The Secret Life of the Beloved Kids Music Store Teacher Who Stormed the Capitol
The revelations about the prized teacher the store owner knew, or thought she knew, for almost ten years have been “a punch to the gut.”
Myrna Sislen, the owner of the popular Middle C music store in Washington, D.C.’s Tenleytown, learned that one of her teachers, a talented musician named Stephen Baker, was part of the riot at the Capitol when a sales associate alerted her to watch his livestream, under the name Stephen Ignoramus, from inside the Rotunda. She watched for two hours as he said again and again how much fun he was having as he recorded the mayhem around him.
The next day Sislen confronted Baker, telling him that he had put her in a terrible position, reflecting badly on her business. “You broke into the Capitol,” she says she told him.
“I didn’t break into anything. I walked in,” she says he replied.
Baker, who didn’t respond to emailed questions for this story, was not apologetic or remorseful, Sislen says. Her staff demanded she fire him—or they would walk and accuse her of harboring a person who it turns out had been posting homophobic rants and racist and anti-Semitic “jokes” for a year under his Stephen Ignoramus persona, which Sislen was not aware of until Jan. 6.
"Even if you were a Martian coming down you can see that there is anti-white, anti-Christian, anti-straight shit going on, regardless of who you are,” Ignoramus said in a YouTube post well before the riot. “I just happen to be a straight white Christian male. Straight, white, Christian American male. Nationalist. All of those things are under attack. [Facebook] is allowing those attacks to happen.”
A sales associate at Middle C, Dave Nuttycombe, saw those comments at the time because he’d been monitoring Ignoramus’ podcasts and videos, but Sislen says he didn’t bring them to her attention until after the riot because the teacher had so few followers, under a hundred.
“All of that is true,” Nuttycombe said in a subsequent email:
I started monitoring Steve's channel because I feared that a parent of a Middle C student might discover it and that would be bad news for Myrna and the store. When he began he was more like a troll, mocking liberals, cheering on right-wing nuts, generally laughing at how ‘stupid’ liberals are. All protected First Amendment stuff. And he had relatively few followers. He seemed harmless in the bigger picture, though still worrisome in terms of what a parent might think.
And part of my fascination was it seemed so very much out of character with the person I knew, who was gregarious, fun, seemingly open to other people. And a very good music teacher. I still don't understand it.
Several years ago, Steve took a month or so off to go to a friend's farm in the Shenandoah. It was apparently some kind of survivalist retreat. When he came back he had a different look in his eyes. Something had changed in him. Shortly after he started streaming on Youtube. (He came to me to ask for advice on cameras. And he was cagey about his channel, not telling us how to find it. Eventually, he told us his pseudonym, Stephen Ignoramus. That's when I logged on and was surprised at what he was saying.
“So perhaps I should have said something sooner,” Nuttycombe concluded, “but again, as obnoxious as he was, a free speech case could be made. He is still posting, hosting a flat-earther most recently. (Steve thinks the world is ‘flat and stationary.’)”
The revelations about the prized teacher she’s known‚ or thought she knew, for almost 10 years are “a punch to the gut,” says Sislen. Until the pandemic hit in March, Baker taught guitar, piano, and drums six days a week at the store. His students, mainly children, love him. “The guy is so good, he’s a brilliant teacher,” says Sislen.
Sislen’s disbelief that Baker had this other life as Ignoramus tempered her response, Sislen says. She couldn’t technically fire him since he was an independent contractor, so on Friday afternoon, two days after the riot, she started calling the parents of his 40 students, some 35 families, to advise that he would no longer be teaching through Middle C but that they could continue with him independently.
Only one family chose that option, but in the interim, one of her four store employees walked off the job, chiding Sislen in an email for not having immediately fired Baker for being an “anti-gay, misogynist, racist extremist.” In that same email, the employee who left told Sislen that if she ever has “that terrorist teaching children again at your school, be advised that I will do everything I can to make sure as many people as possible know about it, and I know a lot of people.” And the ex-employee told Sislen that he had reported Baker to the FBI, and given the FBI her cell number.
By the weekend, Sislen had been contacted by two separate FBI agents. “I told the FBI there was never any indication of anything political in any lesson situation. All I saw was brilliance. The parents said the same thing,” she says.
There were some clues, she later learned. He told one student that he had five months of food stored in his apartment. He said being a survivalist was his hobby. His religious fervor in pre-pandemic live performances around his love for Jesus struck some parents as excessive, but didn’t raise alarm bells, though in hindsight it tracks with Trump’s extraordinary hold on evangelicals and religious conservatives.
“I’m a little old lady—literally,” says Sislen, 75, a classical guitar player who performed all over the world before buying Middle C almost 19 years ago. “I have a community music store. I sell reeds and guitar strings and print music. This is insane,” she exclaims. Recounting her conversation with the FBI, she said, “Am I allowed to ask—are you going to arrest him?” One of the parents she spoke to said she should “tell this guy to lawyer up, they’ll be coming for him.”
“To be honest,” the FBI agent replied, “I don’t know yet.”
A local musician and actor, Navid Azeez, posted on Facebook about seeing his former bandmate in the psychedelic punk-hop outfit Picnibus streaming from the “cosplay chud-casting” in the Capitol while more than 30,000 people watched, noting that “MANY musicians in the DC area…would want to know this information. ”
Now, Stephen Ignoramus is famous, and maybe that’s part of the point for Baker, whatever price he ends up paying in lost work, lost friends, and possible jail time for his role in the insurrection. One of his now-former students, whose mother says Baker taught her daughter everything she knows about writing songs for guitar, wrote one that begins: “Why did you storm the Capitol? You’re not the teacher I knew.”
Another mother said her son had been taking lessons from Steve for seven years and burst out crying when told Steve wouldn’t be teaching him anymore. “And he never cries,” said his mother.
“These kids have been stuck at home for almost a year, and this was the highlight of their week,” says Sislen. “This is bad.”
Every family wanted to know what they could tell their child, says Sislen. “Along about the twentieth call, I settled on he had poor judgment, and when you have poor judgment, there are consequences. His judgment was piss poor. He had to see there was violence around him. Instead, he said this is fun.”