Hours into the debate over impeaching President Trump for inciting the violence that erupted in Washington last week, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) stood up to make a point he felt had been overlooked.
He paused for effect, awaiting an answer he knew would not come.
“It appears I will receive no answer,” he said after about 30 seconds. He stepped away from the lectern.
Mast’s point was apparently twofold: first, that there had been no witness testimony preceding the impeachment vote and, second, that there was not evidence that Trump’s actions had, in fact, incited the violence that occurred.
The first argument is accurate. The second is debatable.
During a speech from outside the White House shortly before the Capitol was overrun, Trump did call on the people in attendance to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol and claimed both that he sought peaceful protest and encouraged his listeners repeatedly to “fight” on his behalf. There has not been documentation that those who were in attendance and entered the Capitol did so explicitly because they felt that Trump wanted them to, but there is documentation that the effort to breach the Capitol began shortly after Trump’s speech concluded.
There is also documentation that multiple people who stormed the Capitol were only in Washington because Trump had called for them to be.
The best known is Jacob Chansley, or the “QAnon Shaman,” who appeared in the Capitol wearing fur and a hat with horns. When Chansley, who’s been arrested and charged in connection with the riot, was interviewed by the FBI (at his initiation), he told investigators that “he came as a part of a group effort, with other ‘patriots’ from Arizona, at the request of the President that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021.”
Trump made that request repeatedly, including with multiple tweets on Jan. 1. (“January 6th. See you in D.C.,” one said.) His first mention of it on Twitter came on Dec. 19, when he elevated a document alleging rampant voter fraud and told his followers that there would be a “[b]ig protest in D.C. on January 6th.”
“Be there,” he added, “will be wild!”
How seriously was that taken? One of the people being sought by the FBI for having invaded the Capitol had the phrase emblazoned on a T-shirt as seen in a wanted poster from the Bureau.
Brandon Fellows, another rioter who illegally entered the Capitol, told Bloomberg News that he came to Washington specifically because of that tweet.
“We were there for one common cause,” Fellows said, “which is making a statement that the government is crushing down on us.”
Douglas Sweet, who was arrested and charged with unlawful entry, told the television station WTKR that he went to the Capitol because “Trump asked all the patriots to show up, so I did.”
“I didn’t go with any malice or intention of malice of those that committed those the fights — the tear gas and just, you know, throwing stuff at police,” he told the station. “That wasn’t in my game plan at all.”
One of the more infamous participants during the riot was Larry Brock, who was photographed on the floor of the Senate wearing military gear and holding flex cuffs, a form of zip-tie designed to serve as handcuffs. Brock, who was also arrested and charged in the riot, is an Air Force veteran and spoke with the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow.
“The President asked for his supporters to be there to attend, and I felt like it was important, because of how much I love this country, to actually be there,” Brock told Farrow. He also claimed that he “assumed he was welcome to enter the building,” a claim that seems hard to believe given his equipment and the obvious chaos through which he made his way.
Again, none of these individuals is testifying under oath before the House that they were incited specifically to engage in the violent occupation of the Capitol because of Trump. Each of them, though, is saying that they were in Washington because of Trump, and each ended up being part of the crowd that did storm the Capitol.
It’s unlikely that this will change Mast’s view of the impeachment effort.