Jan. 6 panel zeroes in on Trump’s ‘clarion call’ to extremists

Last updated on July 12, 2022

The Jan. 6 select committee plans to make its most complex case yet at its public hearing Tuesday: that Donald Trump’s words and actions influenced extremists and brought them to the steps of the Capitol.

“Be there. Will be wild,” Trump tweeted on Dec. 19, 2020, barely two weeks before a mob seeded with members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers besieged the Capitol and threatened the transfer of power to Joe Biden. That tweet will be the focal point of the Jan. 6 panel’s seventh public hearing, as House investigators aim to show that the former president’s most extreme supporters were intently listening — and quickly began preparing for potential violence in support of Trump’s goal to stay in power.

The tweet was a “clarion call” to the groups, said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), who is leading Tuesday’s hearing along with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

“We’ll show you how they began to organize around that date,” she said in an interview. “And you know that they were [not] organizing … for a peaceful protest, because you don’t bring explosives and weapons to peaceful protests.”

Tuesday’s hearing will require investigators to delve into the sordid world of internet extremism and specifically lay out how Trump’s words rippled through its corners.

Former Oath Keepers spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove is expected to be one of the witnesses Tuesday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the situation. Van Tatenhove has described himself as a former “propagandist” for the Oath Keepers, and left the group several years ago, he told local television station KDVR. The select panel has cited concerns about harassment and security of the witnesses, mostly declining to name them before the hearings begin.

The panel intends to highlight how adherents to the antisemitic, fringe conspiracy theories of QAnon latched onto Trump’s stolen-election claims, as well as how the extremist Proud Boys and Oath Keepers used Trump’s crusade to fundraise for a violent effort to keep Biden from office. Committee members will also get into how the White House pushed forward with plans for a march on the Capitol — one witnesses say Trump desperately tried to join — even as warnings about the likelihood of brutality grew.

The role of social media platforms in extremists’ mobilization will also play a role in Tuesday’s hearing, Murphy said. The select panel subpoenaed companies like Alphabet, the parent company of Google; Meta, Facebook’s parent company; and Twitter earlier this year for records related to the attack. The committee has scrutinized the companies’ roles in spreading misinformation and providing breeding grounds for extremism.

While other hearings focused on a single topic, Tuesday’s will have to cover significantly more ground. Timing wise, it will span from the Electoral College meeting that affirmed Biden’s win on Dec. 14, 2020 until the Jan. 6 attack, according to Murphy.

“It’s really hard to distill that in a way that is going to be consumable by the general public, who isn’t watching all of these hearings breathlessly,” she said.

Committee aides previewing the hearing said it would also touch on members of Congress who helped fan the flames of the false election fraud claims and how that effort helped drive forward the pressure campaign against then-Vice President Mike Pence, who presided over the Jan. 6 session of Congress to count electoral votes.

Additionally, the hearing will closely focus on the Justice Department’s work to hold accountable the leaders of the groups they allege helped orchestrate and foment the Capitol riot. The select committee has already interviewed Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who are both facing seditious conspiracy charges for their roles in the attack. The panel has also interviewed at least one other Proud Boy whom prosecutors have eyed: Jeremy Bertino, the group member known as “Noble Beard,” a North Carolina Proud Boy leader whose post-Jan. 6 conversations with other heads of the group have featured in prosecutors’ legal filings.

Murphy said the hearing would also be the venue for the panel’s first public clips of its Friday interview with former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who committee members said gave an array of information relevant to their investigation. The former White House counsel met with the panel for more than eight hours last Friday.

One witness, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, told the panel that Cipollone threatened to resign as Trump was considering naming attorney Sidney Powell a special counsel to investigate false claims of election fraud. Trump met with Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Flynn at the White House on Dec. 18 and discussed a range of extreme options, such as using the military or Justice Department to seize voting machines.

An hour after the meeting broke up, Trump sent his fateful “will be wild” tweet.