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Jan. 6 committee staffers speak out on the threat of extremism

Listen to staffers from the Jan. 6 committee describe their investigation into the deadly Capitol riot, and the ongoing threats extremists pose in the U.S.


C-SPAN: Come for the incessant prank calls, stay for the riveting dialogue from D.C. insiders.

I’m not saying this tongue-in-cheek. Personally, I’m obsessed with both. And that obsession paid off last week. 

But first, a quick flashback.

Some of you may have read my coverage after the first batch of hearings by the House Jan. 6 committee. One of the standout moments, in my view, occurred when the committee showed a play-by-play of the planning for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, in a video narrated by one of the committee’s investigators, Marcus Childress. 

Here’s that video:

I’m fascinated by these investigators. They’ve had the best vantage point imaginable into the deepest (and perhaps darkest) secrets behind one of the most sordid moments in U.S. history. Their lives are the stuff of summer blockbusters.

Investigating a former president and the bloodthirsty mob that adored him? Risking venomous — potentially violent — backlash to unearth truths many wanted to remain hidden? It’s all very Jordan Peele-ian.

And the final chapter hasn’t even been written yet. Yes, several rioters and people who helped organize the attack — essentially, the foot soldiers in Donald Trump’s war on democracy — have been convicted of crimes related to Jan. 6. But the biggest names involved have seemingly eluded punishment so far. That includes Trump and others, but also corporations, including Twitter and Facebook, that were used to organize the deadly event but largely avoided a detailed accounting in the committee’s final report. 

I can only imagine all the things the Jan. 6 investigators know — much of which they surely can’t say, given ongoing investigations. 

But fortunately, some of them are speaking out. 

Last week, Georgetown University’s law school hosted a discussion that aired on C-SPAN and featured Jan. 6 investigators talking about the ongoing threat posed by violent extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. 

Childress kicked things off for the panel by reflecting on his observation during interviews that extremist groups had ingratiated themselves with grassroots conservative organizations in the lead-up to Jan. 6 by offering themselves up as “security.” He went on to note these groups’ effectiveness in recruiting current and former members of the U.S. armed forces.

“A lot of these individuals felt that they had served their country and sacrificed — which they had — for their country in certain ways,” said Childress, who added that the military recruits had been manipulated by a “strong leader who made them feel needed.” 

In 2020, civil rights counterprotests and public demonstrations against Covid safety measures effectively became Jan. 6 test runs for many of the extremists, said another panelist, Sandeep Prasanna.

“There was a lot of muscle memory that was built over the course of 2020,” he noted.

The extremist groups “weren’t necessarily hired, they were there to defend against a sort of ambiguous and vaguely defined threat of antifa or Black Lives Matter,” Prasanna said. “And when you ask them who those people are, they can’t really identify them.”

Another panelist, Meghan Conroy, spoke of the ways Jan. 6 rioters were radicalized online, noting that most of the people who stormed the Capitol were not affiliated with any particular group and many of them even expressed varying reasons for their role in the riot. 

“What’s noteworthy about that, though, is no matter the diversity of this unaffiliated mob’s grievances, they all showed up to keep Trump in power,” she said. “And some of them were willing to kill or die to ensure that Trump would continue being their president. And a jaw-dropping number of people who are not part of extremist groups were willing to do those things.”

She concluded that “most extremists are not really affiliated with extremist groups, and a lot of them are kind of co-radicalizing and co-mobilizing and collaborating in online spaces, and social media platforms have allowed them to do that.”

It’s impossible for me to include all the gems from this panel in a single blog post. If you want to learn what the eyes and ears of the Jan. 6 investigation determined from what they saw and heard throughout the probe, I highly recommend giving the panel a watch below.