Jan. 6 rioter, former Oath Keepers spokesman testify in seventh hearing
Updated July 12, 2022 at 5:23 PM ET
The committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack held its seventh public hearing Tuesday, focusing on the role right-wing extremist groups – such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers – played in planning the deadly siege.
The committee connected the dots between these groups and the effort to overturn the 2020 election – and argued that a tweet from former President Donald Trump spurred some in those groups to organize around Jan. 6, 2021.
This story was updated throughout the hearing.
- To recap the committee's case detailing the mobilization of extremist groups after then-President Trump sent a tweet calling for supporters to protest in D.C. on Jan. 6 click here
- To recap the panel's sixth hearing and testimony related to extremist groups click here
- To read more about a confrontation between outside advisers and White House lawyers that preceded Trump's tweet invitation click here
Update 5:22 p.m. ET
Twitter responds: Twitter issued a response to the claims raised at the hearing that the platform was used by the former president to rally extremist groups on Jan. 6.
"We are clear-eyed about our role in the broader information ecosystem in regards to the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, and while we continue to examine how we can improve moving forward, the fact remains that we took unprecedented steps and invested significant resources to prepare for and respond to the threats that emerged during the 2020 US election," according to a Twitter spokesperson in a statement.
The Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups were banned from Twitter in 2018 and 2020 respectively, and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio had already been permanently suspended long before the insurrection.
The company maintains that it monitored activity both from the former president and his followers in the days leading up to the events, including blocking the phrase #StopTheSteal from use.
The spokesperson noted that there can be difficulty in determining the ways that vague phrases may be interpreted in the absence of law enforcement reporting that provides broader context.
Update 4:24 p.m. ET
The damage inflicted on Jan. 6 persists: Committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin stressed that an insurrection is not an abstract idea, but a very real event with tangible and life-changing impacts. He mentioned that hundreds of people were injured on Jan. 6, including more than 150 police officers — some of whom testified at the committee's first hearing last year and have been present at most of this year's.
Among them is Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, an Army veteran who spent a year on combat duty in the Iraq war and 16 years on the Capitol police force. Gonnell, who testified before the committee last year, said that nothing he experienced in combat could have prepared him for what he faced on Jan. 6.
Gonell was badly wounded in the attack. As Raskin described it, he was beaten, punched, bushed, kicked, stomped on and sprayed with chemical irritants.
Gonnell described his lingering physical and psychological wounds in an NPR interview on the one-year anniversary of the riot. He returned to work after 10 months in an administrative position because he still couldn't raise his left arm, and has been in therapy for his mental health.
In the committee's first hearing on July 27, 2021, Gonell said he had sustained injuries on both of his hands, his left shoulder, left calf and right foot. He underwent bone fusion surgery on his right foot and had just learned he needed surgery on his left shoulder.
"I've been on medical and administrative leave for much of the past six months, and I expect to need further rehabilitation for possibly more than a year," he said.
Raskin provided an update on Tuesday: On June 28, Gonell's medical team told him that the permanent injuries he suffered to his left shoulder and right foot will make it impossible for him to continue in police work.
"Sgt. Gonell, we wish you and your family all the best, we are here for you, we salute you for your valor, your eloquence and your beautiful commitment to America," an audibly emotional Raskin said. Then he added:
"I wonder what former President Trump would say to someone like Sgt. Gonell, who must now go about remaking his life. I wonder if he could even understand what motivated a patriot like Sgt. Gonell."
Update 4:15 p.m. ET
Trump tried to call a committee witness, Cheney says: President Trump attempted to call a witness in the Jan. 6 investigation following the last hearing on June 28 with Cassidy Hutchinson, House Jan. 6 committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney said in her closing statement.
Cheney said it was a witness who has yet to appear in the hearings and didn't take the call but alerted their lawyer, who told the committee. Cheney said the committee supplied the information to the Justice Department.
"We will take any effort to influence witness testimony very seriously," she said.
Update 3:46 p.m. ET
Trump's former campaign manager blamed his rhetoric: The impact of Trump's speech at the ellipse was apparent to his former campaign manager Brad Parscale, according to copies of texts he exchanged with rally organizer Katrina Pierson on the evening of Jan. 6.
