Trump just endorsed an Oath Keeper’s plan to seize control of the Republican Party

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Former President Donald Trump has officially endorsed a plan, created by a man who has self-identified with the Oath Keeper militia, that aims to have Trump supporters consolidate control of the Republican Party.

The plan, known as the “precinct strategy,” has been repeatedly promoted on Steve Bannon’s popular podcast. As ProPublica detailed last year, it has already inspired thousands of people to fill positions at the lowest rung of the party ladder. Though these positions are low-profile and often vacant, they hold critical powers: They help elect higher-ranking party officers, influence which candidates appear on the ballot, turn out voters on Election Day and even staff the polling precincts where people vote and the election boards that certify the results.

“Just heard about an incredible effort underway that will strengthen the Republican Party,” Trump said Sunday in a statement emailed to his supporters. “If members of our Great movement start getting involved (that means YOU becoming a precinct committeeman for your voting precinct), we can take back our great Country from the ground up.”

Trump’s email named Dan Schultz, an Arizona lawyer and local party official who first developed the precinct strategy more than a decade ago. Schultz spent years trying to promote his plan and recruit precinct officers. In 2014, he posted a callout to an internal forum for the Oath Keepers militia group, according to hacked records obtained by ProPublica.

“Why don’t you all join me and the other Oath Keepers who are ‘inside’ the Party already,” Schultz wrote under a screen name. “If we conservatives were to do that, we’d OWN the Party.”

Federal prosecutors in January charged the leader of the Oath Keepers and 10 of its other members with seditious conspiracy in last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. One of them pleaded guilty, as have several members of the group in related cases who are cooperating with the investigation. The group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes, pleaded not guilty.

There is no indication that Schultz had any involvement in the Capitol riot.

Schultz told ProPublica he never became a formal member of the Oath Keepers organization. “I have taken oaths to support and defend the Constitution as a West Point cadet, as a commissioned U.S. Army officer and as a practicing attorney,” Schultz said in a text message. “Those oaths do not have expiration dates, by my way of thinking, and I have kept my oaths. In that sense, I am an ‘oath keeper.’”

According to experts on extremist groups, the Oath Keepers recruit military and law enforcement veterans using the idea that their oath to defend the Constitution never expired. The group then urges people to resist what they say are impending orders to take away Americans’ guns or create concentration camps.

“I don’t ever want to be pulling the trigger on an AR-15 in my neighborhood,” Schultz said in a 2015 conference call with fellow organizers, referring to the semi-automatic rifle. “Oath Keepers, I love them for instilling the oath. But what they need to do also, I think, is spread the message that hey, we can do stuff politically so we never get to the cartridge box.”

In more recent interviews on right-wing podcasts and internet talk shows, Schultz has repeatedly described his precinct strategy as a last alternative to violence.

“It’s not going to be peaceful the next go-round, perhaps,” Schultz said in a June interview with the pro-Trump personality David Clements. “But it ought to be, and the way to ensure that it will be is we’ve got to get enough of these good decent Americans to take over one of the two major political parties.”

It was not clear whether Trump or his aides were aware that Schultz has self-identified with the Oath Keepers. Trump’s spokesperson, Liz Harrington, did not respond to requests for comment.

Schultz has spent months trying to get his idea in front of Trump. Steve Stern, a fellow movement organizer, told ProPublica that he met a former Trump administration official for lunch at Mar-a-Lago, the ex-president’s private club in Palm Beach, in December. While there, Stern said, he got a chance to briefly mention the project to Trump.

Then, last month, Schultz and Stern landed an interview on a talk show hosted by Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who promotes conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. Lindell said he would discuss the plan with Trump personally. Schultz and Stern followed up with a conference call with Harrington and Bannon, according to Stern. Harrington previously worked at Bannon’s “War Room” website.

