsibility for that failure. Thank you.