A significant question facing the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as federal courts handling Jan. 6 criminal cases, is the extent to which then-President Donald Trump is responsible for the actions of many who stormed the Capitol that day, especially including those with ties to extremist organizations. This article examines the publicly available evidence to date relying on three types of information.
First, several defendants have invoked Trump in their own statements to judges. Defense counsel have argued, for instance, that the defendant bears diminished culpability for participation in the events of Jan. 6 because they were encouraged to act by Trump, both in the weeks leading up to the certification of Electoral College votes and during his speech at the Ellipse. One jury recently rejected this defense for the first time in the case of Dustin Thompson, an Ohio man convicted of six charges stemming from the Jan. 6 riot, but additional defendants have introduced similar arguments that will be tested in court.
But it is not just the representations of defendants on their own behalf that point to Trump.
Second, evidence presented by government prosecutors has illuminated connections to Trump, and government prosecutors have drawn a causal link between Trump’s encouragement and the actions of his supporters. This material includes, for example, evidence of what defendants said in social media and other communications prior to Jan. 6, and prosecutors’ allegations about defendants’ activities.
Third, research on TheDonald.win (“The Donald”)—a hard-right, pro-Trump online forum—conducted by the non-partisan investigative organization Advance Democracy, Inc., provides corroborating accounts of individuals affiliated with extremist organizations taking the former president’s words as instructions. The House Select Committee has been particularly interested in exploring possible connections between The Donald and Trump’s advisors, as a massive amount of planning and coordination for the insurrection was hosted on the forum.
An analysis of these threads of information suggests a causal connection between former President Trump’s words and the subsequent actions of his supporters who joined the insurrection. This connection is evident among those with ties to extremist organizations, including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percenters. These ties vary from attenuated and decentralized connections to leadership positions within the organizations. The mounting evidence that members of extremist organizations and their sympathizers were treating then-President Trump’s words as instructions is indicative of his responsibility for the events that took place on Jan. 6.
Before delving into the three types of information in detail, it is important to recall the conditions preceding Jan. 6 – in particular, the groundwork Trump laid for how his supporters and militia group members would subsequently interpret the former President’s signals (See also, “Incitement Timeline: Year of Trump’s Actions Leading to the Attack on the Capitol”).
Beginning in the general election campaign for the presidency, several key moments presaged Trump’s unwillingness to concede his loss to Biden, and the ultimately violent interference in the transfer of power. In a Sept. 23, 2020 White House press conference, Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the election. During the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” and that “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.” Over the course of the year he had celebrated and encouraged shows of political violence.
Perhaps the most important inflection point in the immediate lead up to the certification of Electoral College votes came on Dec. 19, 2020 when Trump announced a “wild” protest in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, tweeting “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” As the Washington Post’s Philip Bump recently documented, the date Dec. 19th is frequently mentioned in legal documents pertaining to Jan. 6 defendants, and—as demonstrated in the court filings discussed below—Trump’s tweet appeared to be the catalyst for supporters to travel, sometimes from long distances, to Washington, D.C.
On Jan. 6 itself, Trump made a series of incendiary statements during his speech at the Ellipse. For context, it is important to highlight that his remarks came in the wake of a concerted disinformation campaign to convince his supporters that the rightful winner of the American presidency had been stolen from them (the Big Lie) in what amounted to a coup. His remarks also came in the wake of his close associates, like Roger Stone, telling Trump supporters that all peaceful options had now been closed off.
One more piece of context is the expectation Trump and his associates had set for the idea that Trump might invoke the Insurrection Act to hold onto power. In a Sept. 12, 2020 interview at the White House with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, Trump was asked what he would do in the event Americans “threaten riots” in response to his winning the election. He replied: “We’ll put them down very quickly if they do that…. We have the right to do that, we have the power to do that if we want. Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send them in and we do it very easy. I mean it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes, within minutes. Minneapolis, they were having problems. We sent in the National Guard within a half an hour. That was the end of the problem. It all went away.” After the New York Times and other media reported that Trump was considering imposing martial law, in prescient remarks, Elizabeth Neumann, a former Trump administration Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official, told CNN on Dec. 22, 2021: “In the conspiratorial conservative base of supporting Trump, there are calls for using the Insurrection Act to declare martial law. When they hear that the president is actually considering this, there are violent extremist groups that look at this as a dog whistle, an excuse to go out and create … violence.”