“I know the president’s very jacked up about it,” Bannon said on his podcast, speaking with Schultz after Trump released the endorsement. “Help MAGA, help the America First movement, right? Help the deplorables, help President Trump, help yourself, your country, community, your kids, grandkids, all of it. Put your shoulder to the wheel.”

Bannon, who led Trump’s 2016 campaign, originally lifted the precinct strategy to prominence in a podcast interview with Schultz last year. After the episode aired, thousands of people answered Bannon’s call to become precinct officers in pivotal swing states, according to data compiled by ProPublica from county records and interviews with local party officials.

As of last August, GOP leaders in 41 counties reported an unusual increase in sign-ups since Bannon’s first interview with Schultz, adding a total of more than 8,500 new precinct officers. The trend appears to have continued since then. New precinct officers started using their powers to remove or censure Republican leaders who contradicted Trump’s election lies and to recruit people who believe the election was stolen into positions as poll watchers and poll workers.

Bannon received a last-minute pardon from Trump after the former adviser was charged with financial fraud. He has pleaded not guilty to contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Bannon’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to Bannon and Lindell, the precinct strategy has won support from pro-Trump figures such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who urged Trump to impose martial law, and lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, who led some of the lawsuits seeking to overturn the election results. Right-wing groups such as Turning Point Action, which organized buses to transport rallygoers on Jan. 6, also joined the effort to recruit precinct officers.

While Stern said he’s thrilled about Trump’s written statement endorsing the precinct strategy, he said he hopes to hear it from Trump’s own lips at an upcoming rally. Stern said he plans to be there with tables to sign more people up.

Oath Keepers in the State House: How a militia movement took root in the Republican mainstream

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North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt swore an oath to uphold the Constitution after his election in 2016 and again in 2020. But there's another pledge that Clampitt said he's upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization.

Dozens of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of them looking like a paramilitary group, wearing camo helmets and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party.

ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town's public works director.

ProPublica's analysis also found more than 400 people who signed up for membership or newsletters using government, military or political campaign email addresses, including candidates for Congress and sheriff, a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California.

Three of the state lawmakers on the list had already been publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Other outlets have alsoscouredthelist, finding police officers and military veterans.

People with law enforcement and military backgrounds — like Clampitt, a retired fire captain in Charlotte, North Carolina — have been the focus of the Oath Keepers' recruiting efforts since the group started in 2009. According to researchers who monitor the group's activities, Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people's guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories. The group is loosely organized and its leaders do not centrally issue commands. The organization's roster has ballooned in recent years, from less than 10,000 members at the start of 2011 to more than 35,000 by 2020, membership records show.

The hacked list marks participants as annual ($50) or lifetime ($1,000) members, so not everyone on the list is currently active, though some said they viewed it as a lifelong commitment even if they only paid for one year. Many members said they had little contact with the group after sending in their dues but still supported the cause. Others drifted away and disavowed the group, even before Jan. 6.

The list also includes at least three people who were arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and who federal prosecutors did not identify as Oath Keepers in charging documents: Andrew Alan Hernandez of Riverside, California; Dawn Frankowski of Naperville, Illinois; and Sean David Watson of Alpine, Texas. They pleaded not guilty. These defendants, their attorneys and family members didn't respond to requests for comment. The Justice Department also declined to comment.

According to experts who monitor violent extremism, the Oath Keepers' broadening membership provides the group with two crucial resources: money and, particularly when government officials get involved, legitimacy.

Clampitt said he went to a few Oath Keepers meetings when he joined back in 2014, but the way he participates now is by being a state legislator. He has co-sponsored a bill to allow elected officials to carry concealed guns in courthouses, schools and government buildings, and he supported legislation stiffening penalties for violent demonstrations in response to last year's protests in Raleigh over George Floyd's murder. Clampitt said he opposes violence but stood by his Oath Keepers affiliation, despite the dozens of members charged in the Capitol riot.

“Five or six years ago, politicians wouldn't be caught dead hanging out with Oath Keepers, you'd have to go pretty fringe," said Jared Holt, who monitors the group for the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous."

