Rep. Mo Brooks may be done with Jan. 6, but Jan. 6 isn’t done with him.
The Alabama representative, notorious for his speaking role at the Jan. 6 rally leading up to the invasion of the Capitol, did not watch Tuesday’s first hearing of the House select committee investigating said invasion.
“I was in the House Armed Services Committee, Science, Space, Technology Committee, and had at least one Zoom meeting, and all sorts of other things,” he told me Wednesday when I encountered him outside the House chamber. “Busy day.” Not that a clear schedule would have made a difference.
“The purpose of that committee is not to discern the truth,” he said. “The purpose is to create political propaganda that may be used in the elections in 2022 and perhaps 2024.”
But whether he’s able to continue to avoid the committee altogether may not be up to him.
Back in December, Brooks was the first House Republican to say ahead of the congressional Electoral College certification that he would object to certain states’ electors. On the day of the certification, Jan. 6, he then gave a fiery speech at President Donald Trump’s rally at the Ellipse where he told the assembled crowd that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!” Months later, he still argues that Trump would have won the election if only “lawful votes” were counted.
Brooks’ support of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election successfully earned him the former president’s endorsement in the 2022 Alabama Senate race. But it’s also earned him legal issues. California Rep. Eric Swalwell sued Brooks and others earlier this year for fomenting the Jan. 6 riot. The Justice Department this week refused Brooks’ request to shield him from the lawsuit, in part because he’d basically admitted he was thinking about winning elections—not doing his job—when he started his rally chant. And though Brooks is claiming to dismiss the select committee hearings as a political stunt, the committee could seek to bring him in for questioning about what he knew, or didn’t know, ahead of the riot.
When I asked him whether he could be subpoenaed, he said, “I have no clue.”
Brooks, like Republican leaders who tried to counterprogram the hearing with a press conference yesterday, thinks a proper investigation would look at why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office wasn’t “doing a better job with respect to the Capitol Police and their level of preparation.”
Then, to prove his point about preparation, he revealed a new detail to me: that because of a tip he’d received about potential violence, he’d been wearing body armor at the very same Ellipse speech in which he encouraged rally attendees to “start taking down names and kicking ass.”
“I was warned on Monday that there might be risks associated with the next few days,” he said. “And as a consequence of those warnings, I did not go to my condo. Instead, I slept on the floor of my office. And when I gave my speech at the Ellipse, I was wearing body armor.
“That’s why I was wearing that nice little windbreaker,” he told me with a grin. “To cover up the body armor.”
He didn’t say who warned him, or what the “risk” was that he’d been warned about. There were probably a “half-dozen different motivations that affected people in varying degrees” to engage in insurrection. He named, for example, “financial losses suffered because of the government’s reaction to COVID-19,” “the belief that there was significant voter fraud and election theft activity,” or “a great love and respect for President Trump.”
“It might be,” too, he added, “that some of them were just militant anarchists and saw this as an opportunity to infiltrate an otherwise peaceful protest and turn it into a riot.”
In Brooks’ affidavit asking the Justice Department to shield him from liability, his lawyers emphasize the parts of his speech where he encouraged peaceful protest, not physical violence. “Once again, Brooks makes no call for a physical attack on the Capitol,” a typical footnote reads. “To the contrary, Brooks calls on Ellipse Speech attendees to do one thing: ‘utter words’!” The affidavit argues that the “taking down names and kicking ass!” remark was really about taking the names of Republicans who wouldn’t support Trump’s Electoral College objections, and punishing them in future elections.
But if he was so sure the mob would understand the peaceful intent of his words, why’d he need the Kevlar?