The Jan. 6 Committee kicked off a string of hearings Thursday night with an intense focus on the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, two right-wing extremist groups that the committee appears prepared to tie to the official Trump effort to overturn the election.
Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told CNN after the hearing that the body would call witnesses that can describe conversations between the groups and people in Trump’s orbit.
“Obviously, you’ll have to go through the hearings, but we have a number of witnesses who have come forward that people have not talked to before, that will document a lot was going on in the Trump orbit while all of this was occurring,” Thompson said.
The committee made clear that it viewed the Trumpian conspiracy to overturn the election as a months-long plot, and it applied the same logic to Trump’s relationship to these right-wing extremist groups, featuring testimony from a member of the Proud Boys saying Trump’s presidential debate command to them to “stand back and stand by” — all the way back in September 2020 — boosted membership “exponentially.”
They traced the relationship from there, including testimony from multiple Proud Boys saying they were in D.C. on Jan. 6 because Trump asked them to be there. The panel presented extensive footage of the groups on the day itself, labeling the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers as such when they appeared on camera. And Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) said the Proud Boys “ultimately led the invasion of the Capitol, and the violence on that day.”
‘A Coordinated And Planned Effort’
There have been hints in several ongoing criminal cases that individuals in these groups may have had some sort of connection to Trump’s orbit. Oath Keeper Joshua James, for example, was one of multiple Oath Keepers to provide security for Trump confidante Roger Stone the day before the attack.
Another Oath Keeper’s plea agreement stated that near the end of the attack, he heard the group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, repeatedly implore an individual over the phone “to tell President Trump to call upon groups like the Oath Keepers to forcibly oppose the transfer of power.” The individual on the other end of the line apparently rebuffed the request.
When Trump publicized the Jan. 6 protest date and commanded his supporters to be there, the Proud Boys “viewed this as a call to arms,” committee investigative counsel Marcus Childress said.
While hearing testimony from Nick Quested, a filmmaker who was embedded with the Proud Boys before and during the attack, Thompson tipped the committee’s hand a bit, indicating the panel’s belief in the importance of the early Jan. 6 timeline: A couple hundred Proud Boys marched toward the Capitol even before the President’s speech began — even before he ordered the crowd to march on Congress, Thompson noted.
The group walked to several points around the Capitol Building at first, which Thompson said he was concerned “allowed them to see what defenses were in place and where weaknesses might be.” And they launched their attack at the Peace Circle — a point near the Capitol grounds that thousands of angry Trump supporters marching from the Ellipse would have to pass through.
“Now, a central question is whether the attack on the Capitol was coordinated and planned,” Thompson said.
“What you witnessed is what a coordinated and planned effort would look like. It was the culmination of a months-long effort spearheaded by President Trump.”