The State Lawmakers

Then-state Delegate Don Dwyer from Maryland was the only elected official at the Oath Keepers' first rally, back in April 2009. Dwyer was, by his own account, a pariah in Annapolis, but he was building a national profile as a conservative firebrand. He claimed to take direction from his own interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and a personal library of 230 books about U.S. history pre-1900.

The Oath Keepers' founder, a former Army paratrooper and Yale Law School graduate named Stewart Rhodes, invited Dwyer to speak at the group's kickoff rally — they called it a “muster" — in Lexington, Massachusetts, the site of the “shot heard round the world" that started the Revolutionary War in 1775.

“I still support the cause," Dwyer told ProPublica. “And I'm proud to say that I'm a member of that organization." He left politics in 2015 and served six months in prison for violating his probation after a drunk boating accident.

Dwyer said he was not aware of the Oath Keeper's presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. “If they were there, they were there on a peaceful mission, I'm sure of it," he said. Informed that members were photographed wearing tactical gear, Dwyer responded, “OK, that surprises me. That's all I'll say."

Among the current officeholders on the list is Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who was already publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Finchem was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 but has said he did not enter the building or engage in violence, and he has disputed the characterization of the Oath Keepers as an anti-government group. He is currently running to be Arizona's top elections official, and he won former President Donald Trump's endorsement in September.

Serving with Clampitt in the North Carolina assembly, deputy majority whip Keith Kidwell appeared on the Oath Keepers list as an annual member in 2012. Kidwell declined to comment, calling the membership list “stolen information." A spokesperson for the state house speaker declined to comment on Kidwell's and Clampitt's Oath Keepers affiliation.

The membership list also names Alaska state Rep. David Eastman as a life member and Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin and Georgia state Rep. Steve Tarvin as annual members. Eastman confirmed his membership and declined to answer further questions. Baldwin's spokesperson said he was unavailable to comment.

Tarvin recalled signing up at a booth in White County, Georgia, in 2009 when he was running for Congress. He lost that race but later became a state lawmaker. He didn't view the Oath Keepers as a militia group back then.

Tarvin said he stands by the pledge he signed and said he isn't aware of the Oath Keepers' involvement in the Capitol breach on Jan 6. His congressional district is now represented by Andrew Clyde, who helped barricade a door to the House chamber on Jan. 6 but later compared the riot to a “normal tourist visit."

Kaye Beach, who is listed as an annual member in 2010, is a legislative assistant to Oklahoma state Rep. Jon Echols, the majority floor leader. Beach sued the state in 2011, arguing that the Bible prohibited taking a driver's license photo of her. She eventually lost at the state supreme court. Beach and Echols did not respond to requests for comment.

Two other lawmakers have long been public about their affiliation with the Oath Keepers.

Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers announced her membership a few years ago. She responded to Trump's 2020 loss by encouraging people to buy ammo and recently demanded to “decertify" the election based on the GOP's “audit" of Maricopa County ballots, even though the partisan review confirmed President Joe Biden's win.

Idaho state Rep. Chad Christensen lists his Oath Keepers membership on his official legislative biography, in between the John Birch Society and the Idaho Farm Bureau.

Rogers and Christensen didn't respond to requests for comment.

South Dakota state legislator Phil Jensen appeared on the list as an annual member in 2014, using his title (then state senator) and government email address. His affiliation was reported Tuesday by Rolling Stone. He did not respond to a request for comment.

South Dakota state Sen. Jim Stalzer, listed as an annual member in 2015, told Buzzfeed he has “totally broken" with the Oath Keepers.

The Candidates

Virginia Fuller first encountered the Oath Keepers in 2009 at a meeting in San Francisco featuring Rhodes, the group's founder. Fuller liked Rhodes' message of upholding the Constitution, she told ProPublica. For a while she corresponded with one of the group's leaders but they eventually lost touch, and she moved to Florida and ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Republican ticket in 2018.

