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Jan. 6 panel shows evidence of coordination between far-right groups and Trump allies

Stephen Ayres, left, who entered the U.S. Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a one-time national spokesman for the Oath Keepers, are sworn-in during the seventh hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
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Stephen Ayres, left, who entered the U.S. Capitol illegally on Jan. 6, 2021, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a one-time national spokesman for the Oath Keepers, are sworn-in during the seventh hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The House select committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol tried to make the case Tuesday that far-right groups and the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election are inextricably linked, detailing the mobilization of extremist groups after then-President Trump sent a tweet on Dec. 19, 2020, calling for supporters to protest in D.C. on Jan. 6.

Near the end of the committee's seventh hearing investigating the insurrection, Vice Chair Liz Cheney revealed Trump had attempted to contact a witness who had not yet appeared in its public hearings. She said that person did not take the call and instead alerted their lawyer, who informed the committee.

The committee plans to hold its eighth hearing on Thursday, July 21, at 8 p.m., a source familiar with the planning but not authorized to speak publicly before the committee's official announcement told NPR. The committee has said that hearing will focus on Trump's inaction to stop the attack on the Capitol.

Trump's tweet spread like wildfire among extremists

Trump's Dec. 19 tweet, which read: "Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" spread like wildfire among far-right groups, said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

In the hours after that tweet was posted, Kelly Meggs, the head of the Florida Oath Keepers, posted a message on Facebook pledging that his group would "work together" with the Three-Percenters and Proud Boys, two other right-wing extremist groups.

In a clip of video testimony, Donell Harvin, former D.C. homeland security chief, said his agency had intelligence of "very, very violent individuals" from these groups organizing to come to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6.

"These non-aligned groups were aligning, and all the red flags went up at that point," he said. "When you have armed militia collaborating with white supremacy groups, collaborating with conspiracy theory groups online, all for the common goal, you start seeing what we call in terrorism a blended ideology, and that's a very, very bad sign."

The committee laid out evidence that people in Trump's orbit were involved with these extremist groups.

The panel pointed to one-time Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn being photographed with members of the Oath Keepers outside the Capitol six days before he was in an Oval Office meeting about overturning the election.

The committee also revealed an encrypted chat called F.O.S. (Friends of Roger Stone), a Trump associate, that included leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers as well as the organizer of Trump's Jan. 6 rally.

A Twitter employee who testified anonymously said that in the aftermath of Trump's tweet, "It felt as if a mob was being organized, and they were gathering together their weaponry, their logic and their reasoning behind why they were prepared to fight."

Trump kept march to the Capitol under wraps

The committee shared evidence that Trump planned to tell his supporters to march on the Capitol, but instead kept it under wraps until the day of his speech.

The committee shared a draft tweet that wasn't sent, urging attendees to arrive early and march to the Capitol afterwards. The committee also shared a Jan. 4 text message from rally organizer Kylie Kremer, in which she told election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell that Trump would "call for [the march] unexpectedly" but they didn't want word to get out in advance to avoid a countermarch.

The panel noted that despite the intention to keep the march plan largely quiet, people connected to far-right groups did have advance knowledge of it.

"Ellipse then US Capitol. Trump is supposed to order us to Capitol at the end of his speech but we will see," read a text displayed by the committee from "Stop the Steal" founder Ali Alexander, whom Rep. Stephanie Murphy called an "activist known for his violent political rhetoric."

Message proliferated across right-wing media

The committee detailed how Trump's Dec. 19 tweet spread across right-wing media platforms and among right-wing personalities.

"He is now calling for we the people to take actions and to show our numbers," said far-right radio host Alex Jones.

Another pro-Trump Youtuber said Jan. 6 would be a "red wedding," which Raskin noted is tantamount to "mass slaughter."

Stephen Ayres, right, who entered the Capitol during the riot, shakes hands with Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges, left, as Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, center, watches at the conclusion of Tuesday's hearing.
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Stephen Ayres, right, who entered the Capitol during the riot, shakes hands with Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges, left, as Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, center, watches at the conclusion of Tuesday's hearing.

