Texting through an insurrection
Thousands of frantic text messages that might have otherwise been lost to history are now key to piecing together a picture of the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack.
The panicked texts started landing in Mark Meadows’s phone long before thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory.
Fox News host Sean Hannity shot off a text on New Year’s Eve — a week before the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the violent siege — warning the White House chief of staff of mass resignations in the White House Counsel’s Office.
The night before the rally, Hannity’s private concerns about the day ahead escalated in another text to Meadows.
The ping-pong of private Hannity missives was a far cry from the contents of his show, where he continued to amplify the arguments for electoral objections despite his stated fears.
By Jan. 6, as images of violent rioters storming the building splashed across screens and news feeds, the Fox News host’s single-sentence thoughts turned into desperate directives.
These and thousands of other frantic, ephemeral text messages that might have otherwise been lost to history are now key to piecing together the most vivid and comprehensive picture to date of the events surrounding the chaos at the Capitol. Many were sent to Meadows by Fox News hosts, lawmakers and other Trump allies urging him to get his boss — cocooned in his private dining room just off the Oval Office — to put a halt to the assault.
The texts, obtained by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault, are among the most important tools the panel has to bring home the gravity of what happened that day, the planning that preceded it and the concern for democracy that lingered in the aftermath — even among some of Trump’s most loyal allies, who have since sought to play down the events of the day.
The committee so far has publicly revealed only a sliver of the thousands of text messages it has received so far. The panel has left a trail of newly released text messages between other players in Trump’s inner circle beyond the 4,000 messages provided by Meadows as it compiles communications from hundreds of individuals and entities who have cooperated with its investigation. The committee’s trove includes texts from dozens of people, a committee staffer said.
[Jan. 6 insurrection: The Washington Post’s investigation of the causes, cost and aftermath]
Meadows also turned over a barrage of messages from people questioning the election results ahead of the Jan. 6 rally — a reflection of the competing interests he was entertaining.
He was texted on Jan. 4 with allegations of voter fraud in churches in Atlanta by James O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas, an organization known for using undercover tactics to expose what it says is liberal bias in the mainstream news media. Meadows did not respond, according to a person with knowledge of the text messages.
In responding to questions from The Washington Post, O’Keefe posted a video Tuesday on Instagram that included a screenshot of one of his texts. He said he only shared information with Meadows that he had made publicly available elsewhere and chided The Post for reporting on the issue.
Meadows also had texts with a variety of other figures involved in the effort to overturn the results of the election — including lawyer Cleta Mitchell, and multiple witnesses have been asked about their text message interactions with Meadows. The messages also show Meadows getting briefed on the planning and speakers at the rally on the Ellipse by organizers, according to two people who have reviewed the messages.
On the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has in particular drilled witnesses about any text messages with Fox News hosts, according to a person questioned by the committee, who like some others in this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the probe.
One member of the panel, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), described the texts as “key to the investigation — they tie things together and there’s an immediacy to the texts” that provide more context and spontaneous information than a standard email.
“You can tease out the facts and learn more about personal relationships,” Luria said, noting that text messages often allow investigators to see how familiar people are with each other and how they interact in real time.
Meadows and other senders and recipients of the texts declined to comment for this story.
The messages made public start days after the 2020 election, tracing a shift in tone from those urging the overthrow of the election results through the aftermath of the Jan. 6 assault.
The earliest message to Meadows released so far came on Nov. 4, 2020, when a cellphone linked to former Texas governor and Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry posited a novel way to overturn the election results.
The current trove of public messages ends some two months later, on Jan. 7, 2021, when Hannity wrote to White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany with a five-point plan, including:
In the months in between, the texts show the planning for Jan 6., efforts to encourage Republican legislators in certain states to send alternate slates of electors to Congress, attempts to bolster unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud, snippets of insight into Trump’s interest in the campaign to overturn the election results, and even the more mundane topics of what Meadows planned to do with his post-White House career.
[Fox News hosts urged Meadows to have Trump stop Jan. 6 violence, texts show]
From the outset, the panel has been keenly focused on what Trump did during the time the Capitol was under assault. Cheney cited several texts sent to Meadows during that time, calling them “evidence of President Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty” during the 187 minutes the Capitol was under assault.
And she has suggested that testimony from the authors and recipients of those messages could reveal the answer to a key question facing the panel: “Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceeding to count electoral votes?”
The messages also serve as a stark contrast to the swell of GOP efforts over the past year to play down the danger of the Capitol riot and discredit the work of the committee. Hannity was not the only one to express serious reservations ahead of Jan. 6, as well as lingering concerns in the aftermath of the attack.
A member of the House Freedom Caucus with knowledge of the president’s planning for that day sent a message to Meadows on Jan. 1 or 2, according to a committee staffer, with an explicit warning.
Some peppered Meadows until the 11th hour with last-ditch legal theories in an effort to block the certification of Biden’s victory in Congress. Rep Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) forwarded a text on Jan. 5 sent to him by Joseph Schmitz, a former Defense Department inspector general who argued that Vice President Mike Pence had the constitutional authority to object to the certification of the election results:
But soon after Trump spoke to his supporters at a rally near the White House, where he pressured Pence to “stand up for the good of our Constitution” before returning home, the tone of the texts from the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue soon crescendoed.
At 1:30 p.m. a mob broke through police barricades, and by 2:20 p.m., after protesters broke through windows and climbed into the Capitol, the building went into lockdown.
Punchbowl News reporter Jake Sherman texted Meadows from inside the building as the violence unfolded:
Some members sheltered in the Rotunda, where they were instructed to put on gas masks from under their seats, while others sprinted to offices where they hid in silence with frightened staff.
At 2:38 p.m., Trump tweeted support for the Capitol Police, urging people to “stay peaceful,” while scenes of violence and mayhem splashed across cable news channels and timelines. The frenzied texts demanding that Meadows get Trump to intervene continued.
A circuit of Fox News hosts pressed Meadows to intercede — a memorialization of the direct pipeline between the right wing cable news channel and the Trump White House.
Kilmeade, Ingraham and Hannity echoed similar sentiments on air on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7, and condemned the insurrection the day it happened.
Even Donald Trump Jr., who had been backstage with his father just hours earlier at the rally, sent Meadows a flurry of alarmed messages.
It wasn’t until 4:17 p.m. that Trump tweeted out a video asking his supporters to “go home and go home in peace.”
What followed were texts offering advice on how to clean up the political wreckage of the day.
A week later, those in Trump’s orbit were still grappling with how to handle the fallout of the insurrection — and the potential for future acts of violence.
Such concerns stayed confined to private texts, however, as Laura Ingraham and other Fox News hosts quickly returned to Trump-friendly programming.
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