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US Capitol riot hearing opens with focus on extremists and eyewitness testimony

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Rioters loyal to ex-president Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.Photo: AP/John Minchillo

Rioters loyal to ex-president Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.Photo: AP/John Minchillo

Former US president Donald Trump dismisses the investigation as illegitimate. Photo: Reuters

Former US president Donald Trump dismisses the investigation as illegitimate. Photo: Reuters

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Rioters loyal to ex-president Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.Photo: AP/John Minchillo

With never-seen video, new audio and a mass of evidence, the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol will attempt to show the “harrowing story” of the deadly violence that erupted that day and also a chilling backstory as the defeated president, Donald Trump, tried to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.

Last night’s prime-time hearing was due to open with eyewitness testimony from the first police officer pummelled in the mob riot and from a documentary filmmaker tracking the extremist Proud Boys, who prepared to fight for Mr Trump immediately after the election, and led the storming of the Capitol.

It was also due to feature the committee’s accounts from Mr Trump’s aides and family members, interviewed behind closed doors, of the deadly siege that Democrats and others say put US democracy at risk.

“When you hear and understand the wide-reaching conspiracy and the effort to try to corrupt every lever and agency of government involved in this, you know, the hair on the back of your neck should stand up,” Democrat Elaine Luria, a member of the January 6 committee, said in an interview.

“Putting it all together in one place and one coherent narrative, I think, will help the American people understand better what happened on January 6 – and the threats that that could potentially pose in the future.”

The panel’s year-long investigation will begin to show how America’s tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power came close to slipping away. It will reconstruct how Mr Trump refused to concede the 2020 election, spread false claims of voter fraud and orchestrated an unprecedented public and private campaign to overturn Mr ­Biden’s victory.

The result of the coming weeks of public hearings may not change hearts or minds in politically polarised America. But the investigation with 1,000 interviews is to stand as a public record for history.

A final report aims to provide an account of the most violent attack on the Capitol since the British set fire to it in 1814, and to ensure it never happens again.

Unapologetic, Mr Trump dismisses the investigation as illegitimate – and even declared yesterday on social media that the January 6 riot “represented the greatest movement in the history of our country”.

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The riot left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol. At least nine people who were there died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police.

Emotions are still raw at the Capitol, and security will be tight for the hearings. Law enforcement officials are reporting a spike in violent threats against members of Congress.

Against this backdrop, the committee will speak to a divided America, ahead of the autumn midterm elections when voters decide which party controls Congress.

Most TV networks will carry the hearings live, but Fox News Channel will not.

The committee chairman, civil rights leader Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and vice chair Liz Cheney, a Republican and the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, were due to set the tone with opening remarks.

The two congressional leaders were to outline what the committee has learned about the events leading up to that January day when Mr Trump sent his supporters to Congress to “fight like hell” for his presidency as politicians undertook the typically routine job of certifying the previous November’s results.

“People are going to have to follow two intersecting streams of events – one will be the attempt to overturn the presidential election, that’s a harrowing story in itself,” Democrat Jamie Raskin, a member of the committee, said in an interview.

“The other will be the sequence of events leading up to a violent mob attack on the Capitol to block the peaceful balance of power,” he said.



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