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SoCal father of Marine killed in 2021 was arrested for protesting during State of the Union address

A demonstrator shouts during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on March 7, 2024.
A demonstrator shouts as President Biden delivers the State of the Union address at the Capitol in Washington. (Shawn Thew / EPA via Getty Images)

For the record:
1:48 p.m. March 19, 2024: An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname Nikoui as Nikou in several places.

Steve Nikoui had a few words for President Biden on Thursday night, and they led police to escort him out of the U.S. Capitol.

Nikoui, the father of a U.S. Marine killed in 2021 when U.S. military forces withdrew from Afghanistan, was arrested for shouting two words, again and again, during Biden's State of the Union address.

Nikoui's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, was one of 13 U.S. Marines killed during a suicide bombing on Aug. 26, 2021, at Hamid Karzai International Airport. Nikoui, 20, was from Norco and was assigned to a Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

Thursday night, Steve Nikoui was in the House of Representatives' visitor gallery as the guest of Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.). About an hour into Biden's speech, Steve Nikoui interrupted Biden as the president said, "America is safer today than when I took office."

"Abbey Gate," the 51-year-old Norco resident shouted as he stood up from his seat.

A military base outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Abbey Gate was the scene of a frantic evacuation as U.S. forces pulled out of the Afghanistan. A suicide bomber carrying 20 pounds of explosives packed with ball bearings killed more than 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members at the base.

U.S. Capitol Police warned Nikoui to stop, but he refused. He was removed from the chambers and arrested for "crowding, obstructing, or incommoding," according to a statement from the Capitol Police. "Disrupting the Congress and demonstrating in the Congressional Buildings is illegal," the statement said.

Afterward, Mast gave this reaction in a social media post on X: "For the last three SOTU speeches, Joe Biden REFUSED to say the names of the 13 U.S. servicemembers who were killed by his disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal. I couldn’t support this effort more. Say their names!”

"Americans deserve to know the truth about how Biden killed 13 U.S. servicemembers with his disastrous withdrawal," Mast wrote in another post. "They’re so afraid of you knowing the truth that they ARRESTED my #SOTU guest."

Nikoui was detained by the House sergeants-at-arms, Mast wrote. The Capitol Police said that typically the misdemeanor offense that Nikoui allegedly committed carries a $50 fine, but it's unclear whether he was forced to pay.

A month after Nikoui's death, his mother told the Times that she laid all the blame on Biden.

Shana Chappell had just returnedfrom Dover Air Force Base, where she watched caskets carried gently off a C-17 cargo plane — and where she met with Biden, the man she will not call president.

She told him that she didn’t want to talk to him but was doing so out of respect for her dead son. She told him she was never going to get to hug her son again. She told him that it was his fault.

“My son’s blood,” she told him, “is on your hands.”

Kareem Nikoui was one of five children and his mother would drive the 80s miles or so every weekend to pick him up while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton.

When she returned from Pendleton after dropping him off on her birthday in 2020, she found a note on her pillow.

“He said he was sorry he hadn’t bought me anything for my birthday,” Chappell recounts, “but money was tight for him at the moment.”

Then just a month before he was killed, Chappell received a steady stream of gifts from her son who was stationed in Kabul. Slippers and shoes. Soaps and lotions. Paintings he’d commissioned of her dogs, Niko, Komodo and King.

“This birthday, he had money to spend,” she said. “He just wanted to do something nice for his mom.”

Nikoui was one of four Marines killed in the 2021 bombing who hailed from Southern California. The other three included Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, and Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, and Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22.

Los Angeles Times reporters Robin Estrin, Maria L. La Ganga and Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.