WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will turn its focus this week to former President Trump’s campaign to rally protesters to Washington, pointing to one tweet in particular as a pivotal moment in the violent effort to overturn his election defeat.
“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump tweeted Dec. 19, 2020.
That message, the investigators contend, acted as a shrewd battle cry to the far-right extremist groups and other supporters who were wrongly convinced the election had been “stolen” and viewed Jan. 6, 2021 — when Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s victory — as their last best chance to keep Trump in power.
On Tuesday, lawmakers on the select committee will drill into the events both before and after the tweet, using their latest public hearing in the wide-ranging investigation to advance their case that Trump’s allies acted in cahoots with the violent extremists who would ultimately storm the Capitol.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who will help lead Tuesday’s hearing, noted that the tweet followed a Dec. 18, 2020, meeting at the White House where some of Trump’s closest allies pushed him to seize voting machines in key states. Trump ultimately decided against the idea, but as options dwindled to remain in power, he shifted gears to focus on a protest the day of the election certification — something online chatter shows Trump’s most zealous supporters took as a call to arms.
Trump’s first full-throated endorsement of that protest — the now-infamous Dec. 19 tweet, sent at 1:42 a.m. — cited a report from Peter Navarro, a top aide, claiming to demonstrate proof of massive voter fraud. “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” Trump wrote, before urging his supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 for the “wild” protest.
A year and a half later, the committee is leaning on that message to boost their allegations that Trump orchestrated the Capitol attack in a last-ditch effort to cling to power.
“Donald Trump sent out the tweet that would be heard around the world, the first time in American history when a president of the United States called a protest against his own government, in fact, to try to stop the counting of electoral college votes in a presidential election he had lost,” Raskin said Sunday in an appearance on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.”
“People are going to hear the story of that tweet, and then the explosive effect it had in Trump World and specifically among the domestic violent extremist groups, the most dangerous political extremists in the country,” Raskin said.
It’s those groups — including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, both of which were on the front lines of the Capitol insurrection — that will be the focus of Tuesday’s hearing, the seventh since the middle of June.
The panel will also explore the role of QAnon, a far-right political movement based largely on a series of extravagant conspiracy theories including a belief that the country is governed by covert cabals of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.
“We’ll show how some of these right-wing extremist groups who came to D.C. [and] led the attack on the Capitol and had ties to Trump associates,” a select committee aide said Monday.
The most prominent connection between those two worlds, up to now, has been the association between the extremist groups and two former Trump advisers, Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, both of whom were vocal figures in the “Stop the Steal” movement and used members of those groups for protective services. Trump had urged his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to contact both Stone and Flynn on Jan. 5, according to a former West Wing aide who testified before the committee last month.
Trump communications guru Dan Scavino is another possible link between the president and extremist groups, with Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) noting “his interactions with an online forum called ‘The Donald.win’ and with QAnon, a bizarre and dangerous cult.”
Aides for the select committee said they would also have more information to offer on the efforts of Republican lawmakers, including “their involvement in a pressure campaign against the vice president specifically.”
“In the last days leading up to Jan. 6, where we did see sort of all these last ditch efforts to overturn the election results and stop transfer of power, the involvement of members of Congress became more apparent,” another aide said.
The committee would not formally disclose its witness list for Tuesday’s hearing, but reports indicate Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for the Oath Keepers who parted ways with the militia group in 2017, will appear.
According to documents already made public, Trump’s tweet appears to have mobilized a number of groups.
Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander applied for a permit on the Capitol grounds “on or about” Dec. 21, roughly two days after Trump’s tweet, according to a subpoena from the select committee.
Organizations like the Proud Boys were also spurred to action, with prosecutors noting that the group’s leader at the time, Enrique Tarrio, started a “Ministry of Self Defense” chapter that would serve as their “national rally planning” group and would consist only of “hand selected members,” according to Tarrio’s March indictment. His launching of the group fell roughly a week after his Dec. 12 visit to the White House — something the Trump administration said he did on a public tour.
An indictment for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes likewise indicates the far-right militia group initiated plans to travel to the rally in “late December,” coordinating their travel plans through encrypted messaging apps.
Members of both groups, including Rhodes and Tarrio, have since been indicted for seditious conspiracy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
The tweet from Trump also ignited excitement on various pro-Trump platforms, including a page dedicated to the president on Reddit, as well as theDonald.win.
Their takeaway was that Trump was calling them to come to D.C. prepared to engage in violence.
“He can’t exactly openly tell you to revolt. This is the closest he’ll ever get,” one user wrote on Reddit.
“I read that as armed,” another user wrote.
“Then bring the guns we shall,” wrote another.
Others focused on the “wild” part of Trump’s message, with some drawing comparisons to the Wild West.
“’Will Be Wild’ is a hidden message for us to be prepared ….as in armed,” another user wrote on Reddit.
Trump supporters’ openness about their interpretation of his tweet has long been used as evidence of an intelligence failure leading up to the attack.
And documentation shows it wasn’t just chatter.
Reviews have since indicated law enforcement largely overlooked plans to storm the Capitol, including the sharing of maps detailing the Capitol’s below ground tunnel system.
And subsequent filings in the seditious conspiracy case against various Oath Keepers members show they staged a “quick reaction force” at a Comfort Inn in Virginia, wheeling in “bags and large bins of weapons, ammunition, and essential supplies to last 30 days,” according to a January court filing.
Tuesday’s hearing is the only one slated for this week, committee aides said, with another hearing planned for some point the following week.