‘My kid’s name resonated in that body’: Steve Nikoui’s first interview after State of the Union outburst

The father of a Marine killed during the Biden administration’s hasty Afghanistan exit was arrested after yelling his son’s name Thursday

Steve Nikoui and Congressman Brian Mast ahead of the 2024 State of the Union address
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Steve Nikoui’s son, Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, was killed alongside twelve other American service-members outside of Abbey Gate at the Kabul Airport during the Biden administration’s hasty exit of Afghanistan in August 2021.

That’s why Nikoui’s outburst, “Do you remember Abbey Gate,” interrupted the president’s State of the Union address on Thursday, roughly fifty-one minutes through the speech. Nikoui was escorted out, arrested, placed in handcuffs and charged with a misdemeanor that could see him in jail for up to ninety days.

“I remember what set me off,” Nikoui told The Spectator Friday night, in his first…

Steve Nikoui’s son, Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, was killed alongside twelve other American service-members outside of Abbey Gate at the Kabul Airport during the Biden administration’s hasty exit of Afghanistan in August 2021.

That’s why Nikoui’s outburst, “Do you remember Abbey Gate,” interrupted the president’s State of the Union address on Thursday, roughly fifty-one minutes through the speech. Nikoui was escorted out, arrested, placed in handcuffs and charged with a misdemeanor that could see him in jail for up to ninety days.

“I remember what set me off,” Nikoui told The Spectator Friday night, in his first interview since his arrest. “When he was talking about kids, in one moment, they’re glorifying these abortions… you know, he aborted my kid by giving him none of the things that he needed to do his job correctly, not listening to any of the advice of the professionals.”

“I said, ‘Do you remember Abbey Gate?’ I believe I said ‘Abbey Gate’ twice,” he recalled. “Then I said his name, and then I said ‘United States Marines,’ and I thought it was important to get Second Battalion, First Marines, so I did all that. I didn’t hear any boos, maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t. I felt like that was a blessing. All of us just ultimately want our country to come together.”

While Nikoui’s reaction has since influenced most coverage of the speech, he originally didn’t even know if he could bring himself to make it. “I’d been praying to get the strength to go to this event, because this is very excruciating. Although I had hoped that [President Biden] would honor our kids, just by saying their names and talking about the Afghanistan withdrawal and addressing it. Just going there is hard. And so while it was transpiring and we were waiting for tickets and I knew maybe I might be able to get some tickets, I prayed on it for a few weeks: ‘Lord, is this the right thing for me to do? Is this the right place for me to go? Is this the right place for me to be?’”

As with other State of the Union guests, Nikoui left his phone outside and brought along something to read — his son’s Bible, which now bears a huge signature from former president Donald Trump, who met with Nikoui and several other Gold Star families last summer.

“The Lord put me in a very pronounced seat, a pronounced position of the House,” he said. “I was directly… looking at the speaker, the vice president and the president. So for me, I’m honoring God. Look at this position the Lord has given, like I have got the best seats in the house.” As the evening progressed, he found himself thinking, of the many gathered politicians, “none of them would exist without men and women like my kid.

“They’re able to play their games because of kids like ours, and that kind of infuriated me… I felt like I was in the Coliseum. We’re all in the upper tier. And here are the players down there.”

He was struck by “the vileness of politics… and this is their soul, they live for this.”

As he watched, Nikoui found it hard to work out when, if at all, attendees were allowed to vocalize their opinions. “It seems like if you’re rooting for them, you’re OK. But if you criticize you’ll be arrested,” he said. “The Democrats were chanting ‘four more years, four more years.’ And they were very loud and boisterous. It seemed like there was a double standard.

“As I’m watching him talk and lie, and they’re cheering for him… I didn’t think you’d be arrested for saying something, I didn’t have any idea of that. I probably would not have done it. And who knows? Maybe if I wasn’t as loud, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten arrested. I don’t know.”

Nikoui recalled what happened right after he was detained, and the reaction of the officer who apprehended him. “He was charged up, I apologized to him. I said, ‘Hey, did I get you in trouble? I’m sorry.’ He says, ‘sir, you don’t have to apologize to me at all. You’ve done nothing wrong.’… There was no physical contact. I wasn’t resisting or anything.” Nikoui said that the officers were “very courteous.”

“They put the cuffs on me, he double locks them so they don’t get tightened,” he recounted. “I’m being escorted by the two that were standing by me and also by a lady, their sergeant. And we’re walking down many halls, getting down into the ground level, the basement. Down in the basement, there’s more officers now and they have like a sub, little central station, and this is where they’re going to frisk me, so they start frisking me three times. They have some trainees there so they utilize this time to get some experience on both trainees. So both trainees got to frisk me and then I got to get frisked by the the senior Capitol Police, you know, to double check because I was first frisked by the juniors and he had to double check their work. They got my information, Social Security number… I believe at that time they ran the [background check]… the cuffs are already on.

