Eye on the Right: Extremists in Congress

Welcome to a new feature called Eye on the Right, tracking right wing extremism and attempts to hold them accountable.


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Future threats

The Department of Homeland Security released a warning that the nation continues to be threatened by “violent domestic extremists…emboldened” by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The bulletin is a noticeable departure from those issued by the Trump administration, which consistently sought to downplay the danger posed by right-wing agitators.

“Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence… Long-standing racial and ethnic tension—including opposition to immigration—has driven [domestic violent extremist] attacks, including a 2019 shooting in El Paso, Texas that killed 23 people. DHS is concerned these same drivers to violence will remain through early 2021…

Lawmakers have continued to face threats since Biden’s inauguration, mainly posted online and including plots to attack Congressional members during travel to and from the Capitol during the impeachment trial. A group of 32 lawmakers sent a letter to House Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy on Wednesday requesting more flexibility for using their congressional allowances to further secure their district offices. The letter, led by Rep Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Dean Phillips (D-MN), was also signed by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump a second time.

“Most Members spend the majority of their time in their Congressional Districts where security is often sparse,” the lawmakers write. “Protecting Members in their District is much harder because local law enforcement agencies are stretched and limited, and often don’t have sufficient staffing or money to provide regular protection to Members.”

  • On Friday, acting House Sergeant at Arms Timothy Blodgett advised lawmakers that he created an online portal for House members to make local law enforcement aware of their travel. The Capitol Police will also maintain an increased presence at D.C.-area airports and train stations during times lawmakers travel.

The Defense Department committed approximately 5,000 National Guard troops to remain in D.C. for the foreseeable future. Concurrently, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested 500 D.C. National Guard members remain through March 12 for the upcoming impeachment trial. She asked for the troops to be unarmed but equipped with crowd control measures like shields and batons.

  • Numerous states have ordered their state’s contingent of National Guard back from D.C., including those from FloridaTexas, and Utah. Gov. DeSantis (R-FL) and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) complained that the troops were vetted prior to the inauguration, with the former calling it “totally inappropriate” and “disrespectful.”

Security officials are also concerned about potential unrest on or around March 4, which is when QAnon conspiracists believe Trump will be inaugurated again. “We are not going to allow any surprises again,” said one Guard member. Others are questioning why their deployments were extended, complaining about the lack of information and the unusual predicament of guarding the Capitol as military members.

Acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police Yogananda Pittman testified before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, apologizing for the “failings” that contributed to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. She cited miscommunication, a lack of less-than-lethal weapons, and insufficient manpower. Others who testified at the closed-door hearing included acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III, former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. William Walker, and various law enforcement representatives.

  • Contee estimated that 850 D.C. police officers were deployed to the Capitol, with 250 assigned to the surrounding area, costing about $8.8 million in the week after the insurrection.
  • Contee said he was “stunned at the tepid response from Department of the Army, which was reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol” that day.
  • McCarthy blamed the slow approval of National Guard backup on the lack of intelligence beforehand. “The response time and effectiveness could be greatly improved with a clear, predetermined command and control structure, authorities, rehearsals and integrated plans, and a shared understanding of intelligence assessments of the threat,” McCarthy said.
  • Acting House sergeant at arms Timothy Blodgett admitted that “there was a failure of preparation,” but strangely boasted that due to the actions of his office and Capitol Police, “every Member and House staff went home without death or serious injury.” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) responded after the hearing, saying in an interview that no dead or maimed lawmakers was “a pretty low bar.”

In an interview earlier this week, D.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. William Walker said that Pentagon officials restricted his authority to act autonomously prior to the Jan. 6 attack. The restrictions placed on Walker delayed the arrival of troops to assist Capitol officers. Walker was unable to even call up the 40 soldiers on standby without approval from former Army secretary Ryan McCarthy and former acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller.

Had he not been restricted, Walker said he could have dispatched members of the D.C. Guard sooner. Asked how quickly troops could have reached the Capitol, which is two miles from the D.C. Guard headquarters at the Armory, Walker said, “With all deliberate speed — I mean, they’re right down the street.”

However, Walker also stated that former Chief of Capitol Police Steven Sund failed to submit a formal request for assistance:

“All he said was, ‘If I call you, will you be able to help?’ ” Walker said. “And I said, ‘Yes, but I need permission. So send a formal request,’ and I never got it, until after the fact.”

The request came, but only at 1:49 p.m. the day of the attempted insurrection. Sund called Walker to say rioters were about to breach the building and the Capitol Police would soon request urgent backup.

“I told him I had to get permission from the secretary of the Army and I would send him all available guardsmen but as soon as I got permission to do so,” Walker said. “I sent a message to the leadership of the Army, letting them know the request that I had received from Chief Sund.”

Extremists involvement

Three members of the Oath Keepers were indicted on a multitude of charges including conspiracy, obstructing an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds. The DOJ’s case is the first evidence of planning among a militia group ahead of the Jan. 6 attack to be filed in court.