He described the situation as "a sitting president asking for civil war," adding that "This week I feel guilty for helping him win" in 2016.
Pierson responded that he did what he felt right at the time, to which Parscale replied, "Yeah. But a woman is dead."
"If I was Trump and knew my rhetoric killed someone," he later wrote. Pierson responded that it wasn't the rhetoric.
"Katrina," he texted. "Yes it was."
Update 3:42 p.m. ET:
Trump's last-minute speech revisions escalated tensions: The committee reconstructed how Trump edited his Ellipse speech up until the last minute and then went off-script, based on documents from the National Archives and testimony from witnesses.
Trump made changes to the script the night before and the morning of Jan. 6, according to Rep. Stephanie Murphy. One of his first changes was to insert the lines "Together we will stop the steal," and "All of us ... here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats. Our country has had enough, we will not take it anymore."
The next morning, he spoke to chief speechwriter Stephen Miller for nearly half an hour, after which he inserted this line: "We will see whether Mike Pence enters history as a truly great and courageous leader. All he has to do is refer the illegally submitted electoral votes back to the states that were given false and fraudulent information where they want to recertify."
Speechwriters cut that line after then-Trump senior adviser Eric Herschmann and others objected to it. But later that morning, after the famously tense phone call in which Trump pressured Pence not to certify the election results — and erupted in anger when Pence refused — speechwriters were instructed to "reinsert the Mike Pence lines," Murphy said.
Trump made changes to his speech even as he delivered it, ad-libbing references to fighting and the need for people to have courage and be strong. The word "peacefully" was in the written version and used only once, Murphy pointed out, adding that this rhetoric stoked tensions and riled up supporters even more.
"A single scripted reference in the speech to Mike Pence became eight, a single scripted reference to rally-goers marching to the Capitol became four, with President Trump ad-libbing that he would be joining the protesters at the Capitol."
Update 3:30 p.m. ET:
Trump's intent to call for the march to the Capitol was a secret: Rep. Stephanie Murphy expanded on the committee's case showing that Trump and some White House officials knew about the potential for violence on Jan. 6 but didn't attempt to cancel or modify their plans.
They aired testimony from Katrina Pierson, a former Trump campaign spokesperson and an organizer of the Jan. 6 rally. She grew increasingly apprehensive after learning that the proposed speaking lineup included far-right activists including Roger Stone, Infowars founder Alex Jones and "Stop the Steal" founder Ali Alexander.
She reached out to Meadows on Jan. 2, writing that "Things have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction." Phone records show Meadows called her eight minutes later. Pierson recounted that she had expressed her concerns to Meadows, mentioning the heated rhetoric of Jones and Alexander in particular and noting that they had already entered the Georgia state capitol to protest results of the 2020 election.
Despite such concerns, White House officials and rally organizers did not modify their plans or attempt to lower the temperature among Trump supporters. Murphy presented evidence showing that Trump had decided to call on protesters to march to the Capitol, but chose not to announce it until his speech on the morning of Jan. 6.
Pierson wrote in an email that Trump's plan was to hold an "intimate" rally at the Ellipse before calling on everyone to march to the Capitol. And the committee obtained access to a draft tweet telling people to arrive early and march to the Capitol after — which the president saw but never sent. It also showed texts from two people involved in the rally to others, saying that there were plans to order protesters to march to the Capitol, but that they had to be kept under wraps.
The committee showed an undated draft tweet that went unsent from Trump where he would have publicly said that there would be a march to the Capitol and a text message from rally organizer Kylie Kramer on Jan. 4 in which she told My Pillow CEO and election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell that Trump would "call for it unexpectedly" but that they didn't want word to get out so there wouldn't be a counter march. A Jan. 5 text from rally organizer Ali Alexander said to be to a conservative journalist that said Trump intended to call on supporters to march to the Capitol.
Murphy painted Trump's speech as "not a spontaneous call to action, but a deliberate strategy decided upon in advance by the president."
Update 3:17 p.m. ET:
GOP House members who met with Trump: Rep. Stephanie Murphy said that the Trump administration worked closely with a group of members of Congress to contest the results of the 2020 election and to "encourage members of the public to fight the outcome on Jan. 6."
