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Sunday, November 27, 2022

Trump Associates Links to Extremists Investigated by Jan. 6 Panel

After members of the far-right extremist group Oath Keepers stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, their leader called someone on the phone with an urgent message for then-President Donald Trump, another extremist told the researchers.

While meeting in a private suite at the Phoenix Park Hotel, an Oath Keeper member says he heard its leader, Stewart Rhodes, repeatedly urge the person on the phone to tell Trump to call the militia groups to fight to keep the president in power.

“I just want to fight,” Rhodes said after hanging up on the person, who denied Rhodes’ appeal to speak directly with the Republican president, according to court records.

Federal prosecutors have not said who they believe Rhodes was talking to on that call, which is detailed in court documents in the case of an Oath Keeper member who pleaded guilty in the riot. An attorney for Rhodes says the call never happened.

However, the story has raised questions about whether the head of the extremist group may have heard someone close to Trump on Jan. 6, an issue that could take center stage when the House committee investigating the insurgency holds its hearing. next public hearing on January 6. Tuesday.

The Jan. 6 committee has said it is closely looking at any links between people in Trump’s orbit and extremist groups accused of helping spark the violence on Capitol Hill.

Top leaders and members of the Oath Keepers and another far-right group, the Proud Boys, have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the most serious cases the Justice Department has brought so far in the Jan. 6 attack.

Neither federal prosecutors nor House investigators have alleged that anyone in the Trump White House was in communication with extremist groups in the run-up to Jan. 6.

But at least two men close to Trump, longtime friend Roger Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have known contacts with far-right and extremist groups that, in some cases, were allegedly involved in Jan. 6.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former adviser to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, also told the House committee she heard mention of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers ahead of the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on 6 from January. But no further details have been revealed about it.

Cassie Miller, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center who provided the committee with information on extremists, said she hopes lawmakers will build on that testimony and possibly reveal more information about connections between people close to Trump and groups like Oath Keepers and Proud. Kids.

“Right now, things are very fuzzy,” Miller said.

The Committee Shows A Video Claiming To Show The Proud Boys In Front Of The Capitol On January 6, 2021, As The House Select Committee Investigates The January 6 Attack On The Us Capitol At A Hearing On Capitol Hill In Washington, June 9.  , 2022. (Ap Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
The committee shows a video claiming to show the Proud Boys in front of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, as the House select committee investigates the January 6 attack on the US Capitol at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 9. , 2022. ( Associated Press Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

J. Scott Applewhite via Associated Press

In posts on the social media platform Telegram after the hearing, Stone denied speaking to Meadows on the phone. Asked for comment on the call by The Associated Press, Flynn’s brother replied in an email that the Jan. 6 hearing “is a clown show.”

Neither Stone nor Flynn have been charged in connection with the Capitol riots, and both have invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before the House committee. Trump pardoned each of them after they were convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty in cases unrelated to January 6.

During events in Washington before the riots, Stone used members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that recruits current and former military, first responders and law enforcement, as security guards.

Photos and video from January 5 and 6 show Stone flanked by people dressed in Oath Keepers gear. Among them was Joshua James, then leader of the group’s Alabama chapter, who pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy and is cooperating with authorities investigating the insurrection.

Stone, an informal adviser to Trump, denied any knowledge of or involvement in anything illegal on Jan. 6.

“The Oath Keepers voluntarily provided security for me on January 5th. Nothing more, nothing less,” she recently wrote on Telegram.

On Friday, Rhodes’ attorneys told the committee that their client wants to testify in person and publicly. A committee spokesman declined to comment, but lawmakers are unlikely to agree to Rhodes’ terms.

The committee has already interviewed Rhodes for hours behind closed doors, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at the direction of his attorneys when asked about the post-election period, one of his attorneys told the Associated Press. James Lee Bright. Bright said that Rhodes now wants to “confront the narrative that they’re portraying,” which he believes is “completely wrong.”

Rhodes, a former US Army paratrooper, and four co-defendants are scheduled to stand trial in Washington in September. The Oath Keepers have largely avoided public forums since Jan. 6, and it’s unclear who is running the group’s “day-to-day” operations with Rhodes behind bars, said Oren Segal, vice president of the Center for Extremism. Anti-Defamation League.

The Oathkeepers have denied that there was any plan to storm the Capitol. They say their communications and plans prior to January 6 were only aimed at providing security for right-wing figures like Stone before the riots, as well as guarding against possible attacks by antifa activists.

Stone also hasn’t been shy about a close association with Enrique Tarrio, the former Proud Boys president who is scheduled to stand trial in December on sedition charges along with other members of the extremist group that refers to itself as a men’s club. politically incorrect for “Western”. chauvinists”.

In February 2019, a month after being charged with witness tampering and other crimes in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Stone was summoned back to court to answer for a post on his Instagram account showing a photo of the judge with what appeared to be the sights of a gun. On the witness stand, Stone publicly identified Tarrio as one of five or six “volunteers” who provided him with images and content to post on social media. Stone said his house served as a headquarters for his volunteers.

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Trump commuted Stone’s 40-month prison sentence in that case days before he reported to prison and pardoned him months later.

The Proud Boys have been trying to forge connections with leading Republican figures since Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes started the group in 2016, Miller said.

A Proud Boys member told the committee on Jan. 6 that membership in the group skyrocketed after Trump refused to roundly condemn the group during his first debate with Biden. Instead, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stop and wait.”

And while extremist groups tend to collapse after law enforcement authorities jail their top leaders, that doesn’t seem to have happened to the Proud Boys. Despite a brief lull in activity after the riots, 2021 turned out to be one of the busiest years for the extremist group, according to Miller.

Flynn also had contact with some far-right groups prior to January 6. In the weeks after the election, Flynn became a leading figure on the campaign trail to cast doubt on the results and urge Trump to take extraordinary steps to stay in power.

Flynn called Trump’s loss a “coup in progress” and publicly suggested that Trump should seize the voting machines and floated the idea of ​​martial law. He and several allies eventually took those ideas directly to Trump in an Oval Office meeting in December. Flynn was also a featured speaker at a major rally in Washington on December 12, 2020, endorsing Trump’s desperate efforts to subvert his election loss.

In text messages later filed in court, Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers, and other members discussed how members of the group had worked with another far-right group, the First Amendment Praetorians, or 1AP, to provide security. personal to Flynn that day. A photo taken by UPI shows Flynn leaving the rally with Rhodes and at least one 1AP member.

The House committee quoted 1AP founder Robert Patrick Lewis as saying in a letter to Lewis that he claimed to coordinate regularly with Flynn and also claimed to be in contact with Rhodes prior to Jan. 6.

Lewis, who has not been charged as of Jan. 6, said the group was made up of military and police veterans, and provided pro bono security and intelligence in the months after the election. In a recent defamation lawsuit, Lewis and another 1AP member, Philip Luelsdorff, denied involvement in planning or executing the attack on Capitol Hill, saying 1AP has never been a militia or paramilitary group.

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation before being pardoned by Trump just over a month before the Capitol riots.

Richer reported from Boston, Smith from Providence, Rhode Island, and Kunzelman from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

To view full coverage of the January 6 hearings, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.

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