How do we know that the architects of a pro-Trump rally that spiraled into insurrection were right-wing extremists? They said so themselves, according to newly released witness interviews from the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Thousands of pages of documents made public in recent weeks portray promoters of the Stop the Steal movement as backstabbing rivals who viewed one another as “crazies,” “extremists,” “nutty,” and “white supremacist.” The documents include a text exchange in which former senior Trump adviser Hope Hicks, while watching the Capitol rioting unfold, lamented, “We all look like domestic terrorists now.”
The behind-the-scenes chaos detailed in the report underlines how the risk of violence that day was known in advance, causing alarm even among some organizers who said they had qualms about working with fellow pro-MAGA factions such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, extremist groups whose members later were charged in the attack.
“I don’t think that we should be out there inciting people,” Amy Kremer of Women for America First told the committee of another organizer’s public chant of “victory or death.”
The documents offer glimpses into other aspects of national right-wing organizing: leaders’ proximity to power, a tolerance for violent rhetoric, fierce infighting, and the role of “grifters” who make their living by stoking conservative outrage. The committee traces this mobilization to Trump, going back to a 2015 campaign-trail interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to show how Trump “normalized” the extremist factions that later rallied supporters to march on the Capitol.
Here are five examples of how the latest documents shed light on the militant, conspiratorial movements that have gained a toehold in mainstream Republican politics:
Infighting and insider threats
Organizers of the Jan. 6 rally embodied the saying, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” The factions involved — a right-wing mix of anti-government activists, Christian nationalists and conspiratorial MAGA radicals — openly disliked and distrusted one another. Multiple interviews describe a split between what former Oath Keepers lawyer Kellye SoRelle dubbed the “conservative/Libertarian bubble” and the “fascist/crazy bubble.”
Conservative planners, who themselves used fiery rhetoric to promote the lie of a stolen election, say they fought a losing battle to keep “crazies” at bay, a reference to even more strident voices such as Ali Alexander, Alex Jones, Roger Stone and various militant movements. Kremer, who obtained the rally permit only to see the event “hijacked” by more-extreme figures, said she cried when she was shown the final speaker roster.
In the days before the rally, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, a far-right mainstay who for years has preached violent revolt, clashed with white nationalist Nick Fuentes over white supremacy, according to SoRelle. She said Fuentes was angered that Rhodes refused to provide security for him because of his views. When asked if she and Rhodes considered Fuentes a white supremacist, SoRelle said: “Yes. Absolutely.”
In his interview, Rhodes told the committee that his anti-white-supremacist stance also “caused a lot of grief between us and Proud Boys.”
Trump ‘normalized’ extremists
A central theme of the committee’s report is that Trump ushered fringe ideologies into the mainstream. The report traces that process in part to a 2015 appearance by then-candidate Trump on Infowars alongside Alex Jones. The significance of a presidential contender praising Jones, according to the report, “should not be underestimated.”
“His appearance with Jones normalized InfoWars, welcoming its conspiracy-minded audience into Trump’s base,” the report said.
The report cites several examples that bolster the idea that, by January 2021, Trump had sway over a hodgepodge of extremists who saw him as their commander in chief and were prepared to go to drastic lengths — storming the Capitol, taking control during martial law — to keep him in power.
“He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!!” an Oath Keepers leader commented on Facebook.
A blueprint for Stop the Steal
The interviews spell out the importance of anti-lockdown activism in connecting like-minded influencers and providing a blueprint for harnessing right-wing grievances. Those existing networks helped to turn Stop the Steal into a force multiplier for the conspiratorial movements that would go on to storm the Capitol.
Far-right groups including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters mingled at events that “provided an opportunity for radicals and extremists to coalesce,” the committee wrote. These gatherings are portrayed as dry runs that “helped build the momentum for January 6th.”
In the year leading up to the insurrection, according to the documents, there were at least nine incidents involving far-right actors entering state capitols. At least four of those incursions — in Michigan, Idaho, Arizona and Oregon — featured “identifiable individuals who later participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”
Women played key roles
Though the vast majority of Jan. 6 defendants are men, the documents make clear the important organizing role of influential women in right-wing movements. Women obtained the permit to rally, worked their Trump-world contacts for speakers, made backup security arrangements and corralled the sparring factions to actually pull off the event.
For example, Alexander described organizer Caroline Wren, who worked on the Trump campaign, as “the only reason this event exists,” and said she acted as “a peacemaker.”
Women who were interviewed sometimes alluded to the male egos they encountered in right-wing circles. After Rhodes was arrested, SoRelle, his attorney and alleged girlfriend, briefly took control of the Oath Keepers as the organization was collapsing, weakened, she said, by “chest-pounding” among male leaders of the movement.
Antifa as boogeyman
The idea that the far left presented the biggest threat on Jan. 6 was woven throughout witness interviews, reflecting what terrorism analysts call the Trump administration’s false equivalency between “antifa” militants and the exponentially deadlier far right.
Senior Trump policy aide Stephen Miller told the committee that any talk of potential unrest on Jan. 6 related to concerns over “left-wing agitators” because “we just got through the Black Lives Matter riots.” Other Trump national security officials echoed these unfounded worries in interviews with the select committee.
SoRelle maintained that antifa was involved in the Capitol violence even after being reminded of evidence that Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader, acknowledged that the rioters were “patriots,” referring to those in the pro-Trump camp.
“Do you agree with that statement that patriots stormed the Capitol, not antifa?” an interviewer asked.
“I don’t,” SoRelle replied.