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For Jan. 6 rioters who believed Trump, storming the Capitol made sense

“We were just American people tired and pissed off at the fact that we felt our election was stolen,” a Jan. 6 defendant said.

WASHINGTON — The Jan. 6 committee has woven through each of its public hearings the voices of actual rioters from that day, seeking to draw a direct tie between the violence at the Capitol and what was happening behind the scenes at the White House.

But the rioters themselves haven't been circumspect about what made them travel — in some cases hundreds of miles — to Washington for a rally that day and then march on the Capitol, which hundreds of them entered.

In interviews and court proceedings they've been clear: They believed Donald Trump when he told them the election had been stolen, and they believed it was their duty to try to help keep him in office, which in their eyes was essentially an effort to save the democracy.

“We were just American people tired and pissed off of the fact that we felt our election was stolen,” one rioter told NBC News in an interview. “We were just regular, pissed-off Americans.”

For this person — who entered the Capitol that day — participation has come at a heavy cost: a trip to jail, thousands of dollars in legal fees, the loss of jobs and still the risk of prison time.

NBC News allowed this rioter to speak without disclosing a name or other identifying traits, and has used pronouns that do not reveal gender, because this case remains in the legal system and such anonymity allows this rioter to speak more openly about their reasons for attending the rally and storming the Capitol that day.

None of the legal consequences or subsequent revelations about the election has caused their support for Trump to wane; they still believe the 2020 election was stolen, and they said they would come to Washington again if given the option to do so.

It's not an unusual story.

Most rioters who have spoken in court, either at appearances or through filings, said they were inspired by Trump and their belief that the election was stolen.

Of those who have been charged, most came to the Capitol from the Trump rally that was held that same day near the White House, only blocks away. Many were dressed in MAGA gear. They shouted pro-Trump chants and “Stop the Steal,” a Trump slogan.

Protests As Joint Session Of Congress Confirms Presidential Election Result
Demonstrators try to enter the Capitol during the protest in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.Eric Lee / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Jan. 6 riot defendants have lost jobs, money, their freedom and even spouses because of their decision to storm the Capitol. But many remain adamant in their belief that the election was stolen.

John Lolos went on a rant about voter fraud during his sentencing hearing. 

Yet multiple defendants have told judges during the sentencing process that they now understand that claims that the election was stolen were baseless, and their defense attorneys have pointed to the moral culpability of politicians who fed their clients those lies.

The Jan. 6 committee has already sought to make connections between the mob’s anger and violence and Trump’s rhetoric, playing a video showing members of the mob echoing the former president’s words. One individual featured in a video from the committee this week was Zachary Johnson, a Proud Boy from Florida whom federal prosecutors accused of having allegedly taken a sledgehammer and pepper spray to the riot.

“Fake election! They’re gonna cheat us out of our vote?” he said in the video.

Another man — standing among the crowd that day — complains in the committee video about Dominion voting machines, saying he “can’t really trust” the software, is included on the FBI’s wanted list. 

Defendants have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from misdemeanors to felony seditious conspiracy charges. In some cases, defendants have said they were tricked. But many continue to argue they did nothing wrong.

Anthony Joseph Scirica, who was sentenced to 15 days of incarceration for his role in the Capitol attack, described in an interview with the FBI how he got up at 4 a.m. to head to the Trump rally. He believed that Trump was going to make a speech at the Capitol after he told rally-goers to march there. 

“I had the impression that he was going to make a speech at the Capitol,” Scirica said in the FBI interview that was introduced as a court exhibit in his case.

“I don’t know, I’m not really sure,” Scirica said when asked if he wished he'd stayed out of the building. “It might make a good story in like 50 years when I am a grandfather.”

While some rioters who've been charged, like Scirica, didn’t necessarily plan on entering the Capitol before they heard Trump’s speech on Jan. 6, plenty of others have said they knew of plans to enter the Capitol ahead of time.

Police try to hold back protesters at the Capitol
Police try to hold back protesters as they storm the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

Kenneth Rader, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge this month, admitted in court documents that he shared an image with 40 Facebook friends that read “Operation Occupy the Capitol, January 6, 2021” and wrote that Trump supporters were “going to remove the corrupt politions and take our country back... I will not stand by and let this go unanswered.”

Thomas Baranyi, who emerged from the Capitol building with the blood of fellow rioter Ashli Babbitt dripping from his hands, spelled out his intent in a video on Jan. 6 that was played at his sentencing hearing. 

“We tore through the scaffolding through flash bangs and tear gas, and blitzed our way in through all the chambers, just trying to get into Congress or whoever we could get into and tell them that we need some kind of investigation into this,” he said. He pleaded guilty to a charge of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and was sentenced to 90 days in federal prison on Friday.

Another woman was incredulous when asked by a reporter on Jan. 6 why she tried to storm the Capitol building, crying about being sprayed in the face with mace.

“We’re storming the Capitol!” she said in a video that was posted on Twitter, explaining why she tried to go inside. “It’s a revolution!”

Other rioters believed that Trump himself would support their actions, as rioters said they were invited by the president and told police that the president wanted them to do what they were doing.

“I bet Trump would pardon anybody who gets arrested for goin’ in there,” Derrick Evans, the West Virginia lawmaker who stormed the Capitol while filming himself. He shouted, “Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” in the video. He pleaded guilty to a felony civil disorder charge and is scheduled to be sentenced this week.

Interviews with rioters on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 6 also illustrated their intent.

“They tried to steal the election, it’s an attack on the country,” one man told an interviewer, who hosts the YouTube program “Barely Informed with Elad,” on the stairs of the Capitol.

The interviewer asked a man whether he thought the election was stolen.

“100 percent,” he replied.

One man in a helmet and goggles, who was carrying a shield says on the video, “Mail-in fraud, you stole it from me! Four more years! Four more years!” (The man, later identified as Kene Brian Lazo, was arrested and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor earlier this year.)

Ryan Nichols, who was visible in the footage shown by the Jan. 6 committee on Thursday, pleaded not guilty and is being held in detention before his trial. A judge ruled Nichols was a threat based on evidence that included a “plethora” of videos, including some in which he appears to confess to fighting at the Capitol, filmed himself threatening violence on his way to the Capitol and then explained the reason he committed violence. 

“So yes, today, Ryan Nichols, Ryan Nichols,” he says in the video, speaking in third person, adding that he grabbed his weapon “and he stormed the Capitol and he fought.” He goes on to say he fought for “freedom” and “election integrity.” 

“I fought!”