Rhodes and other leaders of the Oath Keepers embraced Trump's lies about election fraud and promoted Jan. 6 as a last chance to make a stand for the republic. Asked about Jan. 6, Fuller said, “There was nothing wrong with that. The Capitol belongs to the people."

The Oath Keepers rose to prominence when handfuls of heavily armed members showed up at racial justice protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and their profile grew thanks to a series of standoffs between right-wing militants and federal agents in the Western U.S.

At the 2016 funeral for a rancher who officers shot while trying to arrest him, Stan Vaughan met several Oath Keepers and became an annual member. Vaughan, a one-time chess champion from Las Vegas, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Nevada State Assembly in 2016, 2018 and 2020. Even though Vaughan ran in a predominantly Democratic district, he had the support of his party's establishment, receiving a $500 campaign contribution from Robin Titus, the Assembly's Republican floor leader. Titus did not respond to requests for comment. Vaughan said he'll probably run again once he sees how new districts are drawn.

Vaughan said he wouldn't join the Oath Keepers today. It's not their ideology that bothers him or their involvement in the Jan. 6 riot. Rather, he said he has concerns about how the group's leaders spend its money.

One Oath Keeper seen on Jan. 6 wearing an earpiece and talking with group leaders outside the Capitol was Edward Durfee, a local Republican committee member in Bergen County, New Jersey, who is running for state assembly in a predominantly Democratic district. Durfee has not been charged and said he did not enter the building.

“They were caught up in the melee, what else can I say? For whatever reason, I didn't go in," Durfee said. “They brand you as white supremacists, domestic terrorists. I don't know how we got in this mix where there's so much hatred and so much dislike and how it continues to get fomented. It's just shameful actually."

The Local Party Officials

When Joe Marmorato, a retired New York City cop who moved upstate, signed up for an Oath Keepers annual membership in 2013, he described the skills he could offer the group: “Pistol Shooting, police street tactics, driving skills, County Republican committee member." Marmorato later rose to vice chairman of the Otsego County GOP, but he recently resigned that post because he's moving. Reached by phone, Marmorato stood by the Oath Keepers, even after Jan. 6. “I just thought they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. I know most of them are all retired police and firemen and have the best interests of the country in mind," he said. “No matter what you do, you're vilified by the left."

Steven K. Booth, a twice-elected Republican county commissioner and state senate candidate in Minnesota in the 2000s, said he wants to run for office again if his wife agrees to it. He's still active in the local GOP. Booth joined the Oath Keepers as an annual member in 2011 and said he hasn't heard from them in years. He said he wasn't aware of their role in Jan. 6 but he's concerned that some Capitol breach defendants are being held in jail. “That seems kind of weird to me," Booth said. “I also think it's kind of weird that nobody is doing anything about all the fraud we were told about in the last election either."

Asked about the possibility of Booth running for office again, local GOP chair Rich Siegert started talking through openings Booth could aim for. Booth's Oath Keepers affiliation did not give Siegert pause. “When tyranny comes, that's when you stop and say you've got to do something about it," said Siegert, who heads the party in northern Minnesota's Beltrami County. “To go out and get violent and kill people like they did in the early days, I'm not really in favor of that. How do you get the attention of liberals and get them to listen? Firing guns, I don't know, it's what they do in some countries. Define what 'radical' is."

Not all party officials shared Siegert's view. Richland County, South Carolina, GOP chair Tyson Grinstead distanced his committee from Patsy Stewart, who is listed as an Oath Keepers annual member in 2015. “Personally," Grinstead said, “I don't think there's a place for that in our party."

Stewart has been a delegate or alternate to the GOP state convention and is currently a party precinct officer in Columbia, South Carolina. She didn't respond to requests for comment. In recent months, Trump supporters have flooded into precinct positions in South Carolina and other states as part of an organized movement inspired by the stolen election myth, ProPublica reported in September.

