Facebook was making him angry.
For weeks last spring and summer, Michael Sparks had watched video of protests for racial justice around the country with growing unease. He could not turn away from his phone, even as he feared it was changing him. He posted his outrage. He posted that he hated seeing what was happening to his country. He posted that it made him want to kill people.
The 43-year-old husband and father didn’t believe that he actually would, but he knew even just saying so fell short of the Christian witness he wanted to bring to the world. His pastor at Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church in Cecilia, Ky., advised him to leave Facebook. He considered it. Instead, the rage that had begun online led him to Washington, D.C., not long after the new year.
According to the FBI, Sparks was the first to enter the Capitol through a smashed window near the Ohio Clock Corridor…
The attack on the Capitol was for many involved a Christian insurrection, urged along by passages of scripture and culminating with prayers intoned in the occupied Senate. But as Sparks’s story shows, his faith played a more complicated role in his journey to Jan. 6. While his social media posts make clear he connected the election and his religious beliefs, his church community had also been a force cautioning him against letting online resentment take over his life. That tension — religious rhetoric as a goad to extremism on the one hand; community accountability as a safeguard against it on the other — highlights the complex influence some churches have had through the past tumultuous months, and may yet in the future…
His occupation at the time of his arrest is unclear. One relative said he has been working at an auto parts company. He once owned a small construction firm, but state corporation records indicate it is no longer active…
However, facets of his social media persona also present a reflective man struggling with fears of what he was becoming, in particular a 17-minute video he shared with his “church family.”
Speaking directly into the camera in July, Sparks acknowledged that his attitude online had become extreme. With an air both abashed for things he had said and hopeful that he had put those things behind him, he recounted multiple attempts at community intervention and vowed to resist forces that ultimately would overwhelm him.
“As you know I consider myself a devout Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, and that’s my passion, has been for many years now,” he said. “As of late, with everything that’s been going on, boy it’s been a rough time for me, honestly. And I’ve been fighting really hard with anger. And seeing everything that’s been going on — whew, it is just … it’s eatin’ my lunch.”
Much of his message was devoted to the importance of going to church, relying on others to keep one on the straight and narrow. He spoke often of gratitude and love for people in his life who had helped him through a hard time. But he could not let go of the notion of a world under siege.
The problem, as he saw it, began with Black Lives Matter, which he regarded as “an absolute racist … horrible … non-Christian organization.” The protests in dozens of cities following the death of George Floyd in police custody had driven him over the edge.
“I’m a patriot. I love the United States of America. I love our freedom,” he said in the video. “This is the greatest country in the entire world. And that being said, we are under attack. There’s — It’s good versus evil now.”
But it wasn’t just the fact of what was happening. It was also the way seeing it felt impossible to escape. “It’s really got me, and it has had me, very angry,” he said in the video. “Because if you watch, Facebook is where they’re feeding this anger and hatred. … They’ll find out what you are for or against and they’re gonna feed anger, that’s what they’re doing.”
That wasn’t the reason for the video, though.
“I want to apologize,” he continued. “I have definitely not been showing godly things on there. You know, I’ve even said as far as I would shoot that person in the head, I would shoot this person in the head. Whether I would or not doesn’t matter; I don’t need to get on there and spread this because I’m not showing the love of Christ.”
"Luke Ford reports all of the 'juicy' quotes, and has been doing it for years." (Marc B. Shapiro)
"This guy knows all the gossip, the ins and outs, the lashon hara of the Orthodox world. He’s an [expert] in... all the inner workings of the Orthodox world." (Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff)
"This generation's Hillel." (Nathan Cofnas)