July 12 (UPI) — A former spokesman for the extremist Oath Keepers group and an Ohio man who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol testified Tuesday that they worry about the next election.
Jason Van Tatenhove and Stephen Ayres testified Tuesday in the seventh public hearing of the House committee investigating the 2021 riots.
Van Tatenhove, who spent several years as the Oath Keepers’ national media director, described the group as a “dangerous militia” led by Stewart Rhodes, who is charged with seditious conspiracy related to the attack.
“The best illustration of what the Oath Keepers are is Jan. 6,” Van Tatenhove said. They “drifted further and further right into the alt-right, nationalist and even racist.”
Halfway through his testimony, Van Tatenhove grew emotional about the attack on the Capitol. “I think we’ve gotten exceedingly lucky there was not more bloodshed there,” he said.
“I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring,” Van Tatenhove said, referring to the possibility that former President Donald Trump could run again in 2024. “He will try to whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit.”
Ayres, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the riots, testified he traveled to Washington on Jan. 6 because of Trump and his messages claiming the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”
“I was pretty hardcore into social media, Facebook, Instagram,” Ayres testified. “I followed President Trump to the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. I felt like I needed to be there.
“I was very upset, as were most of his supporters. That’s what got me to come down here,” Ayres said.
Ayres also testified that he marched to the Capitol after Trump’s Jan. 6 rally because of what the president said.
“The president got everyone riled up, told everyone to march down. I was angry after everything that was said in the speech,” Ayres said. “Everyone was in the hope that Mike Pence would not certify the election.”
Ayres said once Trump tweeted for “everyone to go home” later that day, he said the crowd dispersed.
“Once President Trump put his tweet out, we left,” Ayres testified. “If he would’ve done that earlier that day, we wouldn’t be in this bad situation.”
Earlier Tuesday, the chairman of the committee opened the hearing by saying Trump “seized” on the anger of his supporters to form a mob.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asserted Trump was unlike any other American president in that he did not accept the will of the voters that Joe Biden had been fairly elected president in November 2020.
Rather, he encouraged his supporters to believe the election had been stolen from him.
“What Donald Trump was required to do in that moment — what would have been required of any American leader — was to say we did our best and we came up short,” Thompson said. “He went the opposite way. He seized on the anger he had already stoked among his most loyal supporters. And as they approached the line, he didn’t wave them off. He urged them on.”
The committee focused especially on a tweet from Trump in December 2020 — “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” — saying it may have been a catalyst for extremist groups to plan the attack.