Trump’s Possible Ties to Far-Right Militias Examined by January 6 Committee
By Staff, Agencies
Towards the end of her testimony to the House January 6 select committee, former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson raised for the first time the prospect that Donald Trump might have had a line of communication to the leaders of the extremist groups that stormed the Capitol.
The potential connection from the former US president to the extremist right-wing groups came through her account of Trump’s order to his White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to call Roger Stone and Mike Flynn – which Meadows did – the evening before the Capitol attack.
Trump’s order to Meadows, even though Hutchinson said she did not know what was discussed, is significant because it shows the former president seeking to have a channel to two figures with close ties to the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups.
The directive is doubly notable since it was Trump himself who initiated the outreach to Stone and Flynn, suggesting it was not an instance of far-right political operatives freelancing, for instance, potential strategies to overturn the 2020 election results.
All of this is important because unresolved questions for January 6 investigators remain whether Trump knew that Proud Boys and Oath Keepers would storm the Capitol, and whether Trump was in contact with their leaders who have since been indicted for seditious conspiracy.
The sworn testimony from Hutchinson about Trump’s order to Meadows raised the specter that Trump wanted to learn what plans had been drawn up for the extremist groups regarding January 6 and wanted his aide - rather than doing it himself - to connect with Stone and Flynn.
Now next Tuesday, at its seventh public hearing led by congressman Jamie Raskin, the select committee is expected to examine the connections between Trump and the extremist groups in closer detail, according to a source familiar with the investigation. There seems to be a lot to go after.
The account of Trump’s order was not the only link from the White House to the extremist groups. Hutchinson also testified that she recalled hearing the terms “Oath Keepers” and “Proud Boys” whenever former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was around at the White House.
The Trump “war room” that Hutchinson referred to in her testimony appears to have been the one set up by Giuliani and Eastman, and staffed by other pro-Trump figures including lawyer Boris Epshteyn, Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon, and Giuliani’s aide Bernie Kerik.
That “war room” had specific goals: to help pressure then vice-president Mike Pence to refuse to certify Biden’s election win and send it to the House of Representatives in a contingent election, or failing that, delay the joint session beyond 6 January 2021.
While Stone also had a mid-size suite at the Willard hotel on 5 January and 6 January, it was a different room that was totally separate to the “war room” put together by Giuliani and Eastman. Flynn was also briefly at the Willard, but again, did not lead the “war room”.
By the evening before the Capitol attack, Trump knew that Pence was resisting that plan to unilaterally reject Biden’s election win and that Pence was unlikely to do anything to stop the certification – what Trump thought was the only way left to somehow get a second term.
It was against that backdrop, Hutchinson testified, that Trump wanted Meadows to call Stone and Flynn, a directive that the panel believes could amount to him trying to figure out if any other avenues remained to stop Biden’s certification, say sources close to the inquiry.
The select committee, the sources said, is for the same reason also examining whether Meadows initially expressed an interest in going to the Trump “war room” at the Willard the night before the Capitol attack before being talked out of the idea by Hutchinson.
Stone has repeatedly denied he had anything to do with the Capitol attack, but he would have been a natural choice for Trump to try to reach on 5 January 2021 had he sought to get a sense of what extremist groups might have been planning for the next morning.
The far-right political operative based in Florida, for instance, had close ties to the Proud Boys and its ex-national chairman, Enrique Tarrio, who lived in Miami before his arrest for seditious conspiracy, well before Trump lost the 2020 election to Biden.
When Stone travelled to Washington DC before 6 January 2021, he was accompanied by a man named Jacob Engels, a member of the Proud Boys from Florida who served as something of a lieutenant for him on the day before and the day of the Capitol attack.
Through Engels in particular, Stone appeared to maintain his ties to the Proud Boys, even though during his stay at the Willard hotel on those two days, it was a small group of the Oath Keepers who acted as his personal security detail, pictures and court records show.
The people that guarded Stone included Joshua James, an Oath Keepers member indicted for seditious conspiracy and is cooperating with the government, and Michael Simmons, codenamed “Whip”, who served as the “operations leader” for the Oath Keepers for January 6.
Meanwhile, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn would have been another natural choice for the former president to try and reach in order to learn what extremist groups interested in stopping Joe Biden’s election win certification might be planning.
Flynn was also connected to the Oath Keepers through his own security detail called the 1st Amendment Praetorian, after the two groups guarded him as early as 12 December 2020, when Flynn took part in a Women for America First-affiliated march and rally.
The 1st Amendment Praetorian, though, appeared to serve both a security function and an intelligence-gathering function for Flynn – a former director for the Defense Intelligence Agency – according to multiple people who worked directly with the group.
Flynn’s operatives were involved in election fraud conspiracies from the outset, 1AP’s leader Robert Patrick Lewis and others have said, including working to gather intelligence about the claims cited in lawsuits filed by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell.
The members of the 1st Amendment Praetorian do not appear to have stormed the Capitol like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, but at least one of its operatives, Geoffrey Flohr, circled the Capitol as the attack was underway talking covertly with an earpiece.
While Flohr walked around the Capitol seemingly relaying information, another member of the 1st Amendment Praetorian, Philip Luelsdorff, was observing proceedings in the Trump “war room” led by Giuliani and then Trump lawyer John Eastman at the Willard hotel.