Jessica Watkins, 38 from Ohio, Donovan Ray Crowl, 50 from Ohio, and Thomas Caldwell, 65 from Virginia, allegedly began soliciting recruits and coordinating the invasion of the Capitol in November. All three are former military. Caldwell, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, acted as a leader of the operation and organized most of the logistics involved in training and bussing dozens of recruits to D.C. According to the indictment, he recommended a particular hotel because it offered a good base to “hunt at night.”

In a 15-page indictment unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors revealed new allegations, accusing Watkins of contacting recruits on Nov. 9, six days after the election, for a “Basic Training” camp outside Columbus, Ohio, in early January so they would be “fighting fit by innaugeration [sic].” …Crowl, a former Marine mechanic, attended a training camp in December in North Carolina, while Caldwell hosted Watkins in Northern Virginia

During the insurrection, the three joined other Oath Keepers in communicating on the walkie-talkie app Zello. The FBI obtained recordings of some of the transmissions, such as Watkins stating, “We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan.”

Watkins posted photos of herself, and with Crowl, on her Parler account and captioned a photo by stating, “Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building. #stopthesteal2 #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia.” Subsequently, she posted a video of herself inside the Capitol captioned, “Yeah. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole, 9. Pushed our way into the Rotunda. Made it into the Senate even. The news is lying (even Fox) about the Historical Events we created today.”

  • A New York Times investigation has visually located ten other Oath Keepers who accompanied Crowl and Watkins into the Capitol building on Jan. 6. The group can be seen on video from the day marching up the stairs in a military-esque line. Furthermore, following the insurrection, all ten “gathered around the Oath Keepers’ leader, Stewart Rhodes, just 70 feet from the building.”

The Justice Department also indicted two Proud Boys members with conspiracy to interfere with law enforcement, civil disorder, unlawfully entering restricted buildings, and disorderly conduct. Unlike his co-defendant William Pepe (31 y.o. From NY), Dominic Pezzola (43 y.o. From NY) faces a slew of other charges including robbery of personal property of the United States, assaulting or resisting officers, destruction of government property, and physical violence.

It is alleged that Pezzola and Pepe took…actions to remove temporary metal barricades erected by the Capitol Police for the purpose of controlling access to the Capitol Grounds… It is further alleged that Pezzola confronted a Capitol Police officer attempting to control the crowd and ripped away the officer’s riot shield, while the officer was physically engaging with individuals who had gathered unlawfully in the west plaza of the Capitol. Pezzola can be seen on video that has been widely distributed, using that riot shield to smash a window at the U.S. Capitol.

After locating and arresting Pezzola, FBI agents searched his home. They found a thumb drive containing “detailed instructions for making homemade firearms, poisons, and/or explosives.” Prosecutors are asking the court to keep Pezzola in detention until trial, citing his “willingness to attempt to go off the grid” and the “serious danger” he poses to the community.

  • According to an analysis by CNN, at least eight rioters charged so far are affiliated with the Proud Boys. It is likely more will be charged as investigations develop.
  • Wall Street Journal Video Investigation: Proud Boys Were Key Instigators in Capitol Riot (not paywalled)

Republican connections

Republican members of Congress have their own links to extremist groups who took part in the insurrection.

According to the New York Times, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) visited a chapter of the Oath Keepers “a few years” ago and told the group that we’re already in the midst of a civil war, “we just haven’t started shooting at each other yet.” The leader of Stop the Steal claimed Gosar and fellow Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs helped plan and organize Trump’s Jan. 6 rally. Both Gosar and Biggs reportedly sought pardons for their roles in the insurrection from Trump but did not receive them.

Freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has a history of associating with the Three Percenters, which also had members present in the Capitol on Jan. 6. One of those charged last week, Robert Gieswein, runs a paramilitary training group in Boebert’s home state.

Before the attack, Gieswein gave a media interview in which he echoed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the affidavit said, and said his message to Congress was “that they need to get the corrupt politicians out of office. Pelosi, the Clintons . . . every single one of them, Biden, Kamala.”

Another Three Percenter from Texas, Guy Reffitt, was arrested for his part in storming the Capitol – after he allegedly threatened to shoot his children if they turned him in. “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors … traitors get shot,” his wife recounted to FBI agents.

In December 2019, Boebert posed with members of the Three Percenters in front of the Colorado state Capitol. The year before, Gieswein himself posed in front of Boebert’s Shooters Grill holding a rifle with others flashing the Three Percenters hand gesture. A Colorado chapter of the extremist group even provided security for a campaign event in July 2020, claiming her campaign invited them.

Following the assault on the Michigan capitol by in 2020, Boebert was asked about her thoughts on citizens carrying guns while protesting government actions:

Reporter: Gun-toting militia members in Michigan just stormed the state capitol (on April 30) and unsuccessfully demanded access to the floor of the legislature. Some lawmakers said they were intimidated by the show of firepower. Was that appropriate?

In a preview of events to come, Boebert replied “I don’t see why they’re not allowed to” enter a “public building like that with a firearm.”

More recently, Boebert and other Republicans have made a spectacle over the newly-installed metal detectors to enter the House floor. Some House Republicans threw temper tantrums and berated the very Capitol Police officers who had protected them during the insurrection just days earlier.

“Horse shit!” shouted Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.). “Bullshit!”

