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The plot thickens on a GOP congressman’s pre-Jan. 6 tour

There remains no proof that Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) led a ‘reconnaissance’ tour of the Capitol complex for insurrectionists. But Loudermilk clearly hadn’t shared the whole story.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) speaks at the Conservative Policy Summit held at the Heritage Foundation in 2015. (Andrew Harnik for The Washington Post)

We still don’t know whether any GOP members of Congress actually led tours of the Capitol complex that could be construed as “reconnaissance” tours for would-be Jan. 6 insurrectionists.

But for the first time, we have real detail about what evidence the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob is working with on that front. And while far from conclusive, it further calls into question the misleading denials and explanations offered by Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.).

The Jan. 6 committee on Wednesday morning released new details about the group Loudermilk led around the Capitol complex on Jan. 5. The basics of its letter:

  • According to surveillance footage, the letter says, Loudermilk led a tour of “approximately ten individuals” through a trio of House office buildings and near entrances to the tunnels to the Capitol.
  • The committee indicates that participants acted in an unusual manner, taking photographs of areas “not typically of interest to tourists, including hallways, staircases, and security checkpoints.”
  • It says one of those people (who at one point photographed what appeared to be a staircase) marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6. While near the Capitol, someone the committee identifies as the same man recorded a video with threatening words for Democratic members of Congress. “There’s no escape, Pelosi, Schumer, Nadler; we’re coming for you,” the man says in footage provided by the committee. We’re “coming in like white on rice for Pelosi, Nadler, Schumer — even you, AOC. We’re coming to take you out and pull you out by your hairs. How about that, Pelosi? … When I get done with you, you gonna need a shine up on top of that bald head.”
  • At another point, the man shows video of someone he describes as “our fearless leader,” and the other man shows the pointed tip of his flagpole. They suggest it’s intended for someone in particular, and the other man makes a spearing gesture.

The committee released some of the video:

On June 15 the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 released surveillance video showing Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) holding Capitol tours Jan. 5. (Video: January 6th Committee | YouTube)

To be clear — and as we’ve noted before — none of this proves that Loudermilk knowingly or even unknowingly helped those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Nor does the committee’s letter address whether the man in the video even entered the Capitol. But it lends at least some weight to some Democrats’ heretofore-unsubstantiated allegations that GOP members led “reconnaissance” tours before Jan. 6.

We’ll have to learn more about what these people were photographing. But this man’s words certainly suggest he was inclined to go into the Capitol and target Democratic members of Congress — or at least was talking tough about it. The idea that people on tours were in some way casing the Capitol is no longer completely speculation, which it seemed to be for months after Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) first lodged the allegation shortly after the attack.

Breaking down claims about congresspeople and pre-Jan. 6 Capitol tours

As much as anything, though, this new evidence continues to undermine Loudermilk’s explanations.

Loudermilk avoided talking about the tour for many months, even as the committee expressed an interest in the matter. Aides went so far as to suggest that not only were there no “reconnaissance” tours, but that there were no tours, period.

By May, though, the committee said it had information on a tour that it wanted Loudermilk to address.

In a statement at the time, Loudermilk suggested this was just an extremely innocent tour given to a family. He cited “a constituent family with young children meeting with their Member of Congress.” He said “the family did not enter the Capitol grounds on the 6th” and that nobody had been charged or was under investigation for such actions.

Soon, though, Loudermilk expanded the pool of people involved: The next day, he released a video acknowledging that the family also had “guests.” Now we learn the group was in the double-digits — something the Capitol Police have confirmed (it put the number as high as 15 people at one point in the tour).

In a statement Wednesday, Loudermilk’s office didn’t address the discrepancies in his statements or the new evidence from the committee. He did refer to another review by the Capitol Police that found nothing suspicious about his group.

“The Capitol Police already put this false accusation to bed, yet the Committee is undermining the Capitol Police and doubling down on their smear campaign, releasing so-called evidence of a tour of the House Office Buildings, which I have already publicly addressed,” Loudermilk said.

He added: “No where that I went with the visitors in the House Office Buildings on January 5th were breached on January 6th; and, to my knowledge, no one in that group was criminally charged in relation to January 6th.”

There remains a question about whether anyone on this tour actually participated in the insurrection, which the Jan. 6 committee’s letter doesn’t address. Loudermilk told Roll Call this week that his office checked in with the group as the riot unfolded, but that none of them was on the Capitol grounds that day.

Loudermilk said that “they saw some stuff going on didn’t look right, so they all turned and left. So none of them were involved in this.”

In other words, his office kept tabs on this group — yet Loudermilk’s initial statement referred to only a family with young children. What’s more, one participant, according to the Jan. 6 committee, was at least talking about going into the Capitol and threatening Democrats. Perhaps his comments in the video were just tough talk, but it seems more of an open question about what he was actually planning to do and why he was taking pictures.

It might be that what Loudermilk said in his initial statement could technically be true; he didn’t say it was only a family, and perhaps nobody else on the tour ultimately did enter the Capitol. But there was apparently much more to the story that he opted not to share.

It also bears noting that the Jan. 6 committee’s read on the situation is pretty different from that of the Capitol Police. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger released a letter this week stating that the group’s actions on the tour were not suspicious. The Jan. 6 committee, though, now says the “tour raises concerns about their activity and intent while inside the Capitol complex.”

Other video released by NBC News suggests the same man was filming things rather indiscriminately.

Sherrill’s and Maloney’s allegation remains unproven to this day. But Loudermilk has certainly fed into suspicion about what groups like this might have been up to. And for whatever reason, the committee doesn’t seem afraid of looking like it’s tilting at windmills.