Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection against the United States government, told a congressional committee on Tuesday that the violence of that day could have been far worse.
“We’ve gotten exceedingly lucky that more bloodshed did not happen, because the potential has been there from the start,” Van Tatenhove told the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection during a public hearing on Tuesday afternoon. “And we got very lucky that the loss of life — as tragic as it is — that we saw on January 6, that the potential was so much more.”
In total, five people, including Officer Brian Sicknick of the Capitol Police, who was attacked by the pro-Trump mob, died during or shortly after the attack, at least partly because of it. In addition, two Capitol Police officers and two officers with the D.C. Metropolitan Police who served at the Capitol that day died from suicide in the months following. Approximately 150 officers from various law enforcement agencies were injured that day.
Van Tatenhove went on to say that he thinks former President Donald Trump may incite even more extreme violence if he runs again in 2024.
“I do fear for this next election cycle, because who knows what that might bring?” Van Tatenhove said. “If a president who is trying to instill, and encourage, to whip up a civil war among his followers using lies and deceit and snake oil, regardless of the human impact, what else is he going to do if he gets elected again?”
The Oath Keepers have been engaged in previous confrontations with the federal government. Van Tatenhove said he was first introduced to them when he went to cover the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada as an independent journalist. Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes is currently awaiting trial for seditious conspiracy for his actions related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“They may not like to call themselves a militia, but they are, they’re a violent militia,” Van Tatenhove testified. “The best illustration for what the Oath Keepers are happened January 6, when we saw that stacked military formation going up the stairs of our Capitol. I saw radicalization ... as the member base and who it was that Stewart Rhodes was courting drifted further and further right, into the alt-right, into white nationalists and even straight-up racists.”
“In my opinion, the Oath Keepers are a very dangerous organization,” he concluded.
Previous testimony earlier in the day and throughout the House select committee hearings has established that the Oath Keepers and other far-right militias such as the Proud Boys were instrumental in organizing and executing the attack on the Capitol.
“I think we saw a glimpse of the vision of what the Oath Keepers is on January 6,” Van Tatenhove said in a response to a question from the committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., about the group’s vision for America. “It doesn’t necessarily include the rule of law. It includes violence. It includes trying to get their way through lies, through deceit, through intimidation and through the perpetration of violence.”
Van Tatenhove said his breaking point with the group came when he discovered that several members of the Oath Keepers are Holocaust deniers.
When Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., asked why Rhodes publicly called on Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, Van Tatenhove said it was to legitimize an authoritarian effort to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
“This could have been the spark that started a new civil war,” Van Tatenhove said.
“We need to stop mincing words and just call things what they are,” he added. “It was going to be an armed revolution.”