'We were basically doing what he said'

Stephen Ayres, who pleaded guilty to one charge of disorderly and disruptive conduct for his actions on Jan. 6, was part of the crowd that marched to the Capitol. He testified he had not planned to go to the Capitol, but decided to after Trump "got everybody riled up, told everybody to head on down."

"We basically were just following what he said," Ayres said.

He added that he thought the president would be marching alongside his supporters.

"I think everybody thought he was going to be coming down," he said. "He said it in his speech, you know, kind of like he's gonna be there with us. I mean, I believed it."

Asked by Rep. Murphy what made him decide to leave the Capitol that day, Ayres cited a tweet from Trump telling his supporters to "go home."

"We literally left right after that came out," Ayres testified. "To me, if he would have done that earlier in a day — 1:30 — you know, maybe we wouldn't be in this bad of a situation or something."

In the committee room, Ayres approached a group of police officers who were attacked by the violent pro-Trump mob and offered his apologies.

Jason Van Tatenhove, who served as national spokesman for the Oath Keepers, testifies Tuesday before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images
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Jason Van Tatenhove, who served as national spokesman for the Oath Keepers, testifies Tuesday before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Also testifying before the committee in-person was Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for the Oath Keepers.

He described the group as a "violent militia."

Van Tatenhove said over time, the group "drifted further and further right into the alt-right world, into white nationalists and even straight-up racists, and it came to a point where I could no longer continue to work for them."

"The best illustration for what the Oath Keepers are happened Jan. 6. We saw that stacked military formation going up the stairs of our Capitol," he said.

He said the group's president, Stewart Rhodes, asked him to "create a deck of cards" identifying people the group should target, including "different politicians, judges, [and]Hillary Clinton as the Queen of Hearts."

"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," he described. "This is a project that I refused to do."

Rep. Raskin said the committee learned Rhodes stopped to buy weapons on his way to Washington, D.C. and shipped roughly $7,000 worth of tactical gear to a Jan. 6 rally planner in Virginia before the attack.

Van Tatenhove said the public was "exceedingly lucky that more bloodshed did not happen."

"All we have to look at as the iconic images of that day with the gallows set up for Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States," he said.

Van Tatenhove warned: "I do fear for this next election cycle because who knows what that might bring.

'I feel guilty for helping him win'

Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale blamed his former boss' incendiary rhetoric during his speech at the Ellipse for the violence that ensued at the U.S. Capitol.

"This week I feel guilty for helping him win," he said in excerpts from texts he exchanged with rally organizer Katrina Pierson that the committee shared.

Pierson responded that Parscale did what he felt right at the time, to which Parscale replied, "Yeah. But a woman is dead," adding: "If I was Trump and knew my rhetoric killed someone."

"It wasn't the rhetoric," Pierson responded.

"Katrina. Yes it was," Parscale texted back.

'Unhinged' West Wing meeting

Throughout the series of hearings, the committee has provided evidence that Trump knew there was no basis for his claims of election fraud and yet he and his closest allies continued to pursue avenues to stay in power.

During Tuesday's hearing, the committee detailed an explosive meeting at the White House on Dec. 18, 2020, in which outside advisers to Trump and White House officials clashed over election fraud conspiracy theories.

"What they were proposing, I thought, was nuts," said former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.

He recalled an exchange with attorney Sidney Powell about the integrity of judges who had ruled on the Trump team's legal challenges.

"She says, 'Well, the judges are corrupt,'" he recounted. "I'm like — 'Every one? Every single case in the country you guys lost? Every one of them is corrupt? Even the ones we appointed?'"

What's next

Cheney previewed the next hearing and said it will focus on Trump's behavior during the violence of Jan. 6.

The committee has said the hearing will fill in a 187-minute timeline when Trump was silent inside the White House as the riot unfolded.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters after Tuesday's hearing the upcoming hearing will be the final in the current series of televised hearings, but he wouldn't completely rule out additional hearings in the future. The committee is expected to release a final report on its findings in the fall.

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.