The Poll Worker

When Andy Maul signed up for the Oath Keepers as an annual member around 2010, he touted his role in the Pittsburgh GOP. Maul, who declined to comment, became the chairman of his city council district starting around 2016. But other local party leaders chafed at Maul's confrontational style and lack of follow-through.

“Andy was getting a little out there," said Allegheny County chairman Sam DeMarco, who had to ask Maul to take down some of his inflammatory social media posts. “If you want to be associated with our committee, you have to represent mainstream traditional Republican values and not be affiliated with fringe groups."

Maul left the local party committee in 2020, but he continued serving as a poll worker. According to the county elections department, Maul was the “judge of elections" in charge of his precinct in every election since 2017, including this year's primary in May.

In Pennsylvania, the judge of elections in every precinct is an elected position. If no one runs, as often happens, the local elections office appoints someone to fill in, so a person can sometimes land the job “if you have a pulse and you call them," said Bob Hillen, the Pittsburgh Republican chairman.

“If I opposed people based on their views for being a judge of elections or anything, that would eliminate a whole lot of people," Hillen said. “I'm a city chairman, I don't have time to think about all those things like that."

The Democrat

Around 2005, Marine veteran Bob Haran joined the Minuteman Project, a group of armed people who took it upon themselves to patrol Arizona's border with Mexico. Haran resented that critics called the group vigilantes and Mexican hunters. All they did, he said, was call the Border Patrol.

Haran held positions in the local GOP and had run for the state House as a Republican. During the tea party wave, Haran became frustrated with the new activists' anti-government tilt and turned to the Constitution Party, a minor party that's to the right of the GOP. Haran rose to be the state chairman and secretary. By the time he became an Oath Keepers annual member in 2016, Haran was looking for a new political home.

When Trump rode down a golden escalator to launch his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists," Haran took offense. He faulted the government for failing to secure the border, but he didn't blame people for seeking better lives for themselves and their families. Haran grew up in Coney Island, near a middle-class apartment complex built by Trump's father, and he remembered Trump as a braggadocious playboy, not as the successful self-made businessman he later played on TV. Haran said he was appalled as Republicans fell in line behind Trump.

Then, Haran did something unusual, even among never-Trump Republicans: He became a Democrat.

Haran doesn't agree with the Democrats on everything, but he said he feels welcome in the party. He's still passionate about guns and immigration, but he also supports environmental protections and universal health care. Above all, he wanted to help get rid of Trump. In 2020, he joined his local precinct committee and started regularly attending party meetings.

Haran was so excited to see Trump leave office that he tuned in to watch the Electoral College certification process on Jan. 6. He couldn't believe how fast the Trump supporters reached the Senate floor, or how Oath Keepers were attacking the Constitution they swore to defend.

Haran thought back to when he ran for office as a Republican, in 2000, and lost. “I called my opponent and congratulated him: I would have won except he got more votes," Haran said. “I conceded, which is bestowing legitimacy on my opponent, which is more important than anything."

He finds it disturbing that Trump and other Republicans today won't do that anymore. “They were anti-government," Haran said of the GOP, “but now they're being anti-democracy."

Republican who led the fight to overturn the election now thinks he deserves a Senate seat

Mo Brooks, the Alabama congressman who is about to launch a campaign for Senate, has officially said he condemns the Capitol riot and opposes violence.

But in hours of right-wing media interviews before and after the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, he repeatedly raised the prospect of violence as a possible response to Donald Trump losing the 2020 presidential election.

“This is pretty much it for our country," Brooks said in a December podcast interview that has not been previously reported. “In my judgment, it rivals the election of 1860," he added, referring to the election of Abraham Lincoln, “and we saw what ensued from that" — meaning the Civil War.

Brooks' office didn't respond to requests for comment for this article.