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It should be noted that the analysis that follows is not comprehensive and is only meant to provide insight into the constellation of evidence that Trump motivated many supporters, including those with ties to extremist organizations, to travel to D.C. and ultimately breach the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election. It is also important to emphasize a methodological weakness in drawing inferences from the population of Jan. 6 criminal defendants. These criminal cases involve only a portion of the total number of people thought to have participated in the attack on the Capitol (at least 823 defendants out of 2,000-2,500 people the Justice Department says entered the Capitol building). There may also be “selection effects” related to which individuals have been indicted (for example, a possibly higher rate of communications and self-identification on social media) and which were indicted first, thus providing more records of their cases.
January 6 Defendants’ Claims/Plea Agreements
A review of court filings collated by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism for its Capitol Hill Siege database shows defendants claiming their actions were due to Trump’s encouragement or instruction. Defendants and their counsel have invoked Trump in plea agreements—joint agreements sworn to by the government and the defendant outlining the charges to which the defendant will plead guilty—and other memoranda. The following focuses on those documents and, where relevant, also refers to the government documents in the case.
- Douglas Sweet: Sweet pleaded guilty to unlawful picketing in the Capitol and was sentenced to 36 months of probation with one month of home detention. A sentencing memorandum submitted by Sweet’s defense counsel characterizes Sweet as a minor and non-violent actor in the events of Jan. 6 and casts blame on a host of other factors and individuals, including Trump, for creating a tumultuous environment. News reporting indicates that Sweet was involved in extremist groups, including the Three Percenters.
- The sentencing memorandum submitted by Sweet’s defense counsel states that Sweet traveled to Washington, D.C. and then marched to the Capitol at the behest of President Trump: “On January 6, Mr. Sweet, upon the urging of President Trump, traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest the results of the 2020 presidential election. He rode to the nation’s capital in a truck with five others from Matthews County, Virginia. After hearing the president’s speech and heeding his call for supporters to ‘walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,’ Mr. Sweet marched with thousands of others to the Capitol building.”
- The memo further states that Sweet traveled to D.C. because Trump asked his supporters to do so, but argued that Sweet had no preconceived notions of entering the Capitol: “Later, when the FBI interviewed Mr. Sweet and he was asked about his intentions in going to D.C., he admitted he ‘had no idea that there was even a possibility of [speaking to members of Congress]. When we went up, we were just going up to see Donald Trump speak. He asked his supporters to come, so we all went. There was no preconception that we would ever be able to go in.’”Aside: The government’s sentencing memorandum focused on a local news interview with Sweet on Jan. 7, where Sweet said that he was not trying to stop the certification of electoral votes and did not have “any malice or intention of malice,” but also did not appear to express regret for his actions and said he hoped to “talk to the Senate and the House and actually speak” even though he might have to “pretty much force [his] way in.”
- Andrew Ryan Bennett: Bennett pleaded guilty to unlawful picketing in the Capitol. He was sentenced to two years of probation, including three months home confinement (though U.S. district judge James Boasberg questioned why the government did not ask for jail time). The sentencing memorandum submitted by Bennett’s defense counsel leans heavily on allegations of Trump’s culpability, as well as the amplification of Trump’s messages by other political and media leaders. It states that Bennett had led an ordinary life until he was duped by Trump’s exploitation of grievances and false claims that the election was stolen. Allegations in news reporting state that Bennett was a Proud Boys “admirer,” but not a member. The government’s sentencing memorandum, on the other hand, does not mention Trump.The sentencing memorandum submitted by Bennett’s defense counsel states that Bennett did not expect what would happen at the Capitol, and though he entered the building, he was not violent or aggressive and did not have a conspiratorial agenda. The government’s sentencing memorandum also states that Bennett’s decision to participate in the riot “was not made on a whim” and he believed he needed to “Stop the Steal,” but he attempted to dissuade others from engaging in acts of violence once inside the Capitol. The defense’s sentencing memorandum argues that Trump’s statements should diminish Bennett’s culpability:
- “Up until November 2020, Mr. Bennett had never engaged in bitter partisan politics. Throughout the majority of his adult life he never pursued or espoused conservative or right wing extremist views. Regrettably, Mr. Bennett like thousands and hundreds of thousands of American citizens felt[sic] prey to a pervasive, destructive and false message emanating from the most powerful political pulpit in the United States.”
- “To redress the vulnerability and the stolen election Donald Trump called for action. Specifically, he called on his millions of supporters to travel and demonstrate in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. Mr. Bennett answered that call.”