The former president's schedule obtained by the committee shows a private meeting with members on Dec. 21. White House visitor logs also obtained by the committee show members present for that meeting included Republican Reps. Brian Babin, of Texas; Andy Bigg of Arizona; Matt Gaetz of Florida; Louie Gohmert of Texas; Paul Gosar of Arizona; Andy Harris of Maryland; Jody Hice of Georgia; Jim Jordan of Ohio; Scott Perry of Pennsylvania; and Republican Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia.
Murphy said part of discussion focused on the role of the vice president in the certification of the votes.
Update 3:03 p.m. ET:
Extremist groups' coordination raised red flags: The Jan. 6 committee presented evidence of coordination among far-right groups whose leaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy, the organizer of President Trump's "stop the steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and outside Trump allies in the leadup to the attack on the Capitol.
In the hours after former Trump sent a tweet on Dec. 19, 2020, summoning supporters to Washington for Jan. 6, Kelly Meggs, the head of the Florida Oath Keepers, posted a Facebook message stating that his group would "work together" with the Three-Percenters and Proud Boys, other right-wing extremist groups.
Rep. Jamie Raskin said that Meggs called Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio for several minutes on Dec. 19.
Raskin showed messages from an encrypted chat he said was launched by the Proud Boys on Dec. 20 with operational details for Jan. 6 planning.
Six days before one-time Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn participated in an Oval Office meeting focused on overturning the election, he was photographed with key members of the Oath Keepers outside the Capitol.
The committee revealed an encrypted chat called F.O.S. (Friends of Roger Stone) that included Tarrio, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and Ali Alexander, organizer of Trump's Stop the Steal rally at the Ellipse. The former lawyer for the Oath Keepers said the three were at the center of organizing post-election protests in Washington.
Donell Harvin, former D.C. homeland security chief, said his agency had intelligence of operational coordination among violent individuals organizing to come to the city for Jan. 6.
"All the red flags went up," he said.
Update 2:46 p.m. ET:
Two witnesses sit for live testimony: Stephen Ayres, who faced a number of charges for his actions on Jan. 6, 2021, and pleaded guilty to one charge of disorderly and disruptive conduct, has taken his seat to testify at today's hearing, alongside former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove. The committee did not disclose the identity of witnesses in advance for security and to avoid intimidation.
Van Tatenhove worked for the group starting in 2014 for about two years. He was "only an employee," not a member of the group, and "purged my life of that world years ago," he said in an interview with KDVR TV in Denver.
Federal investigators say Ayres, who is 38 years old from Champion, Ohio, and two unidentified friends filmed a video in their hotel room to "share what really happened" at the Capitol and posted it on YouTube following the riot. According to an FBI affidavit, at some point during the video, Ayres' male friend claimed that "Antifa breached" the Capitol and that police "escorted" them into the building. In response, Ayers agreed that the entire incident was "definitely planned out," according to the FBI report.
Ayres pleaded guilty to one charge, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds. Sentencing is set for Sept. 13.
Update 2:33 p.m. ET:
Right-wing media stoked 'wild' protest: On Dec. 19, the former president tweeted "Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 election. Big protest in D.C. on january 6th. Be there, will be wild!"
This tweet and its message proliferated across right-wing media platforms from print to broadcast, Rep. Jamie Raskin said.
"He is now calling for we the people to take actions and to show our numbers," said Alex Jones, a far-right radio host, in a video. "The time for games is over. The time for action is now."
A right-wing commentator told viewers: "We will only be saved by millions of Americans moving to Washington, occupying the entire area, if necessary, storming into the Capitol..."
A pro-Trump Youtuber repeated that Jan. 6 would be a "red wedding," a reference to "mass slaughter," Raskin said.
A former Twitter employee testified anonymously to the committee that they, and other Twitter employees, were concerned about Trump's use of the social media platform to directly communicate with right-wing extremist groups.
"If former President Donald Trump was any other user, he would have been permanently suspended a very long time ago," the employee said.