Brooks was outspoken in baselessly accusing Democrats of “stealing" the presidential election and seeking ways to keep Donald Trump in power. Now he is hoping those statements will springboard him to higher office in a Senate race that will test the endurance of Trumpism in the Republican Party and show what political consequences lawmakers may face for openly advocating anti-democratic ideas.

The Alabama congressman is expected tonight to announce his campaign to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring. Brooks is set to make his announcement alongside Stephen Miller, the former White House adviser who drove Trump's hardline immigration policies, including family separation. As an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Miller frequently drew from white nationalist and white supremacist websites, according to emails revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brooks and Miller have been allies since they worked together to defeat a bipartisan immigration compromise in 2013.

Brooks' remark about the 1860 election came on an episode of Sean Hannity's podcast that was guest-hosted by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and aired on Dec. 22. Though the episode was billed as “Previewing the Class of 2021" in Congress, Gohmert dedicated the entire 99 minutes to promoting conspiracy theories and falsehoods about Joe Biden's victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Brooks joined Gohmert toward the end of the show, along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, all leaders of the plan to object to Congress's certification of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. The four members of Congress discussed how Trump supporters were mobilizing for a massive demonstration in Washington.

“On Jan. 6, this is somewhat akin to the Alamo," Brooks said, referring to the famous battle in 1836 where Mexican troops wiped out rebelling Texans at a fort in San Antonio. “Although I hope we will survive."

Brooks' invocation of historical violence was a preview of the speech he gave on Jan. 6 at the rally on the Ellipse. Before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol and fought their way inside, Brooks asked if people were ready to lay down their lives for their cause.

“Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history," Brooks said. “So I have a question for you: Are you willing to do the same?"

After the crowd turned violent — leading to five deaths and hundreds of injuries, endangering lawmakers and disrupting the congressional proceedings — Brooks faced blowback. House Democrats introduced a formal censure motion, and billboards in Alabama demanded his resignation.

Brooks defiantly denied any responsibility for the violence on Jan. 6. At the same time, he said he welcomed the criticism because he viewed it as helpful to his political prospects.

“That's a good thing," Brooks said in a Feb. 3 radio interview in response to a question about the billboards. “I don't want to discourage it, because I think it's beneficial, at least in the state of Alabama, where winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the general election."

“Congress Decides"

On Dec. 2, Brooks became the first member of Congress to say he would object to the Electoral College votes from key states that delivered Biden's victory. While the Constitution and federal law do establish a procedure for Congress to certify the Electoral College votes, many of Brooks' fellow Republicans recoiled at the idea of trying to use it to overturn an election whose outcome they didn't like. The certification in Congress is usually an uneventful formality after states have already certified their election results.

But Brooks himself presented it as a serious plan for keeping Trump in office despite losing the election. “Ultimately, Congress decides who won the White House, not the courts," Brooks said in a Nov. 10 radio interview.

In dozens of right-wing media interviews between the Nov. 3 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection, Brooks spelled out his idea. If Congress rejected enough Electoral College votes to prevent either candidate from winning a majority, the presidency would be decided by the House of Representatives. The House would vote by state delegations, a majority of which were in Republican hands. All it would take for this plan to work, according to Brooks, was for enough Republicans to join him.

“In the United States Congress, we control who the president of the United States is," Brooks said in an interview with the Epoch Times posted on Nov. 18. “The House would be in a position to elect a Republican to the White House."

In Brooks' telling, keeping Trump in power was just a question of political will. “No question it's an uphill climb, because I'm not sure how many Republicans we have that are willing to do what's necessary," he said on Fox News on Dec. 4. “You have no idea who's going to win the political fights or any other fight until you fight them."

As precedent, Brooks cited the disputed election of 1876, which Congress resolved by electing Rutherford Hayes in exchange for ending Reconstruction.

“It was on the heels of hundreds of thousands of Southerners being killed in the war of Northern invasion, as a lot of Southerners viewed it back then," Brooks said in a Dec. 17 talk radio interview. “Hayes cut that deal. Then he was elected president of the United States, and he was honorable, so he kept his promise and he withdrew the Northern forces and Reconstruction ended."

