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Capitol Rioter & Former Oath Keeper Testify at Jan. 6 Hearing That Trump Radicalized Extremists

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Chilling live testimony at the seventh hearing of the January 6 House select committee hearing came from former Donald Trump supporters who detailed their own radicalization in response to Trump’s actions leading up to the deadly insurrection. “I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths. And what it was going to be was an armed revolution. I mean, people died that day. Law enforcement officers died this day. There was a gallows set up in front of the Capitol. This could have been the spark that started a new civil war, and no one would have won there,” said Jason Van Tatenhove, former spokesperson for right-wing extremist conspiracy group the Oath Keepers. “It makes me mad,” said Stephen Ayres, a former Trump supporter from Ohio who pleaded guilty last month for illegally entering the Capitol on January 6. “I was hanging on every word he was saying. Everything he was putting out, I was following it. If I was doing it, hundreds of thousands or millions of other people are doing it, or maybe even still doing it.” Both men expressed regret for their actions.

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StoryJan 06, 2023Two Years After Jan. 6, Capitol Attack Casts Long Shadow Over GOP That Allows Extremism to Fester
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Two live witnesses testified at Tuesday’s hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol: Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for Oath Keepers, and Stephen Ayres, a former Trump supporter who pleaded guilty last [month] for illegally entering the Capitol January 6th. Congressmember Jamie Raskin questioned Jason Van Tatenhove first.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: In the run-up to January 6, Stewart Rhodes publicly implored President Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, the 1807 law that allows the president to call up militias to put down a rebellion against the United States. And I want to get your thoughts about this in the context of your prior relationship with Stewart Rhodes.

I understand that you had conversations with Rhodes about the Insurrection Act. Why was he so fixated on that? And what did he think it would enable the Oath Keepers to do?

JASON VAN TATENHOVE: Well, I think it gave him a sense of legitimacy, that it was a path forward to move forward with his goals and agendas.

I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths. And what it was going to be was an armed revolution. I mean, people died that day. Law enforcement officers died this day. There was a gallows set up in front of the Capitol. This could have been the spark that started a new civil war, and no one would have won there. That would have been good for no one.

He was always looking for ways to legitimize what he was doing, whether by wrapping it in the trappings of “it’s not a militia, it’s a community preparedness team,” “we’re not a militia, we’re an educational outreach group,” “it’s a veterans’ support group.”

But, again, we’ve got to stop with this, this dishonesty and the mincing of words, and just call things for what they are. You know, he’s a militia leader. He had these grand visions of being a paramilitary leader. And the Insurrection Act would have given him a path forward with that.

You know, the fact that the president was communicating, whether directly or indirectly messaging, you know, kind of that gave him the nod. And all I can do is thank the gods that things did not go any worse that day.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: What did the Oath Keepers see in President Trump?

JASON VAN TATENHOVE: They saw a path forward that would have legitimacy. They saw opportunity, I think, in my opinion, to become a paramilitary force, you know?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Last week, the Department of Justice indicated that it has evidence of the Oath Keepers bringing not just firearms but explosives to Washington ahead of January 6th. And the committee has also learned that Stewart Rhodes stopped to buy weapons on his way to Washington and shipped roughly $7,000 worth of tactical gear to a January 6 rally planner in Virginia before the attack. Did you ever hear Rhodes discuss committing violence against elected political leaders?

JASON VAN TATENHOVE: Yeah, I mean, that went back from the very beginning of my tenure. One of the first assignments that he brought to me, wanting me to do as more of a graphic artist function, was to create a deck of cards. You may remember back to the conflict in the Middle East where our own military created a deck of cards, which was a who’s who of kind of the key players on the other side that they wanted to take out. And Stewart was very intrigued by that notion and influenced by it, I think, and he wanted me to create a deck of cards that would include different politicians, judges, including up to Hillary Clinton as the queen of hearts. This was a project that I refused to do.

But from the very start, we saw that. There was always the push for military training, including there were — there were courses in that community that went over explosives training. So, yeah, this all falls in line.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Mr. Van Tatenhove, you say in your very thoughtful written testimony that we received today that you fear what the next election cycle will bring. And you also say that we have been exceedingly lucky, in that we have not seen more bloodshed so far. I wonder if you would elaborate on those two statements.

JASON VAN TATENHOVE: I think, as far as the luck goes, we’ve had the potential from Bundy Ranch on. I mean, being boots on the ground at these — these standoffs — and they were standoffs, where there were firearms pointed across lines at federal law enforcement agencies, you know, whatever it may be with that particular standoff. But I do — I think we’ve gotten exceedingly lucky that more bloodshed did not happen, because the potential has been there from the start. And we got very lucky that the loss of life was — and as tragic as it is that we saw on January 6th, the potential was so much more. Again, all we have to look at is the iconic images of that day, with the gallows set up for Mike Pence, for the vice president of the United States, you know?