Update 2:21 p.m. ET:
An 'unhinged' meeting in the White House: Rep. Jamie Raskin outlined the details of an unplanned, contentious Dec. 18 meeting that began in the Oval Office and – some increasingly tense six hours later – wound up in the president's private residence.
As he described it, attorney Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne showed up at the White House, gained access from a junior staffer and made their way to the Oval Office, where they were able to speak with the president alone for more than 10 minutes before White House officials learned of the gathering and ran into the room.
"What ensued was a heated and profane clash between this group and President Trump's White House advisers, who traded personal insults, accusations of disloyalty to the president and even challenges to physically fight," Raskin said, adding that the meeting was best described by the testimony of those who were in the room — as well as those outside who could hear the shouting coming from inside.
The outside advisers met with Trump for 10 to 15 minutes before, as Powell put it, "I bet Pat Cipollone set a new land speed record" trying to intervene. Cipollone testified that he didn't think they were providing the president with good advice and wasn't sure how they got into the building (He recalled the first thing he said to the "Overstock person" was "Who are you?"
Former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said Flynn brought diagrams to show a conspiracy theory involving Venezuela and communications via internet-connected thermostats. He recalled siding with Cipollone against the outside advisers, asking repeatedly for them to provide evidence for their claims and testifying that they showed "a general disregard for the importance of backing up what you say with the facts."
The rhetoric and volume escalated. Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, recalled telling the White House officials that they weren't tough enough, calling them a pejorative term. After the meeting finally ended around midnight, Cassidy Hutchinson, the Meadows aide who testified at the most recent hearing, wrote in a text message that "the West Wing is UNHINGED," and captured a photo of Meadows escorting Giuliani off the grounds.
It was in the hours after this meeting that Trump tweeted that his supporters should come to Washington on Jan. 6, telling them: "Be there, will be wild!"
Update 1:54 p.m. ET:
'That's a terrible idea': Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told the committee that he was "vehemently opposed" to the potential appointment of Sidney Powell as special counsel to oversee seizing voting machines and potential criminal charges as part of a plan to overturn the results of the election.
"To have the federal government seize voting machines? That's a terrible idea for the country," Cipollone said during his taped interview, noting that there is already an established way to contest elections.
"I don't understand why we even have to tell you why that's a bad idea for the country, it's a terrible idea."
Update 1:44 p.m. ET:
Top White House aides were ready to concede: Those closest to Trump in the White House considered the 2020 election over — and lost — by mid-December, according to new video testimony released on Tuesday.
Dozens of lawsuits had failed to find evidence of voter fraud widespread enough to affect the outcome by the time the Electoral College formally cast its votes in favor of Biden on Dec. 14, 2020. The following day, Republican Mitch McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, congratulated Biden as the president-elect and announced that "the Electoral College has spoken."
In his testimony on Friday played at Tuesday's hearing, Cipollone said that he also believed at the time that there was no evidence of widespread fraud and that Trump should have conceded the election, saying "That would be in line with my thinking on these things."
He also said then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows shared that view, too, adding he had heard him express that sentiment around the same time and not as a one-time statement.
Update 1:24 p.m. ET:
A sneak peek of future hearings: Cheney said in opening remarks that former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone's testimony behind closed doors to the committee last week "met expectations."
The next hearing will focus on Trump's behavior during the violence of Jan. 6, according to Cheney. That hearing, per committee aides, is expected to be scheduled for next week.
But Cipollone's testimony will not be saved for that hearing; segments of his interview will be featured today.
Update 1:22 p.m. ET:
Cheney opens: Committee Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo, said in opening remarks that over the course of the seven hearings, the strategy for defending Trump has changed among his supporters.
"Now the argument seems to be that President Trump was manipulated by others outside the administration," Cheney said. "President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child."
Cheney recapped the argument that Trump was shown evidence that the election was not stolen and debunking voter fraud conspiracies.
The vice chair said that in this hearing, viewers will see committee evidence that Trump's legal team knew that they lacked "actual evidence sufficient to prove the election was stolen. But they went ahead by January 6 anyway" and, second, Trump's deception of Americans across the country who did not have access to the same data that he did.