- Matthew Greene: Greene is a first-degree member (the least senior membership tier) of the Central New York chapter of the Proud Boys. According to the plea agreement that he entered into with the government, Greene conspired with co-defendants Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe and other members of the Proud Boys “to unlawfully enter the Capitol grounds by overwhelming police defenses, for the purpose of interfering with the certification of the Electoral College Vote taking place inside the Capitol building.”Greene’s plea agreement and other court filings state that President Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet triggered his decision to go to D.C. on Jan. 6, but they also note that Greene marched to the Capitol with other Proud Boys before Trump’s speech at the Ellipse.
- According to his plea agreement, “On December 19, 2021, when Greene saw then-President Donald Trump’s tweet referencing a ‘wild’ protest to take place on January 6, 2021, he decided that he would attend the event, and he booked a hotel in Washington, D.C. for January 5-7, 2021.”
- According to a government brief, Greene marched with other Proud Boys to the Capitol before Trump’s speech at the Ellipse where he made several incendiary remarks.
A government brief opposing Greene’s attempt to revoke his detention order includes additional suggestions that Greene was taking direction from Trump even after Jan. 6, including with respect to the Insurrection Act:
- Greene appeared to be waiting for direction from Trump regarding the Insurrection Act: “On January 8, 2021, in a different Signal chat, a contact asked whether Greene was back ‘up north.’ The defendant replied, ‘I’m back home now. Regroup and refit.’ That conversation continued Jan. 10, with the contact asking whether the President had signed the Insurrection Act. Greene speculated that if it had in fact been signed, ‘He [the President] will tell us somehow.’”
- Additionally, “[a]fter noting that then-President Trump ‘threw us all under the bus,’ he said to the Central New York Proud Boys chat, ‘the sooner everyone wakes up that no one is going to fix this mess besides us the sooner we can collectively take back our country.’”
- William Chrestman: Chrestman was indicted alongside five other defendants allegedly part of a conspiracy: Christopher Kuehne, Louis Enrique Colon, Ryan Ashlock, Felicia Konold, and Cory Konold. Chrestman and the former three defendants were allegedly members of the Kansas City chapter of the Proud Boys. The relevant complaint and indictment do not shed light on the group’s potential motivation, but in at least one of Chrestman’s court filings—an opposition to the government’s detention memorandum— his defense counsel argues that the acceptance of the Proud Boys into the Republican mainstream, including the support they received from Trump, led to action on Jan. 6.
- For example, the brief argues: “It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement. Only someone who thought they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing. And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did.”
- It continues, “They watched as their ‘pro-America, pro-capitalism and pro-Trump’ rhetorical strategy ‘allowed the Proud Boys to gain entry into the Republican mainstream.’ They watched as law enforcement attacked Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism protestors, but escorted Proud Boys and their allies to safety. They watched as their leader, Enrique Tarrio, was named Florida state director of Latinos for Trump. They watched the Trump campaign, ‘well aware of the organized participation of Proud Boys rallies merging into Trump events. They don’t care.’ [citing NYT op-ed by Dr. Kathleen Belew] They watched when then-President Trump, given an opportunity to disavow the Proud Boys, instead told them to ‘stand back and stand by.’ They understood that phrase as ‘a call to arms and preparedness. It suggests that these groups, who are eager to do violence in any case, have the implicit approval of the state.’ [also citing Belew] Having seen enough, the Proud Boys (and many others who heard the same message) acted on January 6.”
- The memorandum also relies on case law suggesting that individuals cannot be convicted when they had been subjected to “active misleading” by “the voice of the State most presently speaking,” and highlights a statement made by Mitch McConnell explaining his impeachment vote: “The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.”
- “The Capitol Hill rioters were actively misled by . . . former President Donald Trump. Trump told the assembled rabble what they must do; they followed his instructions. Then, he ratified their actions [on Twitter], cementing his symbiotic relationship with the rioters.”
- Most explicitly, the memo argues: “Convicting ‘a citizen for exercising a privilege which the State had clearly told him was available to him’ violates the Due Process Clause. The former President gave that permission and privilege to the assembled mob on January 6. Trump’s incitement and enablement of this insurrectionary riot weighs heavily against the weight of the evidence prong, because the mob was given explicit permission and encouragement by the former President to do what they did. The American head of state directed a specific action; the Due Process Clause says that those who obeyed him have a viable defense against criminal liability.”
