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Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has painted a detailed and damning picture of the events that day, and former President Donald Trump’s culpability in the violent attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
During this week’s hearing, we heard Trump insiders share their concerns that the former president was empowering dangerous right-wing groups, and essentially calling them to Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, the day Congress was scheduled to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
But, on Tuesday, it was live testimony from two men who were not in Trump’s inner circle that was especially concerning to me. “Wake up America,” they metaphorically shouted, “you are being conned and, without awareness and action, that con continues to threaten our country.”
It is a message that especially needs to be heard and heeded by those Republicans who allowed Trump’s power to grow, enabling him to mobilize dangerous groups that threatened to topple our democratic traditions on Jan. 6.
It is a message that remains vitally important today as Trump considers another run for president as he continues to spout his lies about the 2020 election being stolen, a lie that is believed by a shocking number of Americans.
Stephen Ayres, a Trump supporter from Ohio who went to Washington on Jan. 6, and former Oath Keepers spokesperson Jason Van Tatenhove both warned that the events of Jan. 6 could be repeated again after the next presidential election if Americans don’t take more seriously what Trump and many of his backers, especially extremist groups that allied behind his efforts to overturn the election results, did after Nov. 3, 2020.
“I think we need to quit mincing words and just talk about truths and what it was going to be was an armed revolution,” Van Tatenhove told the committee. “This could have been the spark that started a new civil war.”
Some will cast the words of Van Tatenhove, who stopped working for the Oath Keepers in 2016, as overly dramatic. But, as he said, repeatedly, just look at the imagery from Jan. 6: columns of militia entering the Capitol, a gallows meant, at least symbolically, to hang Vice President Mike Pence. Consider that the Oath Keepers stockpiled tactical gear and explosives in Virginia before the events of Jan. 6, according to information gathered by the House committee.
“I do fear for this next election cycle because who knows what that might bring if a president who is willing to try to instill and encourage, whip up, a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit and snake oil … what else is he going to do if he gets elected again? All bets are off at that point,” Van Tanhove told the committee. “I have three daughters. I have a granddaughter, and I fear for the world that they will inherit if we do not start holding these people to account.”
Ayres, who worked in a cabinet factory in northern Ohio, described for the committee his own radicalization. He said he followed Trump and his election fraud claims closely on social media. He believed the election was stolen because these social media channels told him it was.
He came to Washington with friends, he said, after he read about the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. He went to the Capitol after Trump, at the rally near the White House, told his supporters to do so. He left the Capitol, he said, immediately after Trump tweeted that his supporters should do so.
After leaving the social media channels he had been closely following and “doing his own research,” Ayres said he no longer believes the election was stolen.
Ayres, who pleaded guilty to illegally entering the Capitol, said he has lost his job and sold his house. He, too, spoke of accountability and told the committee that he was angry that Trump continues to spread lies that the election was stolen.
His advice for those who still believe Trump’s lies was simple: “The biggest thing for me is to take the blinders off and to make sure you step back and see what’s going on before it’s too late.”
This is a searing reminder that Trump’s lies and alliances with radical groups remain an ongoing threat that must be denounced and refuted by everyone who cares about America and its democracy.