Original story posted at 5 a.m. ET:
The House Jan. 6 committee holds its seventh hearing on its months-long investigation Tuesday, focusing on the involvement of extremist groups like the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the QAnon movement and the groups' possible connection to Trump associates, including Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
Former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove will testify. Van Tatenhove left the organization well before the Capitol insurrection and will appear as a live witness to give a historical perspective on the group.
Check back here for live updates throughout Tuesday's hearing, and watch the livestream here beginning at 1 p.m. ET:
The hearing will also look at a Dec. 19 tweet from former President Donald Trump that read: "Big protests in D.C. on January 6. Be there. Will be wild!" The tweet is viewed as "a pivotal moment that spurred a chain of events, including a pre-planning by the Proud Boys," according to a committee aide.
Tuesday's hearing will be led by Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Jamie Raskin.
Beyond Van Tatenhove, committee aides declined to provide insight into other witnesses or how many will appear, citing security and harassment concerns.
"We'll give the American public a more complete understanding of the final phase of President Trump and his supporter's use of radical measures to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and overturn the 2020 election," a committee aide told reporters, adding that there will also be a focus on a pressure campaign from members of Congress on the vice president to not certify the election.
Proud Boys and Oath Keepers members have faced charges in connection with the Jan. 6 attack
Since its first hearing on its investigation last month, the panel has pointed to the involvement of both the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers on Jan. 6.
"In our hearings to come, we will show specifically how a group of Proud Boys led a mob into the Capitol building on January 6," committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said during opening statements.
Van Tatenhove, the former Oath Keepers spokesman testifying Tuesday, started working for the group in 2014 for about two years. He was "only an employee," not a member of the group, and "purged my life of that world years ago," he told Denver TV station KDVR in an interview that aired on CNN Monday.
Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have faced charges in connection with the Jan. 6 attack over the past year and, most recently, federal prosecutors have alleged that an Oath Keeper member brought explosives into D.C. on that day.
That first panel hearing featured testimony from Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker who was following the Proud Boys in the days leading up to the insurrection. As a part of interviews for the hearing, the committee reached out to some members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who said they went to the Capitol that day because they believed that's what Trump asked them to do.
And when the panel last met, Cheney said the Trump White House had received information about planned demonstrations for Jan. 6 that included organizing and planning by the Proud Boys to attend related events that day.
The warnings included details about the events including that "unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but Congress itself if the target on the 6th," according to reports shown by the committee.
At that hearing, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that she heard the words "Proud Boys" and "Oath Keepers" more often on the days leading up to Jan. 6 and there were intelligence reports warning of the potential for violence that week. Some of the reports included listings for events such as "Fight for Trump" which described the "need to flood" the Capitol and "show America, and the senators and representatives inside voting that we won't stand for election fraud!"
Here are some names to know
Committee aides specifically mentioned the hearing will discuss the extremist groups' alleged ties to Stone and Flynn.
Stone, a longtime Trump ally, was charged by the Justice Department in 2020 with witness tampering and lying to Congress in a case resulting from the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump pardoned him later that year.
Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, was also pardoned by Trump from crimes also in connection to the Mueller investigation.
Those watching the hearings have already heard from Flynn. In a videotaped deposition when he was asked if the violence on Jan. 6 was legal, he invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Both Stone and Flynn have come up at past hearings as links between Trump and the people beyond the White House wanting to keep him in power after he lost the 2020 presidential election.
Two other names that could come up are Enrique Tarrio and Stewart Rhodes. Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, is one of the five charged with seditious conspiracy related to Jan. 6. He wasn't at the Capitol on that day, but prosecutors argue he helped coordinate the efforts. Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, attempted to be put in contact with the White House leading up to Jan. 6, according to NBC.
Another hearing to come
The committee is eyeing next week for a hearing that had been expected to take place this Thursday evening during prime time, according to select committee aides. That hearing will be led by Reps. Elaine Luria and Adam Kinzinger.
Kinzinger, one of the two Republicans on the nine-member committee, told ABC News on Sunday that the hearing would focus on the hours in the middle of the insurrection that Trump was seemingly absent.
The panel had originally planned on issuing a final report in September. However, committee aides told reporters that the timeline has shifted as the committee has received additional information. The report is still expected to be released sometime this fall though there is no specific timing. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.