Former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove prepares to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol during the committee's seventh public hearing in Washington on July 12. Photo by Ken Cendeno/UPI | License Photo
July 12 (UPI) -- A former spokesman for the extremist Oath Keepers group and an Ohio man who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol testified Tuesday that they worry about the next election.
Jason Van Tatenhove and Stephen Ayres testified Tuesday in the seventh public hearing of the House committee investigating the 2021 riots.
Van Tatenhove, who spent several years as the Oath Keepers' national media director, described the group as a "dangerous militia" led by Stewart Rhodes, who is charged with seditious conspiracy related to the attack.
"The best illustration of what the Oath Keepers are is Jan. 6," Van Tatenhove said. They "drifted further and further right into the alt-right, nationalist and even racist."
Halfway through his testimony, Van Tatenhove grew emotional about the attack on the Capitol. "I think we've gotten exceedingly lucky there was not more bloodshed there," he said.
"I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring," Van Tatenhove said, referring to the possibility that former President Donald Trump could run again in 2024. "He will try to "whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit."
Ayres, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the riots, testified he traveled to Washington on Jan. 6, because of Trump and his messages claiming the 2020 presidential election was "stolen"
"I was pretty hardcore into social media, Facebook, Instagram," Ayres testified. "I followed President Trump to the "Stop the Steal' rally. I felt like I needed to be there.
"I was very upset, as were most of his supporters. That's what got me to come down here," Ayres said.
Ayres also testified that he marched to the Capitol after Trump's Jan. 6 rally because of what the president said.
"The president got everyone riled up, told everyone to march down. I was angry after everything that was said in the speech," Ayres said. "Everyone was in the hope that Mike Pence would not certify the election."
Ayres said once Trump tweeted for "everyone to go home" later that day, he said the crowd dispersed.
"Once President Trump put his tweet out, we left," Ayres testified. "If he would've done that earlier that day, we wouldn't be in this bad situation."
Earlier Tuesday, the chairman of the committee opened the hearing by saying Trump "seized" on the anger of his supporters to form a mob.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., asserted Trump was unlike any other American president in that he did not accept the will of the voters that Joe Biden had been fairly elected president in November 2020.
Rather, he encouraged his supporters to believe the election had been stolen from him.
"What Donald Trump was required to do in that moment -- what would have been required of any American leader -- was to say we did our best and we came up short," Thompson said. "He went the opposite way. He seized on the anger he had already stoked among his most loyal supporters. And as they approached the line, he didn't wave them off. He urged them on."
The committee focused especially on a tweet from Trump in December 2020 -- "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" -- saying it may have been a catalyst for extremist groups to plan the attack.
Committee Vice Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in her own opening statement, rejected the assertions of some Trump supporters that the former president was "manipulated" by outside advisers into believing there was widespread election fraud.
Trump, she said, had access to "more detailed and specific information showing that the election was not actually stolen" than almost any other American, adding, "No rational or sane man in his position could disregard that information and reach the opposite conclusion."
In November, the committee subpoenaed leaders of far-right extremist groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
The committee has said members of the Oath Keepers were involved with planning and participating in the violence at the U.S. Capitol -- and 18 members of the group have been indicted by a federal grand jury after traveling to Washington with paramilitary gear and supplies.
In papers filed Friday, the Justice Department listed evidence showing that a member of the Oath Keepers carried explosives to the Washington area, and another kept a "death list" before the attack.
Enrique Tarrio, former chairman of the Proud Boys, was arrested on Jan. 4, 2021, on charges of burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was taken from Asbury United Methodist Church during a previous protest in D.C.
Tarrio and four others were indicted last month on seditious conspiracy charges, but a judge delayed a trial scheduled for August, citing the ongoing work of the Jan. 6 committee.
The committee's last public hearing two weeks ago featured explosive testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson about Trump's behavior on the day of the attack. On Friday, the panel heard from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone during a closed-door meeting -- during which he corroborated previous testimony about misconduct involving Trump on Jan. 6.
Some of Cipollone's recorded testimony was shown in Tuesday's hearing.
Cheney said the next hearing, to be held next week, will show more from Cipollone, as well as a minute-by-minute walk-through of that day.