“I was probably there for like twenty-five minutes getting frisked and then they put me in like a van. And he said, ‘Hey, you know, don’t worry about it. It’s gonna be like, two blocks. We’ll be there real fast.’ Cuz I was like, ‘Hey, man, do you think he could give me like one more notch on my handcuffs because [the cuffs are] hurting me.’ He checks with his fingers in there. ‘It’s all right.’ And he says, ‘what I normally tell people if you don’t like the way the handcuffs feel then don’t get arrested.’ That’s great advice.”

Next Nikoui went through a couple of rounds of questioning. “At this time, they don’t know who I am,” he said. “The Capitol Police questions were just very basic. It wasn’t: ‘Hey, why did you do this? Why’d you do that?’ The second guy asked, ‘Why? Why did you do what you did?’ He wanted to talk about ‘why did you voice out’ and then I told him my story. And he was a soldier. Both him and the Secret Service were soldiers and one of the cops was a soldier. One was Air Force, so he’s not a soldier. The other two boys, maybe they were in the armed services or something.

“So as I’m telling him my story, and crying, he’s relating to me. He’s knowing. Because it’s hard for me to talk about my son, even though I’m arrested, I’m crying, talking about my kid. God bless him. I mean, I could just feel the love from him. He said, ‘Kareem Nikoui’ and ‘so tell me about your son.’ I tell him and every, every four minutes or five minutes, he would say, ‘Kareem.’ He would just say his name and look at me. He told me I was a great dad, he was very comforting. After ten minutes, he would just look at me, ‘I’m never gonna forget that name, Kareem, I’m never gonna forget that, I’m never going to forget your son.’”

Ahead of the address, Nikoui had hoped that his son and the other service-members would get a mention. “Several different congressmen gave up their seats and, you know, we were expecting to finally maybe get some sort of recognition,” he said. “Like they recognized several people. You know, honored people that were given abortion, but they didn’t honor our kids and their sacrifice at all.”

Nikoui was there courtesy of Florida representative Brian Mast, a decorated veteran of the Afghanistan war, who lost his legs serving in the Army. Besides Mast, a crew of exclusively Republican members of Congress, led by Speaker Mike Johnson, Darrell Issa, Michael McCaul and Mike Waltz, gave their guest tickets to other Gold Star families.

Nikoui expected the president knew that the Gold Star families would be present. “McCaul’s office had put out a press release. So he knew that there was at least one family member, Christy Shamblin, there,” he said. “I would have expected him to do no less than what I would do, at least acknowledge her, and maybe even finally give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s the full politician that, ‘hey, this is a political year, I’m going to circle back and I’m going to right the wrongs that I did in the beginning,’ because that would give him a lot of political leeway, ‘oh, he’s addressed it finally.’ For a lot of parents, that’s all we’re looking for. That was our accountability aspect of it. But he didn’t do any of that.”

It’s worth noting that disruptions of State of the Union speeches are somewhat frequent, and have grown in recent years. During one of Trump’s addresses, Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was murdered in the Parkland school shooting, yelled out as Trump spoke about protecting the Second Amendment — but, unlike Nikoui, he wasn’t arrested.

“I was inside the House of Representatives. And the laws that govern that body are different than what governs out in the street,” Nikoui said. “I was held to a different standard because I was in a different setting… I would imagine, from what the Capitol Police were telling me, or maybe I read it, that there are different rules for Congress. So I believe I was arrested for obstructing Congress.”

“The law’s the law. Do I wish I wasn’t arrested? Absolutely. That probably bothers me more than anything else, even if it’s dropped or whatever, I was still arrested. That’s not good. I never lie, I can’t lie, right? You can’t, have an application say ‘have you ever been arrested?’… I can’t say no, because I’ve been arrested.”

Nikoui has not done many interviews since the tragedy of losing his son. “My story is that the day that my son died, I did what I would imagine normal people would do — they would spend the next week, year, month, two years, whatever it takes, to heal themselves and heal their family before they went out on a grand tour of media. By doing that, I guess inevitably I somehow suppressed a lot of emotions and feelings. When you do an interview, almost every time the first thing they say is, ‘tell us about your son’ and I just start crying. And I can’t maintain my composure.

