Capitol Insurrection

Jan. 6 Hearings Draw Attention to Antigovernment Groups

Four antigovernment groups are identified in Connecticut by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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The House January 6 Committee picks back up with hearings Tuesday, and on the agenda, a former spokesperson for an extremist group will appear as a witness.

“This is going to be the first time that the public in general will hear from one of the leaders of the extreme right, that was present there during the January 6th riots,” Ken Gray, senior lecturer in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven, and a retired special agent for the FBI, said.

Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, is expected to take the stand as the hearings proceed.

“It will be very interesting to hear the leader of the Oath Keepers, if he does testify, to spell out exactly what they were doing, and why they were doing it, and whether or not they had any direction from anyone within the Trump administration,” Gray said.

Committee members believe the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys led the assault on the Capitol, and some members have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy in connection to events during and leading up to the insurrection. Tatenhove did not plead guilty.

Gray said after Jan. 6, or other major events like the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, membership in extreme groups balloons.

“After January 6, the membership for the Oath Keepers has just exploded, they went through the roof, tripled in size,” Gray said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is monitoring antigovernment groups.

Those of us who study these movements, we saw it coming for a long time,” Rachel Carroll Rivas, senior research analyst for The Intelligence Project at SPLC, said.

They report there were 488 extreme antigovernment groups nationwide in 2021, down from 566 in 2020.

In Connecticut, SPLC has identified four antigovernment groups.

“Connecticut has about the average amount of activity,” Carroll Rivas said. “But I do think that we have serious concerns about some of the specific groups that have been acting in, involved in the state. Oath Keepers has had members in the state for years. And clearly, members of both groups are facing serious charges.”

Of more than 700 people charged in connection with the Capitol riot, at least 25 were members of identified antigovernment organizations, according to SPLC.

With Tavenhove expected to testify, the Jan. 6 Committee will focus on evidence of coordination between former President Donald Trump, his top aides, and far-right groups. Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to President Trump’s chief of staff, previously spoke about this in her testimony.

“That would be a real smoking gun, if they are able to tie the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys to anybody within the White House itself,” Gray said.

Beyond the cases at hand, experts say the hearings could have long-term implications when it comes to extremist groups.

“What happened in terms of the physical and very real threat to our elections and to people's safety on January 6th cannot be tolerated,” Carroll Rivas said. “I think the committee is bringing that public accountability, hopefully, the accountability to elected officials, and our law enforcement is bringing accountability in terms of these charges.”

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