It should be noted that the brief is somewhat circumspect about the insinuation that Chrestman himself was inspired by Trump’s rhetoric, but its broader arguments that as a group, members of the Proud Boys and others were mobilized to action by President Trump has implications for both Chrestman and President Trump’s responsibility writ large.
- Thomas Caldwell: Caldwell is charged as part of the Oath Keepers Seditious Conspiracy indictment discussed below. The memorandum to support reconsidering his detention filed by Caldwell’s defense counsel argues in part that “All Americans agree that there is no crime in engaging in political protests and heated rhetoric. Activists descending on Washington, D.C to have their (often disgruntled) voices heard is an American tradition. Citizens have every right to demonstrate, whether their beliefs are correct, incorrect, mainstream, or off-beat. On January 6th, at the urging of former President Donald J. Trump, hundreds of thousands of disgruntled, patriotic Americans came to Washington to protest what they viewed as an unfair election.” Note, however, Caldwell only asserts a connection between Trump and a “protest.” He does not refer to entering the Capitol and other illegal activities involving the insurrection.
Additional Government Evidence
In many cases, the Justice Department’s court filings include evidence that defendants relied on Trump’s words and actions as a motivation for traveling to D.C. on Jan. 6 and engaging in illegal conduct that day. The evidence includes social media posts and other communications in the days and weeks leading up to the insurrection.
Indictments of a group of Oath Keeper members and affiliates—now including Donovan Crowl, Sandra Parker, Bennie Parker, Laura Steele, Connie Meggs, William Isaacs, and James Beeks (“Oath Keepers Stack Conspiracy”) —reveals the group’s ties to national Oath Keepers leadership—including, among others, Stewart Rhodes, Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Thomas Caldwell and Jessica Watkins. The latter group were indicted as part of a separate conspiracy (“Oath Keepers Seditious Conspiracy”). Indictments in each conspiracy, over multiple iterations, provide numerous examples of alleged Oath Keepers co-conspirators indicating that they were following directions from Trump, which if true would indicate that he bears some direct responsibility for the criminal events of that day.
- The first superseding indictment in the Oath Keepers Seditious Conspiracy includes the allegation that Kelly Meggs wrote Facebook messages to another individual on Dec. 22 that read in part: “Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your shit!!”
- The government’s memorandum in support of pre-trial detention of Watkins includes the following: “As the inauguration grew nearer, Watkins indicated that she was awaiting direction from President Trump. Her concern about taking action without his backing was evident in a November 9, 2020, text in which she stated, ‘I am concerned this is an elaborate trap. Unless the POTUS himself activates us, it’s not legit. The POTUS has the right to activate units too. If Trump asks me to come, I will. Otherwise, I can’t trust it.’ Watkins had perceived her desired signal by the end of December. In a text exchange with Co-defendant Donovan Crowl on Dec. 29, 2020, she informed, ‘[w]e plan on going to DC on the 6th’ because ‘Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come,’ and how, ‘[i]f Trump activates the Insurrection Act, I’d hate to miss it’” (see also seventh superseding indictment).
- The government’s memorandum in support of pre-trial detention of Watkins also includes a communication where Watkins discusses the “QRF” – quick reaction force – of individuals with weapons caches standing by outside of Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6th: “As she explained to a contact when preparing to attend a November election fraud rally in Washington D.C., QRF was designed so that ‘If it gets bad, they QRF to us with weapons for us,’ but that, otherwise, ‘[w]e can have mace, tasers, or night sticks. QRF staged, armed, with our weapons, outside the city’ and advised ‘to be prepared to fight hand to hand’ while ‘guys outside DC with guns, await orders to enter DC under permission from Trump, not a minute sooner.’” Requesting pretrial detention of Watkins, the government then argues: “Were it not for the successful evacuation of the Vice President and Senators, or had there been ‘permission from Trump’ as possibly signaled by invocation of the Insurrection Act—a chance that she did not want to miss,—Watkins appeared ready and willing to engage in even more violence that day.”
Communications among the Three Percenters revealed in court documents also demonstrate that the group—beginning with top leadership—was monitoring President Trump’s words and treating them as instructions.
- Jonas Buxton: Buxton is charged with four counts related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
- The criminal complaint against Buxton includes photos of screens on Buxton’s phone. One of these images is a letter from the National Council of the Three Percenters issuing a “General Call to Action!” on Jan. 6. Among other things, the letter said, “The President of the United States has put out a general call for the patriots of this Nation to gather there on this date. And this organization will be answering that call!” The letter also strongly emphasizes peaceful protest and non-confrontation.
