The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack gathered for its a seventh public hearing on Tuesday — this time to establish the existence of ties between the former president, Donald Trump, his closest advisors, and members of far-right militant groups who had gathered in Washington D.C. at his request to march on the Capitol.
The committee, assembled publicly for the first time this month, asserted that, while violent organizations such as the Proud Boys and OathKeepers operated independently on the ground, their efforts were crucial to a multi-pronged plan hatched by the president to reverse the election with the help of personal advisors known by some inside the White House as “the crazies.” An ex-Twitter employee testified anonymously before the committee as well, describing how Twitter’s leaders disregarded alarms over violent rhetoric inspired by the then-president.
In opening remarks, Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat of Maryland, described the plan to halt the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6 as being comprised of “three rings.” The first, he said, was an effort underway inside the White House to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to take unilateral action to reject the votes. Had this undertaking been unsuccessful, Raskin said, it would have furnished Trump with multiple avenues for retaining power.
“American carnage: That’s Donald Trump’s true legacy,” Raskin said.
The second, Raskin said, was Trump working to mobilize and embolden “domestic violent extremists” such as the Proud Boys, helping to build their numbers online by painting a target on federal lawmakers’ backs.
In live testimony, Jason Van Tatenhove, the former national spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, said the organization, which claims to be comprised of “tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement officials,” viewed Trump’s claims as a “nod,” an approval to engage in violence.
Once a close aide to Oath Keeper’s founder Stewart Rhodes, who has himself been charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the insurrection, Tatenhove said that while the group outwardly rejects the term, it is, in fact, a “violent militia,” welcoming of “white nationalists” and “straight-up racists.”
Tatenhove, whose association with the group began around 2014, went on to describe Rhodes as a “military leader” who viewed Trump’s incitement as legitimizing his mission. “I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths, and what it was going to be was an armed revolution, Tatenhove said.
“People died that day. Law enforcement officers died that day. This could have been the spark that started a new civil war and no one would have won there,” he said.
The mob that gathered near the Capitol at Trump’s request that day represented stage three of Trump’s plot, Raskin said, a conspiracy born of Trump’s frustration with the alternative recourses offered up by his outside advisors — among them, campaign lawyer Sidney Powell — which included an executive order directing the military to seize voting machines.
Powell and other close advisors had been working in public and private since the election to promote baseless allegations of voter fraud. She and other Trump cronies are known to have gathered at the White House on the evening of Dec. 18. Solutions offered to the president during that clandestine meeting reportedly included declaring a state of emergency, giving Powell top secret clearance, and allowing her access to voter files and the title of “special counsel” for the purposes of investigating voter fraud.
Dissatisfied with these options, the select committee said, Trump landed on a different plan the next day — hoping to invalidate the election results by calling for a “large and wild crowd” to storm the Capitol and “stop the steal” at a rally the following month.
In recorded testimony aired Tuesday, Donell Harvin, the former chief of Homeland Security for D.C., said Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet urging supporters to join him for a “wild” rally in the nation’s capitol prompted “very, very violent individuals” to organize for the event, according to open-source intelligence reviewed at the time. “All the red flags went up at that point.”
Raskin described the violent rhetoric resulting from Trump’s call as “openly homicidal.” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, another Democratic member of the committee from Florida, said the tweet “served as a call to action, and in some cases, as a call to arms for many of President Trump’s most loyal supporters.”
A former Twitter employee interviewed by the committee on the condition of anonymity said that they had urged their bosses to no avail about the levels of violence being discussed on the platform as a result of Trump’s tweets. The employee said they had issued the warning the night before the insurrection in an internal work chatroom, saying, “When people are shooting each other tomorrow, I will try and rest in the knowledge that we tried.”
The employee, whose voice was disguised to protect their identity, said that Twitter bosses repeatedly ignored the warnings about the platform’s role in instigating the violence to come.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican of Wyoming serving as vice chair of the committee, said the hearings have had a discernible effect on Trump loyalists initially resolved to “deny and delay” its findings. There now appears to be a “general recognition,” she said, that everyone close to the president, from key Justice Department officials, to his own White House advisors and counsel, had bluntly advised him that no evidence existed showing the election was stolen.
But resolved to hear a different answer, Trump engaged with a slew of outside advisors willing and able to perpetuate his dearly held conspiracy theories about the election.
In light of the hearings, many of Trump’s staunchest defenders have switched gears, Cheney said, arguing now that he was bamboozled by this group of opportunistic lawyers who have no formal ties to the administration. “In this version, the president was, quote, ‘poorly served’ by these outside advisors,” she said.
“This, of course, is nonsense,” she said. “President Trump is a 76-year-old man, not an impressionable child.”