“We Need to Fight and Take It Back"

Brooks' rhetoric continued to escalate in the runup to Jan. 6. In some interviews, he talked about fighting in terms of voting and pressuring lawmakers, the way that many politicians use the word without meaning literal combat.

“How it plays out, quite frankly, is dependent on the American people," Brooks said on Fox News on Jan. 3. “To the extent they contact their senators and their congressmen and demand honest and accurate elections, then we're going to win this fight on Jan. 6. But if the American people do not rise up, if they don't contact their senators, if they don't contact their congressmen, demanding that their congressmen and senators do the right thing for our republic, well then, we're not going to win on Jan. 6. So I urge all Americans to participate in this fight on behalf of their country."

At other times, however, Brooks spoke of fighting as armed struggle, foreshadowing his speech at the Ellipse.

“When it came time to fight in the Revolutionary War, beginning in 1776, people actually put their lives at stake," Brooks said in a Newsmax interview aired on Dec. 17. “All throughout history, American history, there have been time after time where American men and women have stood strong and fought for their country, often losing their lives in order to keep our republic, keep our liberty, keep our freedoms. And the bedrock of all those things are accurate and honest elections. And right now, the socialist Democrats have successfully stolen those from the American people in 2020. And we need to fight and take it back."

Brooks indicated in media interviews that he chose his words carefully. “If I'm on the radio, I know that every word that I say is going to be recorded forever," Brooks said in a Jan. 4 radio interview, in the context of defending Trump's pressuring of Georgia officials to reverse that state's election results in a phone call that the president didn't know was being recorded.

Brooks met with Trump at the White House in December, along with Biggs and Gosar, to discuss their plans for Jan. 6. As Brooks recounted in a Dec. 29 Fox News interview, Trump told the representatives that a senator would join their objection, the necessary step for a debate and vote in both chambers. The next day, Dec. 30, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., became the first senator to announce he would object.

Brooks, Biggs and Gosar also, according to “Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander, came up with the plan to amass a crowd outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. “We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting," Alexander said in a video that he later deleted, “so that who we couldn't lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

Spokespeople for Brooks and Biggs have denied working with Alexander. Gosar, who appeared at earlier eventswith Alexander in Arizona, hasn't commented on their relationship. Spokespeople for Biggs and Gosar didn't respond to requests for comment, and Alexander couldn't be reached.

Brooks made clear that his ultimate goal was to keep Trump in office.

“Kind of like bowling a 300 game or hitting a hole-in-one, that's actually reversing the election fraud effort on the part of the Democrats such that Joe Biden is not sworn in on Jan. 20, Donald Trump is," Brooks said in a Jan. 4 Newsmax interview.

“We Did Not Have Ultimate Success"

Once rioters breached the Capitol, Brooks immediately blamed left-wing agitators whom he called “antifa." “You have to ask yourself, who would be motivated to distract from our message," Brooks said in a Newsmax interview on the night of Jan. 6, while waiting for the certification proceedings to resume. “I don't believe that's in the interest of the Trump supporters."

Brooks continued this effort to shift blame in a radio interview the next day. “Too many Trump supporters were angry and allowed themselves to be manipulated or orchestrated by fascist antifa types," Brooks said.

The interviewer, Dale Jackson, pressed Brooks to acknowledge and condemn the violence by Trump supporters. “Why are you trying to make this about antifa as opposed to about the clear, obvious Trump supporters?" Jackson asked. “Why are we trying to diminish this?"

Brooks shot back, “That is the political spin that the fake news media and the socialist Democrats are trying to put on this."

“Well, I'm not the fake news media, I'm not a socialist Democrat," Jackson countered. “Why don't people just condemn this and stop trying to find reasons why it happened? … Your Facebook and Twitter page I guarantee is filled up the same way mine is with people talking about this in this way. And I just say we've got to be more forceful, I think. Am I wrong?"