“You are creating a problem you do not understand the ramifications of!” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) warned Capitol Police officers.

“You can’t stop me, I’m on my way to a vote,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), walking around the magnetometer outside the House chamber.

Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) just pushed his way through. He went through the metal detector and set it off, shoved an officer out of his way and walked into the House.

Huffington Post’s Matt Fuller made note of the lawmakers who disregarded the new security measures: Reps. Randy Weber (Texas), Richard Hudson (N.C.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Scott Perry (Pa.), Jeff Duncan (S.C.), Bob Gibbs (Ohio), Bob Latta (Ohio), Garret Graves (La.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Bill Huizenga (Mich.), Alex Mooney (W.Va.), Larry Bucshon (Ind.), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), and Rep. Lauren Boebert (Colo.).

Boebert went a step farther than others, engineering a standoff with guards asking to check her handbag for weapons before entering the building. It is not clear if her bag was ultimately searched but she was allowed entry. She later tweeted: “I am legally permitted to carry my firearm in Washington, D.C., and within the Capitol complex. Metal detectors outside of the House would not have stopped the violence we saw last week — it’s just another political stunt by Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi.”

Following the Republican insubordination, Speaker Pelosi instituted a new rule to impose fines – $5,000 fine for a first offense and $10,000 fine for a second – on lawmakers who refuse to pass through the metal detectors.

While firearms are banned on the House floor, a 1967 regulation exempts members of Congress from a federal law prohibiting guns on the Capitol grounds. Boebert has vociferously objected to the House rule, declaring two days before the insurrection that she “will carry [her] firearm in D.C. and in Congress” to stand up for Second Amendment rights.

It is not known if she ever followed through with carrying a gun onto the House floor in violation of the rules. We do know, however, that at least one Republican member implied he was armed on the floor and at least one attempted to bring a gun through the metal detectors.

Freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorne (R-NC) told a local news outlet that he “was armed” during the insurrection while on the House floor. Hours earlier, Cawthorne spoke to the crowd that rioted in support of Donald Trump: “My friends, I encourage you, continue to make your voice heard, because, do we love Donald Trump?” Cawthorn said.

During the second day of metal detectors in the House, Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) set off the alarms while trying to enter with a concealed gun on his side. Capitol Police did not permit him entry, so Harris tried to persuade fellow Republica Rep. John Katko of New York to take the gun from him. Katko refused, telling Harris he didn’t have a license to carry a gun. Ultimately, Harris left and returned to successfully pass through the detectors.

  • The Capitol Police are investigating the incident. Additionally, government watchdog The Campaign for Accountability requested a federal investigation into whether Harris broke the law by possessing a weapon not registered in D.C. A spokesperson for Harris said the congressman has a Maryland handgun permit, but did not say if he has registered a gun in D.C.

On Thursday, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) filed legislation to ban members from carrying guns on Capitol grounds, even in their offices. Speier said the No Congressional Gun Loophole Act is necessary because “the existing exemption for Representatives increases the risk of gun violence for Members, staff, and the public.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene

And now we get to freshman Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who really could take up an entire post. I’ll keep each point short and provide links for further information.

Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) announced that she is moving her office after a heated altercation with Marjorie Taylor Greene (hereafter referred to as “MTG”) apparently sparked by the latter’s refusal to wear a mask in the Capitol. “A maskless Marjorie Taylor Greene & her staff berated me in a hallway. She targeted me & others on social media. I’m moving my office away from hers for my team’s safety” Bush tweeted Friday.

Bush: “I moved my office because I’m here to do a job for the people of St. Louis. They deserve that. And what I cannot do is continue to look over my shoulder wondering if a white supremacist in Congress by the name of Marjorie Taylor Greene or anyone else, cause there are others, that they are doing something or conspiring against us.”

In videos published during her campaign – but recorded in years prior – MTG espouses a multitude of racist ideas:

[She] suggested that Muslims do not belong in government; thinks black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party”; called George Soros, a Jewish Democratic megadonor, a Nazi; and said she would feel “proud” to see a Confederate monument if she were black because it symbolizes progress made since the Civil War.

In 2019, MTG promoted a conspiracy theory that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been replaced by a body double in public – part of a QAnon conspiracy that RBG was secretly/dead or incapacitated.

In social media posts from 2018 and 2019, MTG interacted with others calling for the deaths of prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In Jan. 2019, she liked a Facebook comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Pelosi from office.

MTG wrote on Facebook that the Camp Fire – California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire – was caused by “lasers” from “space solar generators” run by the Rothschilds.

In 2018, MTG endorsed a deranged conspiracy from the fringes of QAnon that Hillary Clinton murdered a child during a satanic ritual.

MTG called both the Parkland School shooting and Sandy Hook massacre “false flag” operations intended to tighten gun control. She later went on to attack Parkland survivor David Hogg, calling him a coward.

Within a month of the first Q post on 4chan in 2017, MTG began posting videos calling him a “patriot” and publishing articles endorsing the conspiracy.

In 2017, MTG wrote an article and posted a video explaining that she believed the Las Vegas mass shooting was a government-orchestrated plan to strip away Second Amendment rights.