- California Three Percenters Conspiracy: The government charged a group from California, including individuals affiliated with the Three Percenters, as participants in a conspiracy: Alan Hostetter, Russell Taylor, Erik Scott Warner, Felipe Antonio “Tony” Martinez, Derek Kinnison, and Ronald Mele. The indictment reveals discussions in messaging apps and social media platforms that indicate that their decision to travel to D.C. on Jan. 6 was triggered by Trump’s tweet on Dec. 19.The messages laid out in the indictment clearly anticipate violence. For example, in the “about” section of one Telegram chat, Taylor wrote “Many of us have not met before and we are all ready and willing to fight. We will come together for this moment that we are called upon.” Members of the group frequently discussed bringing weapons to D.C., and in another chat, Taylor posted, “I personally want to be on the front steps and be one of the first ones to breach the doors!” Among other evidence of advance planning inspired by Trump, the indictment alleges:
- First, on “December 19, 2020, TAYLOR posted to HOSTETTER’s Telegram chat a link to a Tweet that President Trump posted on Twitter earlier that day, which stated, ‘Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!’ Alongside the link, TAYLOR posted the message, ‘Who is going?’”
- Also on Dec. 19, Hostetter posted on Instagram “explaining the reasons to travel to D.C. for January 6, 2021.” He posted in part: “Late last night President Trump tweeted that all patriots should descend on Washington DC on Wednesday 1/6/2021. This is the date of the Joint Session of Congress in which they will either accept or reject the fake/phony/stolen electoral college votes.”
- According to the indictment, Hostetter and Taylor also reserved hotel rooms in D.C. on Dec. 19.
- Then, on “December 20, 2020, TAYLOR renamed HOSTETTER’s November 10, 2020 Telegram chat as ‘The California Patriots-Answer the Call Jan 6.’”
- “On December 24, 2020 MELE posted to Facebook a message stating that he and three friends were thinking of renting a car to drive cross-country, ‘arriving January 5 to support our President on the 6th and days to follow just in case.’”
- Taylor posted on his “russ.taylor” Instagram account on Dec. 30, 2020: “Spread the word to other CALIFORNIA Patriots to join us as we March into the Capitol Jan 6. …. There will be speakers there and we will be part of the large effort for the ‘Wild Rally’ that Trump asked us all to be part of.”
Court documents have also included evidence that additional individuals who at least sympathized with extremist groups, were taking direction from then-President Trump.
- Lucas Denney & Donald Hazard: The criminal complaint against Denney and Hazard includes a message exchange where the two allegedly discussed “linking up with” the Proud Boys and contacting different chapters for assistance with hotel reservations, but it is not clear if they were otherwise affiliated with an extremist group. Denny also appeared to be wearing a hat with the “III%ers” symbol on the National Mall, though the complaint suggests this is representative of a common belief rather than membership in a particular group. The two were allegedly also members of a self-proclaimed militia group, the “Patriot Boys,” which they stated was connected to the Proud Boys.The criminal complaint indicates that the pair were motivated, at least in part, by calls from Trump:
- “On or about December 21, 2020, HAZARD and DENNEY discussed a militia meeting that HAZARD could not attend. DENNEY told HAZARD that the meeting ‘[w]ent great man. We’re all good and solid. Trump himself is calling for a big protest in DC on January 6th. I’m not going to miss this one. If you can go, it’s paid for.’”
- Denney sent Facebook messages, some of which indicate being motivated by Trump, including: “I’m going to DC. Leaving on the 4th with a big group of my guys. Big rally on the 6th. Been taking all day everyday to organize and make sure everyone has the right equipment and supplies. . . . It’s the rally Trump has called for. It’s the day that Congress is going to try and certify the results with the electorial[sic] college. But Pence oversees that and he can deny the ones from the states that cheated. After he does that, you’re going to see ANTIFA and BLM start rioting. That’s why Trump has called everyone there to fight back and show support. The media is not reporting how big this really is because they are trying to hide it from being big news. But keep an eye on my Facebook January 6th. I’ll post pics, videos and go live as much as I can.” (emphasis added).
- In another Facebook message on or about Jan. 4, 2021, Denney allegedly said: “Things are going to be happening here. Trump is going to be speaking to everyone Wed before everyone marches to the capital. Rumour has it that he may march with us. I’ll tell you more when you get here on where to be wed and what time so you have the best seats.”
