The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A key Jan. 6 figure tries the Trump defense: I just riled everyone up and brought them there

A pro-Trump crowd gathers in front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

What happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 is most immediately and obviously attributable to one person: Donald Trump. It was Trump’s months of dishonesty about the danger of fraud in the 2020 presidential election that tilled the soil, it was Trump’s months of dishonesty about the election results that sowed the seeds, it was Trump’s weeks of encouragement to show up that day in Washington that yielded the crop.

But as has been the case since Trump emerged as a dominant force in right-wing politics, the energy he brought to the issue created an entire ecosystem in which his allies could thrive. Conspiracy theorists and grifters circled around the idea that the election was stolen, addressing unmet demand in the marketplace.

Few did so more successfully than Ali Alexander. Alexander has been a figure on the fringe right for some time, a name familiar to people who’d heard of Alex Jones or Laura Loomer. In the wake of the 2020 election, though, he gained something new: a clear ally in the establishment. His “Stop the Steal” movement was murky in its intended outcomes beyond gaining attention for Alexander and vacuuming up cash — money that he insisted didn’t benefit him at all. But he was in the right place at the right time with the right amount of shamelessness and a demonstrated interest in the spotlight.

On Thursday, Alexander is scheduled to offer testimony before the House committee investigating the Capitol riot. According to prepared remarks obtained by the New York Times, he is going to offer a defense familiar to anyone who’s heard Trump speak about Jan. 6: I wasn’t responsible for the violence itself.

“I had nothing to do with the planning. I had nothing to do with the preparation. And I had nothing to do with the execution,” Alexander is expected to say. “Any suggestion to the contrary is factually false. Anyone who suggests I had anything to do with the unlawful activities on January 6 is wrong. They’re either mistaken or lying.”

He wasn’t responsible for the violence. Just, you know, contributing to the things that made the violence possible.

Last December, as he was raising money to bop around the country holding rallies centered on false claims about election fraud, Alexander framed his crusade in stark terms. “I am willing to give my life for this fight,” he tweeted — a message later amplified by the Arizona Republican Party. Which raises more money, an argument for incremental change or an argument framed as a battle against the apocalypse?

When Trump tweeted his encouragement for people to show up in Washington on Jan. 6, pledging that the day would be “wild,” the domain quickly appeared. In short order, it began cobbling together the details of a protest scheduled to happen on the East Front of the Capitol that day, encouraging people to show up (and, of course, to donate). Ali Alexander was touted as a featured speaker. A group called One Nation Under God applied for a permit for that location on that day, but the Capitol Police quickly sussed out that it was linked to Alexander, as documents obtained by BuzzFeed make clear.

Eventually, Alexander’s event was folded into a hybrid, three-part event centered on Trump’s speech outside the White House on the morning of Jan. 6: A rally was scheduled for the afternoon of Jan. 5, at which Alexander ended up speaking. Then the Trump rally, organized by a group called Women for America First. Finally, an event at the Capitol at 1 p.m., the final formulation of Alexander’s “wild” protest.

Alexander’s rhetoric in the days preceding Jan. 6 — and on the day itself — was not subtle. In mid-December, after his give-my-life tweet, he told a story to a crowd at a rally.

“One of our organizers in one state said, ‘We’re nice patriots, we don’t throw bricks,’ ” he said. “I leaned over and I said, ‘Not yet. Not yet!’ Haven’t you read about a little tar-and-feathering? Those were second-degree burns!”

In his speech Jan. 5, he declared that “1776 is always an option” and that the “degenerates in the deep state are going to give us what we want, or we are going to shut this country down.” He led the crowd in a chant.

On the afternoon of Jan. 6, Alexander stood on a balcony overlooking Capitol Hill and recorded a message: “I do not disavow this. I do not denounce this.”

Alexander’s testimony includes various claims about how he tried to work with law enforcement on Jan. 6 to quell the violence (something that in his balcony remarks he claimed was only minimal). Journalist Marcy Wheeler walked through how that assertion conflicts with other evidence already in the possession of investigators. She points, for example, to a Justice Department document centered on the case of Jonathon Shroyer. In it, Shroyer is shown making provocative claims through a bullhorn as a group of people walks to the Capitol that day. In an included photo, Alexander is visible a few feet in front of Shroyer.

Alexander’s prepared remarks disparage the organizers of the Ellipse rally and make the remarkable claim that “there may not have been a problem had that same leadership at the Ellipse event not intentionally removed instructions from the program that were supposed to be included to provide clarity on exactly where to go following the Ellipse event.” In other words, had the Ellipse rally specifically promoted his rally on Capitol Hill, there might have been no violence in the first place.

Of course, the violence would also not have occurred had Trump not repeatedly made false claims about the election. It might not have happened had Alexander not similarly touted those claims and elevated them as a rallying cry to gain attention and resources. It might not have happened had he and others not organized large rallies for that day centered on false claims of fraud.

Ali Alexander would like credit for doing everything in his power to exacerbate the situation that collapsed into violence except explicitly advocating violence targeting that particular building on that particular day. Fine. Granted.