By Joseph M. Hanneman
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, Stephen Friend was told.
Why would he—an FBI special agent—not want to hunt down and jail rioters who killed police officers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021?
The question, its justification, and its accuracy were equally troubling when they were presented to Friend by an FBI superior on Aug. 23, 2022.
“I responded back that no police officers were killed by any of the individuals who were charged with the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Friend recalled.
At the time a fairly recent transfer from Iowa to the FBI in Florida, Friend had just lodged a complaint against what he saw as heavy-handed tactics being planned against Jan. 6 suspects in Florida. Sitting with an FBI assistant special agent in charge, he had to correct some of the misinformation that was being used to justify those tactics.
“There was this pause on his part for a few seconds, like that was new information to him,” Friend recalled in an interview with The Epoch Times. “That was never anything that crossed his mind.”
It’s never easy being a conscientious objector.
This fork in the road for Special Agent Friend came out of his concern about the FBI’s plans to use a tactical team to arrest a misdemeanor Jan. 6 suspect. That kind of force against a nonviolent subject raised constitutional issues in Friend’s mind.
‘I Have an Oath of Office’
“I expressed that I have an oath of office,” Friend said during filming for an upcoming Epoch Times Jan. 6 documentary. “And while I’m aware that an arrest warrant is a legal order from a judge, I have an oath to protect the Constitution.
“I felt that us being outside the rules with following our case procedures was a potential breach of the Sixth Amendment for due process,” Friend said.
The arrestee in question had already been in contact with the FBI. He was interviewed by FBI agents. Yet plans were set to go in heavy for his arrest.
“There’s a whole array of methods that you can use to bring somebody into custody that doesn’t involve the use of a tactical team,” Friend said. “That really is the utmost, highest level of enforcement.”
Friend said he was told he was being a “bad team member” and should not report for work the next day. Then he was counted as absent without leave (AWOL). In short order, his security clearance was suspended. On Sept. 19, 2022, he was suspended from his job. His income dropped to zero. He was not allowed to seek outside work.
His convictions were about to be seriously tested.
The use-of-force objection ended up being just the beginning of Friend’s concerns with the FBI. He moved his family to Florida primarily to work on human trafficking investigations, a subject close to his heart.
The sexual trafficking of minors and young adults has exploded into an urgent national crisis, he said, but he was reassigned from that role to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), investigating and hunting down Jan. 6 suspects.
He also called out what he saw as a deviation from the FBI’s normal case-management protocols that he believes was employed to create the illusion that “domestic terrorism” is a much bigger issue than it actually is.
“They’ve chosen to open hundreds of cases and then spread them around the country,” Friend said. “That gives the impression that domestic terrorism is a nationwide threat, when really the numbers the FBI is touting stem from one incident on one day.
“That’s a problem for the country,” he said. “The FBI is supposed to stand for law and order, but instead we’re raising the temperature.”
Friend said he can sit across the table from someone with opposite political views and have a respectful conversation about corporate taxes or some other issue.
“That individual will never have that conversation with me if he thinks I’m a member of the Taliban,” he said. “The FBI is contributing to that by making the rest of the country think that half of its citizens are domestic terrorists. We’re never going to be able to have the conversations necessary to address some real important issues.”
The Epoch Times asked the FBI to comment on Friend’s case, but did not receive a reply by press time.
Process Equals Punishment
Friend said he is equally disturbed by how the “process” of Jan. 6 cases ends up punishing every suspect before they ever get a day in court.
“For many people who are being interviewed by the FBI, there’s no case to be built against them for January 6,” he said. “It might be stemming from an anonymous tip, where there’s no cell phone GPS information, no facial recognition software. The FBI is still knocking on that person’s door. That’s an undue stress for anybody.”
Friend interviewed one suspect who attended former President Donald Trump’s speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, then walked to the Capitol. He asked Capitol Police if he could enter and was told it was OK.