The case against Denney has a complicated procedural history, including one point at which the government lost track of his case and failed to indict him within 30 days as required by law. Denney pleaded guilty to one charge in March 2022. The government obtained a waiver of speedy trial requirements in Hazard’s case.
- Kenneth Grayson: One message included in the criminal complaint against Grayson, which he allegedly sent on Dec. 23, 2020, said in part: “I’m there for the greatest celebration of all time after Pence leads the Senate flip!! OR IM THERE IF TRUMP TELLS US TO STORM THE FUKIN CAPITAL IMA DO THAT THEN! We don’t want any trouble but they are not going to steal this election that I guarantee bro!!”
Users of The Donald
According to research from the non-partisan investigative organization Advance Democracy, Inc. (ADI), some users of The Donald who appear to be affiliated with the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers also communicated that they were taking instructions from President Trump with respect to actions on Jan. 6.
Three users of The Donald, who appear to be affiliated with the Oath Keepers according to ADI, indicated that they closely followed Trump statements, viewing his words as instructions.
- User “COLDWARPATRIOT55” said they did not attend the Jan. 6th events in person, but interpreted Trump’s words to come to DC and then to go home as orders.
Two comments from Jan. 13 indicate that this user took Trump’s words as instructions, including one comment where they took seriously Trump’s apparent message of “no violence”:
- User “Oathkeeper4lyfe” indicated that they were planning housing for a trip to D.C. on Jan. 6 within 11 hours after Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet. The user also said of Trump, “I love that he is making his tweets about winning the election more and more direct and succinct” and also included a reference to the Three Percenters.
Also within hours of Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet, “Oathkeeper4lyfe” gave users advice on how to dress to avoid standing out to law enforcement and on carrying firearms during the planned protests in a comments section under the heading, “TRUMP TWEET. DADDY SAYS BE IN DC ON JAN. 6TH.” The user also gave tactical advice such as “[s]tay with large groups of armed patriots” and explained how to join an encrypted messaging group via oathkeepers.42web.io.
- User “Rogerdoger” commented that the governor of Georgia “just better pray Trump doesn’t have us take care of Georgia like we are DC,” and said that Trump’s “plan is us on the 6th.” This user also commented on Dec. 29, 2020 that the Three Percenters were waiting for specific instructions from Trump:
This user also expressed frustration at the perceived lack of organizing efforts and action by Trump in several comments, including one on Jan. 1, 2021:
On Dec. 20, 2020, the “Rogerdoger” suggested others not count on an Executive Order or martial law because Trump had disavowed those options. Instead, the user – who once commented, “I’m an oath keeper” – said: “His plan is us on the 6th.”
On Dec. 29, 2020, Rogerdoger made a post about bringing rope to DC, stating: “I’m thinking of bringing some rope. Any good suggestions? Is paracord any good. Oh, hey Republicans, just fyi, you’re the traitors we are going to be looking for…just fyi. You think you were worried about BLM and Antifa? It’s going to be wild.” – the last part echoing Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet. Rogerdoger’s post received 140 upvotes. In the comments section, he made the reference to hanging more explicit in writing, “Cool so they can’t thrash around so much when they’re dangling.”
Advance Democracy research also uncovered users of The Donald who may be affiliated with the Proud Boys who appeared to take Trump’s statements as instructions.
- User “Brandon1776” made a comment on Jan. 3, 2021 suggesting that he believed that then-President Trump had called the Proud Boys to DC and elsewhere said that he would “be there” on Jan. 6.
- User “PeaceThroughStrength” posted a photo in the crowd outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and made multiple comments that made it clear that they felt they were following what Trump told them to do. These include a message on Jan. 12, 2021:
The user expressed frustration in another post on Jan. 23, 2021 that indicated he felt Trump had instructed his supporters to take the actions on Jan. 6 and then abandoned them:
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Moments after Trump was acquitted in the impeachment trial that followed the events of Jan. 6, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made remarks about the former President’s culpability.
There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.
McConnell argued that Congress could not impeach a former President. But he pointed to other avenues for accountability. He said:
President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run, still liable for everything he did while in office, didn’t get away with anything yet – yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.
By a vote of 57-43, the Senate voted to acquit.
Whether the investigators in the House Select Committee and ultimately the Justice Department fully and effectively pursue accountability for the events of Jan. 6 remains to be seen. Certainly, far more evidence is before them than was before the Senate.