Like most Americans, I had never watched a House Select Committee hearing on the events of January 6, 2021, as ratings have been notoriously low. But I tuned in for their Tuesday attempt at linking former President Donald Trump to extremism… and seditious conspiracy. Those are serious allegations, with conspiracy being especially hard to determine, and can quickly devolve into alleged “thought crime.”
Wait, is Congress trying to prove thought-crime on Live TV?
It’s clear the members of the Select Committee are making bold allegations aimed squarely at Trump, but it is less clear why Congressional members would try to prove their pseudo-charges as a daytime media special instead of this being the work of the Department of Justice. There are some expectations that upon the conclusion of these hearings the DOJ will use what the committee is purporting as the “blueprint” for further prosecutions. In this way, the House Committee operates as the prosecution would in a criminal trial, but this mock trial plays out more like a mockery of the government branches and of the rights of January 6 defendants awaiting trial. The witness testimony presented was filled with conjecture, speculation, and hearsay, but the hearing was very light on something known as “evidence.” It’s like watching the saga of the Johhny Depp and Amber Heard trial, without the poignant use of the word “objection” and knowing a cross-examination is never coming.
In the one-sided hearing on extremism brought to you by the US taxpayer, the committee focused on a tweet by former President Trump in which he told people to come to Washington DC on January 6, saying “Be there, will be wild!” Of course, the committee exhaustively played semantics over the word wild. Another highlighted event was a December 18 meeting with lawyers and advisors with one aide describing it as being “unhinged” in a text message. The panel of committee members would continue to reference this as the “unhinged meeting” throughout the hearing.
One witness the committee presented was an anonymous former Twitter employee who had their voice obscured as their testimony played. The recording revealed this person expressing their “concerns” about how Trump used Twitter and speculating as to if he was an average user of Twitter instead of the President and whether or not his account would have been suspended sooner. Yes, that’s anonymous conjecture that proves… nothing.
Then came the main event: the extremists. Or, one guy who used to work with the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, who is currently facing seditious conspiracy charges. Rhodes offered to waive his Fifth Amendment rights and testify before the committee, on the condition his testimony would be taken in a live on-air hearing. Instead, we are offered the testimony of Jason Van Tatenhove, the former spokesperson/ graphic artist for the Oath Keepers.
Tatenhove used his testimony to talk about his own radicalization and his lowly opinion of Rhodes saying the group is,
“…in large part fed by the ego and drive of Stewart Rhodes who at times seemed to see himself as this paramilitary leader.”
While Rhodes sits in federal custody without bail, such characterizations of him are made to the American public without objection, thus poisoning the pool of potential jurors in DC.
If this is McCarthyism, then “at times, seeming to see yourself as…” must be Grade-A evidence of thought-crime.
Van Tatenhove then laments to the committee over fears for the next election,
“And I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring? If — if a president that’s willing to try to instill and encourage to whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit and snake oil, and regardless of the human impact, what else is he going to do if he gets elected again?”
Was that a political campaign ad? Espousing the risk that could happen if people voted again is undemocratic, but the purported risk of Trump being… elected? This hearing is supposed to be about anything except the idea that Americans should not elect a specific candidate in the next cycle. Frankly, to use the hearings for campaign purposes would be a serious crime in itself.
I expected to watch political theater when I tuned in, I’ve seen Congressional story-time before during the ever-persistent Trump impeachment attempts. What I found was much worse than the kabuki dramatics I had anticipated. It was worse than a bad campaign tactic for upcoming elections and worse than the meritless (and sometimes anonymous) conjecture, hearsay, and speculation that would be struck down in any court in the country:
I found the hearing to be a kangaroo court that actively undermines the rights of January 6 defendants awaiting trial.
“Our committee’s overriding objective is to fight fiction with facts; to create a full account for the American people and for the historical record; to tell the truth of what happened and why it happened; to make recommendations so it never happens again; to defend our democracy.”
Congress is broadcasting what Rep Stephanie Murphy (D) called “a full account for the American people and for the historical record,” while it is anything but that. Jurors should be excluded if they saw any of the works of this committee or heard any fodder under the guise of witness testimony. For defendants, a strong case should be made for a change of venue outside of this low-brow-side-show they are conducting in DC. It’s all-hands-on-deck to hunt Trump, but this time there are defendants caught in the undertow with a low chance of an untainted jury pool if this is what the American public is to believe are the full account and historical record. No, it’s not. It’s completely unhinged.