“He doesn’t even walk beyond the red velvet rope,” Friend said. “He walked to the Capitol for a few minutes and exited. We asked him, ‘Did you take anything?’ He told us apologetically that he had taken a free brochure that was available for people who were touring the Capitol. He’d taken it as a keepsake.
“Now that man told me this story inside a law office, which I’m sure was not free for him. He also told us that was the biggest mistake of his life because he’d already lost his career. He might never face jail time, and if he does, it will probably be minimal.
“But even if he never sits inside a jail; even if he’s never charged with a crime, he has been punished. That to me is wrong.”
‘A Toxic Stew’
Most FBI agents view Jan. 6 as a criminal matter for some individuals, Friend said. “We’re all fully aware that there has been a tendency to overcharge, to truly reach into the corners and try to scoop up everybody,” he said. “And the rumbling message that we’ve heard is that the FBI wants to make a point to charge every single person that possibly can be because of the magnitude of what happened on January 6.
“It’s a misallocation of resources,” Friend said. “I think that it is what happens when political agenda marries opportunism. There are some true believers, some people who genuinely feel that January 6 was the worst day in the history of the country. There are others who think it was just a four-hour disturbance.
“For the true believers, they feel they are on a righteous mission. And for others, they see this as the largest, most important case that they’re ever going to encounter in their FBI career. And it behooves them to jump on that if they have ambitions of promotion, awards, anything of the sort.
“When you have incentive to do that, combined with individuals who are true believers, that just makes for a toxic stew.”
For Friend, being an FBI special agent was his dream job. After earning a degree at the University of Notre Dame, he found his way into law enforcement in 2009. He worked as a sworn police officer in Savannah and Pooler, Georgia, for four years before joining the FBI in 2014.
He investigated violent crimes on Indian reservations in northeastern Nebraska for seven years before transferring to Daytona Beach to investigate crimes against children.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do,” Friend said. “And for eight years I got to do it. I really felt like I did a really good job. …I’m certainly not a trouble-making employee who is looking to burn the bridge up behind him as he walks out the door.”
Friend said he always kept politics out of his police work. But in early 2023, Washington politics came looking for him.
He was invited to sit for a transcribed interview with the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government in February 2023. Friend resigned from that Bureau the day of his testimony, making him free to speak to his concerns before Congress.
He said the GOP majority allowed him to present his story and air his concerns about the FBI, while the Democrat minority lobbed accusations at him after generating a 300-page report and leaking “cherry-picked” sections to friendly media. The report accused Friend and others of espousing “conspiracy theories” rather than providing proof.
A Grant, a Book, a Grift?
It was suggested that Friend was a grifter because, after losing his six-figure salary with the FBI during his suspension, he took a $5,000 stipend from a charity headed by former Trump aide and Epoch TV personality Kash Patel.
One Democrat attorney showed Friend a photograph of a Jan. 6 suspect wearing a helmet and body armor and asked, “Does that look like somebody who went there that day to do something good?” Friend recalled.
“‘He looks bad,’” Friend said he told the committee. “‘He probably did some really bad things that day. He probably should get arrested for them, get charged with them. It would really be a shame if we lost a trial because we violated his civil rights.’”
Friend said that was his “mic-drop moment” before Congress. “I wish that had been in front of an open hearing,” Friend said. “You know, I was really proud of that.”
Friend hopes to return for public testimony before the Weaponization subcommittee, along with fellow FBI whistleblowers Kyle Seraphin, Garret O’Boyle and George Hill.
Friend has a book on his experience due out in July from Post Hill Press. He started a new job as an analyst with the Center for Renewing America, where he already published an article titled, “Top 10 Systemic Issues Within the FBI.”
Friend said he did his best to make peace with his departure from the FBI starting with a talk with his attorney a few days before he was suspended.
“We kind of had our come-to-Jesus talk,” Friend said. “He said, ‘Have you accepted that they’re never going to bring you back?’ And I said, I said, ‘Yeah.’
“He said, ‘Because that’s a challenge that I have with a lot of my whistleblower clients. They ultimately want to get their job back. And you just have to know that’s not going to happen.’”