“That’s the whole reason. If I can’t ride a bike, I’m not going to get on a bike. If I look like a babbling baboon every time I do an interview, I’m just sobbing, then I’m not going to do interviews. So I just tried to stay in my wheelhouse, and I don’t convey myself very well in interviews because obviously I’ve maybe repressed some emotions or whatever. When you lose someone, you don’t forget about ’em, but you put ’em in a place where it enables you to move on. And every time someone says, ‘tell me about your son,’ it just opens that wound. I see 20 years of the kindness, the accomplishments, the relationships I had with him, and it just… I don’t think about that, I do it purposely because it hurts. Maybe ten years from now, I’ll be able to do that. For the first two years, there’s so many unanswered questions.”

The Gold Star families put out a joint statement with Issa almost immediately after Nikoui’s arrest. Steve “did nothing wrong. His frustration, anger, and disappointment follow more than two-and-a-half years of delay, denial and silence.” 

“Biden can ignore the families. Lie about them. Even arrest them,” Congressman Issa told The Spectator. “Nothing will stop us from getting the truth and holding him accountable for the blood on his hands. This isn’t over.”

While police initially estimated that Nikoui would be in jail for under an hour, he spent almost three hours at the Capitol Police office. As he was led out, Marlon Bateman, himself a veteran who’s been chaperoning the Gold Star families through the internecine politics of the Capitol, ran after him and told the officer he should leave him with him — the officer, however, refused and Nikoui was driven to the Capitol Police station, where he waived his Miranda Rights and told the officers that his outburst was spontaneous and not planned with Mast.

In order to be released Thursday night, he had to list two character references — Bateman and his son. He is set to have some powerful back-up, with several members of Congress making plans to appear on his forthcoming Zoom court appearance if needed. Mast even went to the police station and walked Nikoui out himself. 

Nikoui feels that the families of the thirteen service-members who died have been not been treated well by the administration. “There’s so much disrespect around everything. I feel like, you know, our government played us.

“I mean, here’s the second day my son dies. I’ve got these military guys at my house. ‘Do you gotta sign this paper?’ ‘No, you have to sign this paper and you’re leaving tomorrow.’ ‘Where am I going?’ I mean, there’s no booklet that they give to families when their kids join the Marines saying, ‘For sure, if your son or daughter loses their life, we will send someone to your house.’ You know, I had to spend six hours that day Googling that to find out that answer. They don’t tell you, ‘you’re gonna have to fly to Dover, Delaware, to do a dignified transfer.’ I had no idea what a dignified transfer was.

“When I look back at all of it, I’m here thinking, ‘I’m honoring our country, I’m honoring our government following these protocols.’ And when it was all said and done, after we came back from Dover and looking back, I realized they had taken advantage of me, they use me for their photo ops, basically to say, ‘this was a horrific thing, but look how we’re honoring or honoring with stateside praise, we’re doing a dignified transfer.’

“The bus that I rode to school on when I was a kid in 1972; those big yellow buses are what they transferred us from Motel Six to Dover. It was 110 degrees in blistering Delaware humid heat, and I wanted to wear a suit for my son. I was the only one there that was wearing a suit, and I was sweating in this frickin’ 1975, you know, yellow school bus that had been painted gray, and had no air conditioning, no seatbelts, it’s raining. The undocumented people that are coming across have luxury buses that they’re being transported in. They take us to a Motel Six that has fecal matter on the walls. There’s freaking cockroaches…There didn’t seem to be any protocol. When I came home, I felt violated. I felt used by our country. They used us for these photos ops to show that they care and that we’ve gotten all this honor and this and that, and that wasn’t the case at all. It was a photo opportunity, it was a lie.”

Nikoui is nonetheless grateful: “If I was in Russia, I’d be dead by now. Plain and simple. I’m not because of kids like our kids. I am alive. I was able to do that. Yeah, the long arm of the law got me, but I broke the law, you know? If I was in Russia, you wouldn’t be talking to me right now. I’d be dead.”

But Nikoui’s experiences with the government in recent years meant that he found it troubling to observe up close. “Going in with that, having respect for our government. That’s why that politics that I saw was bothering me so much, because that’s something that you really didn’t see when I was a kid. That’s something that is just in my later life I see,” he said.

“The one big thing about our president saying our kids’ names is not so much for me, is not that our president has honored them and that. It is that their name was said in that House. That’s it. Their names were said in that House of Representatives. That’s what it’s about, that that voice is echoed in that chamber. That’s the honor. Not so much the man, not the families, no one else. That their name was said in that chamber. That’s what I think all the parents were looking for. I watched three State of the Unions, and I’ve never heard them honor our kids. In that moment, I felt compelled that on this date, which might be his last State of the Union, might not, I don’t know, on this State of the Union, my kid’s name resonated in that body.

“The ultimate gratitude is saying their names in the house of Congress, in that body. I had a sense of closure that night. He’s proud of me for last night.”

So would Nikoui attend another State of the Union if invited? “Yeah. I’ll go. Even if Joe Biden is president, I’ll go.”