Jan. 6 hearings: Here’s what happened leading up to the day of insurrection
What connection did the Trump administration have to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers? Here is how far right groups came together
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol held its seventh hearing on Tuesday, with a focus on how far-right militant groups were prompted to come to Washington, D.C.
Witnesses included Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, one of the far right organizations present on the day, and Stephen Ayres, a rioter who entered the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Per The Washington Post, the hearing was led by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin, D-Md., and Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., vice chair of the committee, addressed what she says is the new strategy put forward by allies of former President Donald Trump — placing the blame on outside advisers like John Eastman, Sidney Powell and Rep. Scott Perry.
“The strategy is to blame people his advisers called, quote, the crazies, for what Donald Trump did. This, of course, is nonsense,” Cheney said, per CNN, adding that Trump is a 76-year-old man and “not an impressionable child.” She added: “Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”
During the hearing, Murphy said the committee will explore the chain of events starting from mid-December 2020 when the Electoral College came to a decision while looking at Trump’s key actions and the coordination between the White House, members of Congress and alt-right groups.
Leading up to Jan. 6
The committee played video testimonies from various White House staffers, including White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who admitted that there was no evidence of a fraudulent election. He even recommended Trump concede after seeing the Electoral College results, according to the aired footage from an eight-hour interview with the Jan. 6 select committee.
A clip of former Attorney General Bill Barr’s testimony was also played. He said that he “saw absolutely zero basis for that allegation” that the election was fraudulent, adding that it was “a grave disservice for the country” if voting machines were seized. Cipollone agreed with Barr’s conclusion about seizing the machines.
But the former president continued to make efforts to seize the voting machines and in a draft executive order from Dec. 16, Trump appointed a “Special Counsel to oversee” the operation to seize machines and charge people with crimes. He appointed Sidney Powell to the position.
“If you’re going to make these kind of claims,” said Cipollone said in a clip, “show the evidence.”
Raskin said there was no evidence, adding that Rudy Giuliani’s legal team had no reason to believe there was widespread voting fraud. The committee showed an email sent by Giuliani associate Bernard Kerik to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, which stated that “all the investigations” could be done later, but that first it was the “legislators that have to be moved.”
Jason Miller, former Trump campaign senior adviser, also admitted in a video testimony that the evidence was “thin” and filled with general documents.
What prompted Trump supporters to gather on Jan. 6?
On the night of Dec. 18, the situation became heated between Trump aides and outside advisers, namely Powell, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and Patrick Byrne, former Overstock CEO. Insults were thrown and conversations turned into yelling matches as Cipollone and other White House staffers continued to call for evidence, Cipollone testified.
The meeting ended at midnight, after which came the “explosive invitation,” Raskin said. Citing Peter Navarro’s 36-page report about election fraud, Trump tweeted that it was “statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election.”
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” the tweet read, which was shown by the committee.
In an anonymous Twitter employee’s prerecorded testimonial evidence, the employee said that Trump was using the platform to “speak directly” to alt-right organizations, but the former president remained largely unchecked by Twitter.
The anonymous employee said they believed that Trump’s tweet had staked a flag in D.C. for his supporters to come to.
Donell Harvin, former chief of Homeland Security, D.C., also testified to seeing various groups coming together.
“All the red flags went up at that point. When you have armed militia collaborating with white supremacy groups collaborating with conspiracy theory groups online, all towards the common goal, you started seeing what we call in terrorism a blended ideology,” Harvin said.
Raskin said that Trump’s tweet even brought the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers together with Trump allies like Flynn. The committee showed photographs of the former national security adviser with the indicted Roberto Minuta of the Oath Keepers.
The court then heard from two witnesses: Jason Van Tatenhove, a former member of the the Oath Keepers, and Stephen Ayres, a civilian who stormed the capitol.
Who is Jason Van Tatenhove?
Tatenhove, 47, met the Oath Keepers in 2014 and was soon hired. Although his plan was to write a tell-all about the militia group, similar to writer Hunter S. Thompson about the Hell’s Angels biker group, he began running the group’s blogs and social media.
It was when he walked into a grocery store in Eureka, Montana, and heard some of the group’s members talking about the Holocaust not being real that Tatenhove decided to quit, he told the committee.
During the questioning, Tatenhove described the group as a “violent militia,” with Jan. 6 as the best illustration to understand them. The group had drifted further and further right until they were “straight up racist,” Tatenhove said.
When Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., asked what this organization’s vision for America looks like, Tatenhove responded by saying it doesn’t necessarily include “the rule of law” but “violence,” “lies” and “deceit.”
Who is Stephen Ayres?
Describing himself as a family man, Ayres worked for a mechanic company in northeastern Ohio for 20 years.
He came to the Capitol after seeing chatter about the protest on his social media channels. Ayres said he believed the election was stolen and it upset him. Tagging along with a few friends, he made his way to D.C.
He said he believed at the time that there was still hope that the election could be overturned if Pence didn’t certify it. When Trump spoke at the rally, he “got everyone riled up” and told the crowd to go to the Capitol, although he didn’t walk with them, Ayres said.
At 4 p.m., when Trump told his supporters to leave, everyone started dispersing. Ayres said that if he had known there was no evidence of the claims the former president made, he would have never come to protest.
“There is no way you can keep something as big as that quiet,” said Ayres.
Since then, he has lost his job and sold his house. “It makes me mad because I was hanging on to every word he was saying. If I was doing it, hundreds of thousands of millions were doing it.”