Former President Donald Trump convinced his supporters of the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. He warned that if they didn’t “fight like hell,” they were “not going to have a country anymore.” He told them to march to the Capitol.
And now that many of those supporters have been charged in connection with the Capitol insurrection while he watches his impeachment trial unfold from Mar-a-Lago, Trump is abandoning them.
During Trump’s second impeachment trial before the Senate, his legal team argued Friday that the ex-president didn’t really encourage his supporters to go to the Capitol to stop lawmakers from certifying the election.
The fact that his supporters took his words literally was their own problem, Trump’s attorneys suggested.
“No thinking person could seriously believe that the president’s Jan. 6 speech on the Ellipse was in any way an incitement to violence or insurrection,” Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen argued. “The suggestion is patently absurd on its face. Nothing in the text could ever be construed as encouraging, condoning, or enticing unlawful activity of any kind.”
Charging documents, videos from the scene and evidence from the defendants themselves demonstrate that many of the people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 believed they were doing so on Trump’s orders.
“They were doing what he wanted them to do,” Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) told senators on Wednesday after playing video of rioters cheering “fight for Trump” as they stormed the Capitol.
“He truly made his base believe that the only way he could lose is if the election was rigged,” fellow impeachment manager Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said.
As Trump’s impeachment trial unfolded on Friday afternoon, two of his supporters ― one who smashed an officer with a shield during a battle to get into the Capitol, another who shoved an officer to get into the Senate gallery ― had hearings to determine whether they’ll be locked up ahead of their trial.
Robert Bauer, who took a selfie with a co-defendant inside the Capitol as they flipped the bird and wore camouflage “TRUMP 2020” hats, told the FBI that he “marched to the U.S. Capitol because President Trump said to do so,” according to a criminal complaint.
Gina Bisignano, a Beverly Hills salon owner who gave rioters instructions as they fought with police on the steps of the Capitol, told agents she “she felt called upon by President Donald Trump to travel to D.C. to change the outcome of the election, which she believes was stolen.”
Other insurrectionists’ cases reveal that they now blame Trump for inciting them with false rhetoric that led them to believe that they were supposed to physically fight to help him stay in office.
The lawyer for Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boys member, stated that his client was “egged on by Donald Trump, other politicians, his legal advocates, and news media” to believe the election had been stolen.
“Q Shaman” Jacob Chansley’s lawyer also argued that his client was “incited” by Trump. The ex-president, according to Chansley’s lawyer, “willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged ― and foreseeably resulted in ― lawless action at the Congress, such as: ‘If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.’”
Ahead of the Jan. 6 event, Bruno Cua, who has been charged with entering the Capitol and fighting with police officers, sent social media posts on Parler stating that “President Trump is calling us to FIGHT!” and that “This isn’t a joke, this is where and when we make our stand. #January6th, Washington DC.”
Cua’s father, Joseph, who attended the rally with his son but did not enter the Capitol, told a judge hearing his son’s case on Friday that he now believes he fell for “B.S.” about the election being stolen.
“I feel like I should’ve maybe known a little bit better at my age,” Joseph Cua told the court.
But there are also those who saw themselves less as pawns than willing soldiers taking orders from their commander in chief.
On Thursday, Department of Justice prosecutors released new filings in the case against three leaders of the Oath Keepers militia group who stormed the Capitol. In text messages after the election and leading up to the insurrection, Jessica Watkins, Thomas Caldwell and Donovan Crowl discussed how they were “awaiting direction” from Trump on how to proceed.
“If Trump asks me to come, I will,” Watkins wrote in a text on Nov. 9.
“We plan on going to DC on the 6th,” Watkins texted her fellow Oath Keeper leaders after Trump issued his invitation to Washington for Jan. 6. “Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come,” she added.
Elise Foley contributed reporting.