Wearing a jean jacket and a T-shirt featuring the band The Descendants, Jason Van Tatenhove shared his knowledge of the Oath Keepers with the January 6th Committee on Tuesday.
Van Tatenhove, who lives in Estes Park, did not mince words when talking about the right-wing extremist group he worked as a spokesperson for until 2016. “In my opinion, the Oath Keepers are a very dangerous organization.”
“I can tell you that they may not like to call themselves a militia, but they are. They're a violent militia,” he said, noting the group started becoming radicalized during his time there. “I think the best illustration for what the Oath Keepers are happened January 6th, when we saw that stacked military formation going up the stairs of our Capitol.”
Now Van Tatenhove was sitting in an ornate hearing room in the same complex that was locked down over a year ago when a mob of Trump supporters invaded the Capitol hoping to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.
The focus of this installation of the televised hearings was the role militaristic far-right groups like the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and others played in the riot that day.
The Oath Keepers is led by Steward Rhodes, who is currently awaiting trial in Washington D.C. on a seditious conspiracy charge.
Van Tatenhove recalled speaking with Rhodes about the Insurrection Act long before 2020, something Rhodes was pushing the president to invoke. The Coloradan said it gave Rhodes, who saw himself as a paramilitary leader, “a sense of legitimacy.”
“The fact that the president was communicating, whether directly or indirectly messaging, you know, kind of gave [Rhodes] the nod,” he said. “And all I can do is thank God that things did not go any worse that day.”
Van Tatenhove severed his ties with the group in 2016. He said he decided to leave after hearing some Oath Keepers talk about how the Holocaust was not real. He was introduced in the hearing as an independent journalist and artist.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, who, along with Rep. Stephanie Murphy, led the committee hearing, said the Department of Justice indicated it has evidence that the Oath Keepers brought firearms and explosives to Washington, D.C., ahead of Jan. 6.
“The committee’s also learned that Stewart Rhodes stopped to buy weapons on his way to Washington and shipped roughly $7,000 worth of tactical gear to a January 6th rally planner in Virginia before the attack,” Raskin said.
Van Tatenhove ended his testimony saying he worried about the next presidential election cycle.
“Because who knows what that might bring if a president that's willing to try to instill and encourage, [and] whip up a civil war amongst his followers using lies and deceit and snake oil…what else is he gonna do if he gets elected again? All bets are off at that point.”
The other witness at the hearing was Stephen Ayres of Ohio, a former Trump supporter, who said he believed at the time the election was stolen and marched to the Capitol because Trump asked him to. Ayres entered the Capitol that day on January 6. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
He said he no longer believes the election was stolen in part because of all the failed lawsuits.
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