Brooks didn't answer directly. “I don't know what's on my Facebook page," he said with a laugh. “That's something that my staff does, not me."

“My point is this," Jackson concluded, giving Brooks one last chance to unequivocally condemn the violence by Trump supporters before the interview ended. “I see too many of them saying, 'Yeah, see, it's antifa, it's not this,' and they're using this as a reason. And I just don't think that's a good — that's not helpful in any way."

Brooks demurred. “Well, I think the main message, which we've diverted from, is the fight we had last night in the House of Representatives and the Senate to try to protect and promote honest and accurate elections," he said. “And it's most unfortunate that whomever was able to divert attention from that, and unfortunate that while we made progress, we did not have ultimate success."

In an interview with ProPublica, Jackson said he understood Brooks to be condemning the violence. “The only disagreement we were having was whether antifa was a key driver of this thing," he said. “It wasn't whether or not it shouldn't have happened or was wrong. I think we all agree on that."

“You Can Resist, Often Through Violence"

Brooks elaborated on his views on violence in another radio interview on Jan. 7.

“Might I suggest that over history, when you're in a republic, and there is no longer confidence in the election system, you have three options," he said in the interview, which was reported on at the time by The Intercept. “You can emigrate from that country, which is what a lot of people did in the 1920s and 1930s, in socialist Germany, with Adolf Hitler. You can submit, which is also what a lot of people did in Germany. Or you can resist, often through violence. None of those three options are good."

“Wait a minute," the host, Matt Murphy, interrupted. He pressed Brooks to clarify: “You said we must emigrate, leave?"

“No, I'm telling you what has happened historically over time when a republic loses confidence in its election system," Brooks said. “What do people, individual people do?"

They continued going back and forth, with Murphy giving Brooks more opportunities to walk back from raising the specter of violence and Brooks sticking to it.

Finally, Murphy tried: “When you bring up one of your options to be violence, it brings us directly to your words yesterday, Mo. And I'm wondering if you regret saying what you said at the rally yesterday?"

“Absolutely not," Brooks said.

Murphy, who didn't respond to a subsequent request for comment, then suggested the need to reckon with the ideas that motivated Trump supporters to attack the Capitol. “We better be willing to have serious discussions about what led to the level of frustration and anger that would cause people to allow their emotions to bubble over to the point that they would engage in something like this," he said.

Brooks' response was to explain that people were losing faith in voting — a view he had spent months promoting, and which he said left violence as one of three options. “It's pretty clear," he said, “people are getting frustrated, and they're losing confidence in the honesty and accuracy of the election system."

Brooks also shared a version of this view on Twitter that morning, writing that people who come to believe that voting can no longer get the results they want may be “FORCED" to “fight back with violence."

“How Can You Misinterpret My Intent?"

Weeks later, Brooks distanced himself from the violence of Jan. 6. At a home-state rally on Jan. 23, Brooks defended his speech at the Ellipse by accusing journalists of twisting his words.

“The news media, which is supposed to be the safeguard of any republic, has to a large degree become nothing more than a socialist propaganda puppet that rivals those in Stalin's Soviet Union, Mao Zedong's Communist China, and socialist Germany's 1920s and 1930s," Brooks said, repeating his unusual way of avoiding the term “Nazis." “The fake news media and the socialists deceitfully suggest I intended to incite a riot when my words prove the exact opposite."

Brooks explained that when he said on Jan. 6, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," he was referring to voting in the 2022 and 2024 elections. He said his meaning was clear because as he said those words, he swapped out a camouflage Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus cap for one that read “Fire Pelosi."

“How can you misinterpret my intent?" Brooks said, drawing cheers.

But what Brooks did not acknowledge or attempt to explain was the next sentence that immediately followed “kicking ass": the line asking those assembled whether they were willing to sacrifice “their blood" and even “their lives."

“My answer is yes," Brooks said on Jan. 6. “Louder. Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?"