january 6 committee

When All Else Failed, Trump Turned to the January 6 Mob

Two witnesses tell the January 6 committee about extremist involvement in the Capitol Riot. Photo: Shutterstock

The seventh public hearing of the House select committee investigating January 6 focused on Donald Trump’s decision to put aside all his other strategies for overturning the 2020 election results and instead summon a mob to Washington to interfere with the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

The fulcrum for this decision was a long meeting of White House and campaign lawyers on December 18, 2021. Shortly after this meeting made it clear that the Rudy Giuliani–Sidney Powell election-fraud claims were going nowhere, Trump sent out his famous “will be wild!” tweet that galvanized the extremists who would form the backbone of the Capitol Riot. The New York Times explains:

Mr. Trump’s Twitter post in the early hours of Dec. 19, 2020, was the first time he publicly urged supporters to come to Washington on the day Congress was scheduled to certify the Electoral College results showing Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner of the presidential vote. His message — which concluded with, “Be there, will be wild!” — has long been seen as instrumental in drawing the crowds that attended a pro-Trump rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6 and then marched to the Capitol.

But the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the riot and the parallel inquiry by the House select committee have increasingly shown how Mr. Trump’s post was a powerful catalyst, particularly for far-right militants who believed he was facing his final chance to reverse defeat and whose role in fomenting the violence has come under intense scrutiny.

The latest testimony establishes that the tweet instantly focused extremist groups — notably the street-fighting storm troopers of the Proud Boys and the paramilitary revolutionists of the Oath Keepers — on the date and location of the event Trump announced. These groups had never worked together before, but as select committee member Jamie Raskin explained, “in the weeks before January 6, leaders in both the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers worked with Trump allies,” notably Michael Flynn (who had been in the December 18 meeting) and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone. (Flynn and Stone both later received pardons from Trump.) Past plans for scattered protests dissolved, and it became Trump’s show at the Ellipse on January 6.

Subsequent testimony showed that Trump understood the forces he had unleashed and passed up opportunities to rein them in. On the evening of January 5, when some of the most extremist protesters held a preliminary rally near the White House led by right-wing rabble-rousers like Alex Jones and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, Trump and some of his staff listened to the clearly insurrectionary references of speakers to “1776,” and the then-president seemed very pleased. There was also evidence that Trump planned all along to lead the rioters to the Capitol, notes the Times:

President Donald J. Trump planned to lead a march to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but wanted it to look like a spontaneous decision, people involved in the plans told the committee investigating the mob violence that disrupted the certification of the 2020 election.

According to documents obtained from the National Archives, Mr. Trump reviewed a tweet that said: “I will be making a Big Speech at 10AM on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!”

The live witnesses at the seventh hearing of the select committee were former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove, who testified that the organization was in fact a fringe militia group plotting “armed revolution,” and Stephen Ayres, who participated in the Capitol Riot without any organizational sponsorship because he thought that’s what Trump wanted him to do.

Ayres was especially impressive as a regular-guy schmo who got caught up in the excitement of Trump’s stolen election fables and is now paying a heavy price for listening to the 45th president (he lost his job and is facing criminal charges for his involvement in the insurrection). He testified that once Trump finally told the rioters to go home, he immediately obeyed, which suggests that an earlier statement by the president to stand down might have saved lives and reduced the threat of great carnage.

This hearing continued the select committee’s careful efforts to dot i’s and cross t’s about Trump’s personal complicity in everything that happened on January 6. Listening to Jamie Raskin question the witnesses, you had to wonder again what he might have been able to do with such evidence when he presented the House’s case for impeaching Trump for inciting the Capitol Riot. Perhaps Senate Republicans would have still acquitted the former president on grounds that a post-presidential impeachment was unconstitutional. But there would have been fewer of them willing to exonerate his treacherous conduct. He tried everything other than violence to stay in office. And then he called in those he knew would get violent on his behalf.

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When All Else Failed, Trump Turned to the January 6 Mob