Jan. 6 committee shows how Trump’s words moved supporters, far-right groups

‘I was hanging on to every word he was saying,’ a Capitol rioter turned panel witness said of the former president

Stephen Ayres, left, and former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove wait to testify during the Jan. 6 select committee hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Stephen Ayres, left, and former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove wait to testify during the Jan. 6 select committee hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 12, 2022 at 6:32pm

Donald Trump’s actions had a profound influence on extremist groups focusing on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn his election loss and the former president wanted the crowd to march to the Capitol, the House select committee investigating the attack contended Tuesday.

Far-right extremist groups, including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, latched on to a tweet Trump sent at 1:42 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2020, that read in part: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” The tweet followed a long, contentious White House meeting in which outside lawyers, such as Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani, suggested Trump issue an executive order to seize voting machines and appoint Powell as a special counsel to probe the same false election fraud charges she was publicly pushing.

After Trump’s tweet, a cascade of movement to make Jan. 6 a large rally was set into motion. One of the two members who led Tuesday’s hearing, Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, contended Trump’s tweet resulted in “openly homicidal” online rhetoric. 

“Why don’t we just kill them? Every last democrat, down to the last man, woman, and child?” Raskin read from a post on one of the message boards, with another post saying: “It’s time for the DAY OF THE ROPE!” On Jan. 6, some of the pro-Trump rioters chanted about the then-vice president over his refusal to stop Congress’ mandatory electoral count: “Hang Mike Pence!”

On Dec. 19, Kelly Meggs, president of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, said on social media that he organized an alliance between his group, Florida Three Percenters and the Proud Boys to “work together and shut this sh*t down.”

Organizing for Jan. 6 began swiftly after the Dec. 19 Trump tweet.

Cindy Chafian asked to move the Women for America First protest to Jan. 6. Ali Alexander, who organized the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, registered a website, wildprotest.com, to provide details about transportation to Washington and speakers at the event. Alex Jones, a right-wing commentator, said Trump is “now calling on we the people to take action and to show our numbers.” Salty Cracker, a pro-Trump YouTuber, said there would be a “red wedding,” a reference to a violent massacre in the television show “Game of Thrones.”

A former Twitter employee interviewed by the committee said they were concerned about Trump’s online rhetoric and the influence he had on extremist groups. The employee said the Dec. 19 tweet felt as if “a mob was being organized.”

The panel sought to show the public, and perhaps federal prosecutors, the grasp Trump’s words and tweets had on his supporters who later invaded the Capitol by putting at the witness table Stephen Ayres, who illegally entered the building on Jan. 6 and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of disorderly conduct in a restricted building. Ayres, who has since recanted his views, said Trump’s speech got the crowd “riled up” and “we basically just followed what he said.” He ultimately left the Capitol when Trump put out a statement after 4 p.m. that day saying his supporters should stand down — after hours of pleading by his aides and family members.

“I was hanging on to every word he was saying,” Ayres said.

After the hearing, Ayres shared words with some of the officers who fought to defend the Capitol on Jan. 6, including Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who suffered significant injuries in the riot. Gonell has filed his retirement papers on the advice of his doctors because of the injuries he suffered that day, he said.

A draft tweet prepared by Trump’s staff but never posted, which was collected with other White House documents by the National Archives and shown by the committee Tuesday, indicates Trump was planning to announce his speech on Twitter. The draft tweet included this line: “March to the Capitol after. Stop the Steal!!!” 

Texts shown by the panel suggested Trump planned to call for the march to the Capitol during his Ellipse rally.

Kylie Kremer, one of the leaders of Women for America First, texted Mike Lindell, the CEO of My Pillow and a Trump confidant, using shorthand for “president of the United States”: “POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol” and “POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly,’” Kremer texted.

Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said after the select committee’s June 28 hearing that Trump tried to call one of the panel’s witnesses who has not publicly appeared before the committee. That witness did not answer the call and told their lawyer, who then informed the committee. Cheney said the committee sent that information to the Justice Department, adding that the panel takes efforts to influence witness testimony “very seriously.”

The eighth hearing is expected to take place next week and focus on a minute-by-minute breakdown of the insurrection and Trump’s role that day.