And I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring? If a president that’s willing to try to instill and encourage, to whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit and snake oil, and regardless of the human impact, what else is he going to do if he gets elected again? All bets are off at that point. And that’s a scary notion. I have three daughters; I have a granddaughter. And I fear for the world that they will inherit if we do not start holding these people to account.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Thank you for your testimony, Mr. Van Tatenhove.

Mr. Ayres, I first want to ask you about what finally caused you to leave on January the 6th. We know that the medieval-style combat with our police, the occupation of the building, this was going on for several hours until the president issued at 4:17 a tweet, I believe, that included a video, telling people to go home. Did you see that? And did that have any effect on what you were doing?

STEPHEN AYRES: Well, when we were there, as soon as that come out, everybody started talking about it. And that’s — it seemed like it started to disperse, you know, some of the crowd, obviously. You know, once we got back to the hotel room, we seen that it was still going on, but it definitely dispersed a lot of the crowd.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: And did you leave at that point?

STEPHEN AYRES: Yeah, we did. Yeah, we left.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: So, in other words, that was the key moment when you decided to leave, when President Trump told people to go home.

STEPHEN AYRES: Yeah, yeah. We left right when that come out.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: You were not a member of an organized group like the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys, as most of the crowd wasn’t. I wonder, on January 6th, was it your view that these far-right groups, like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and Three Percenters and others, were on your side? Did you have any reservations about marching with them and rallying with them?

STEPHEN AYRES: Well, I definitely didn’t have a problem, you know. I was probably following them online myself. You know, I liked — I thought, you know, “Hey, they’re on our team. Good.” That’s how I kind of looked at it at the time, you know, like I didn’t have a problem with it. I thought it was a good thing.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: I’m interested in hearing about what’s happened to you since the events of January 6th. You told the vice chair that you no longer believe Trump’s big lie about the election, but that’s what brought you originally to Washington. Looking back on it now, how do you reflect on the role that you played in the crowd that day? And what is going on in your life?

STEPHEN AYRES: Basically, you know, I lost my job. Since this all happened, you know, pretty much sold my house. So, everything that happened with the charges, you know, thank God, a lot of them did get dismissed, because I was just holding my phone. But at the same time, I was there. So, I mean, it definitely — it changed my life, you know, and not for the good. Definitely not for the — you know, for the better. Yeah, I mean, that’s really all I could say.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Well, President Trump is still promoting the big lie about the election. How does that make you feel?

STEPHEN AYRES: It makes me mad, because I was hanging on every word he was saying. Everything he was putting out, I was following it. I mean, if I was doing it, hundreds of thousands or millions of other people are doing it, or maybe even still doing it. It’s like he just said about that, you know, you got people still following and doing that. Who knows what the next election could come out? You know, they could end up being down the same path we are right now. I mean, just don’t know.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: Mr. Ayres, I see that your wife has joined you today. And welcome to Washington. We know this has been very difficult on you both and your family. What lessons, finally, do you want the American people to learn from the way you and your family have suffered as a result of these events?

STEPHEN AYRES: Biggest thing is I consider myself a family man, and I love my country. I don’t think any one man is bigger than either one of those. I think that’s what needed to be taken, you know. People dive into the politics. And for me, I felt like I had, you know, like horse blinders on. I was — I was locked in the whole time. Biggest thing for me is take the blinders off, make sure you step back and see what’s going on, before it’s too late.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Trump supporter Stephen Ayres and former Oath Keepers spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove, questioned by Congressmember Jamie Raskin. And this is Vice Chair Liz Cheney in her closing remarks.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: You will hear that Donald Trump never picked up the phone that day to order his administration to help. This is not ambiguous. He did not call the military. His secretary of defense received no order. He did not call his attorney general. He did not talk to the Department of Homeland Security. Mike Pence did all of those things. Donald Trump did not. We will walk through the events of January 6th next week minute by minute.

And one more item: After our last hearing, President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation, a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings. That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call, and instead alerted their lawyer to the call. Their lawyer alerted us, and this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice. Let me say one more time: We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Congressmember Liz Cheney, vice chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The next public hearing is next week, Thursday, July 21st. Democracy Now! will live-stream it at democracynow.org, as we have all the public hearings, and you can go to all of them at democracynow.org.

That does it for our show. Happy birthday to Carl Marxer! Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe.

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Two Years After Jan. 6, Capitol Attack Casts Long Shadow Over GOP That Allows Extremism to Fester

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