During its initial hearings over the past week, the House January 6 committee has taken the nation back a year and a half to the frightening days when Donald Trump and his followers nearly overturned the 2020 presidential election. Thanks to graphic evidence from the insurrection and candid testimony from members of Trump’s inner circle, the congressional hearings have garnered strong television ratings and drawn intense media interest.
But unlike past congressional hearings into other major scandals like Watergate, the hearings have not provided a sense of closure or of lessons learned but rather one of foreboding. That’s because they don’t just offer a look back at what happened in the 2020 election, but also a glimpse of what is likely to happen in 2024. The January 6 hearings feel like a prequel.
In fact, even as the hearings constitute the clearest public account of Trump’s coup attempt, a series of incidents around the country has ominously shown that the threat of a repeat in 2024 is very real.
During the first hearing, the House committee highlighted the leading roles played on January 6 by pro-Trump white nationalist groups, particularly the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. The committee documented how the Proud Boys helped lead the insurrectionist mob into the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
The Justice Department has also focused on the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers leaders, charging them with seditious conspiracy for planning to prevent the “lawful transfer of presidential power by force” on January 6. On Wednesday, prosecutors made public a document showing that Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, had specific plans to gain control of key buildings in Washington in an effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election. The criminal charges against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have signaled that the Justice Department is intensifying its probe into the planning behind the insurrection, a shift from its earlier practice of issuing minor charges against low-level individuals who stormed the Capitol.
Meanwhile, other white nationalist groups are starting to rise to prominence. On June 11, for example, just two days after the first January 6 committee hearing, police in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, stopped a U-Haul truck and arrested 31 men, all wearing identical clothes, who police later said were planning to start a riot at a Pride event in the city’s downtown. They were members of a white nationalist group called the Patriot Front, formed in the wake of the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
In addition to the racist language about a “European diaspora” that typifies white nationalist groups, the Patriot Front’s “manifesto” includes fascist, dictatorial rhetoric that could make the group a natural successor to the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers as Trump’s favorite white nationalist group, whether he gets reelected in 2024 or not. The Patriot Front’s rhetoric sounds vaguely socialist, but only because its goal is to get the “collective” — America — to bend to the will of a white nationalist autocracy. “Individualism, while originally good in concept and proposition, has been allowed to run rampant in our modern society, where it has become a plague in its amplification,” the manifesto states. “The nation of the future will not abolish the individual, nor will it ruthlessly enforce a sole collective, but the merits of both must be structured to complement one another.”
It’s not surprising that the Patriot Front chose to attack in Coeur d’Alene. The small city in northern Idaho, which was once a Democratic stronghold thanks to a heavy concentration of unionized miners, has in recent decades become a magnet for conservatives and right-wing extremists. The Aryan Nations, a white nationalist group prominent in the 1990s and labeled a domestic terrorist organization by the FBI, was based in the area before it splintered and its power waned in the face of investigations, lawsuits, and internal division. After the Patriot Front arrests, Jim Hammond, the mayor of Coeur d’Alene, insisted that “we are not going back to the days of the Aryan Nations. We are past that.”
Yet droves of conservatives are still moving to northern Idaho from California and other states; many Los Angeles police officers have retired in the area. Some real estate agents in northern Idaho specifically market themselves as conservative to attract right-wing customers who want to move into the region.
The arrests in Idaho came just as the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning of a heightened threat of domestic terrorism from such extremist groups throughout this year, spurred at least in part by the midterm elections. To be sure, Homeland Security’s warnings are often overblown, but the department does warn that among the groups extremists may target are racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, and the media.
The House committee’s second hearing on Monday focused on Trump’s lies about the election, showing that he kept pushing to overturn the results even as he was repeatedly told by top advisers that there was no proof of fraud. Former Attorney General William Barr testified that he told Trump the Justice Department had looked into claims of voter fraud and found them to be “bullshit.” Former Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told Trump that the fraud claims were “not supported by the evidence developed.”
But Trump kept pushing. Thursday’s hearings focused on the former president’s attempts to force then-Vice President Mike Pence to derail the certification of the election on January 6. The hearing showed that Trump kept pressuring Pence even though he and his allies knew it would be illegal for Pence to interfere with the certification. Trump kept up the brutal pressure on Pence, calling him a “wimp” and “pussy” on a phone call from the White House, and after the mob broke into the Capitol, calling for Pence to be hanged, Trump didn’t bother to check in on him.
The House committee has shown conclusively that Trump’s own inner circle repeatedly told the president that his claims of a stolen election were false, yet his election lies continue to dominate the Republican Party.
More than 100 Republican candidates who say the 2020 election was stolen have been nominated for either statewide office or Congress, according to recent analysis by the Washington Post. If elected, they could use their new power to try to overturn the 2024 presidential election to make sure that Trump or another Republican is installed in the White House. They could join other Republicans like Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, who, on January 5, 2021, gave a tour of the Capitol to someone who joined the insurrection the next day screaming threats about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to footage released by the January 6 committee.
A confrontation in New Mexico shows the continuing threat the Republican Party poses to the integrity of U.S. elections. This week, the New Mexico Supreme Court was forced to order county commissioners in rural Otero County to certify results from the June 7 primary election there. The three county commissioners, including Couy Griffin, founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” who is due to be sentenced Friday on charges related to his involvement in the January 6 riot, have refused to certify the results because the votes in the primary were counted by voting machines from Dominion, a company that was repeatedly and falsely attacked by Trump and his supporters as they sought to hold onto power.
Dominion Voting Systems has filed defamation lawsuits against Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, who both lied publicly about the company’s machines while trying to help Trump invalidate Biden’s victory. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from buying into the lies.
Facing a state Supreme Court order, the Otero County Commission finally voted 2-1 on Friday afternoon to certify the primary election results. Couy Griffin called in from Washington, where he had just been sentenced to time served for having entered restricted areas outside the U.S. Capitol, but not the Capitol itself, on January 6.
Once again, Griffin voted not to certify the results.
Update: June 18, 2022
This story has been updated to reflect the outcome of Couy Griffin’s sentencing for his role in the Capitol riot and the final vote of the Otero County Commission to certify the June 7 primary election.