Politics

The Iconic Objects of the Jan. 6 Hearings

Why we can’t get the white blazer, a can of Diet Dr. Pepper, and all that ketchup out of our heads.

Clockwise from upper left: A collage of a steering wheel, a Nest thermostat reading "70," the JUSTICE baseball bat, two ginger mints, a white women's blazer, a can of Diet Dr. Pepper, a Descendents T-shirt, a meatball with a Swedish flag sticking out of it, a denim jacket, a glass bottle of Heinz ketchup, and a blouse with a plunging neckline and chunky pearls around it.
There’s a riot goin’ on. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amazon and Getty Images Plus.

The news moves fast—we know. The Jan. 6 hearings were last week—we know! But the ordeal is far from over: These hearings start again this September. In the meantime, we’re still thinking about the new information we learned, the drama of what we watched, and, in particular, how there were several inanimate objects that sort of stole the show. Here’s our official list of the things that played a starring role in the spectacle of the past several weeks.

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Meatballs

There’s nothing coy about a meatball. The food resists subtlety and irony; it’s all right there in the name. It is a ball. Of meat. What else do you need to know?

This makes meatballs the ideal finger food to serve at a meeting convened to discuss attempting a coup. Trump’s White House butler, schooled as he was in the art of entertaining, knew this. So one evening last December, as Trump, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and a host of other goofballs faced down the eventuality of a lost election—and allegedly brainstormed ways to avoid that fate, tossing around ideas of martial law and seized voting machines—the butler brought out the Swedish delicacy.

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According to a Washington Post source, the former CEO of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrne, who left the company in 2019 after it was revealed that he’d had an intimate relationship with the Russian agent Maria Butina, was “nonstop housing meatballs,” (or variously, “ate so many meatballs”) at the gathering. That vivid detail is not not a matter of national interest. When your time as a semi-relevant character in American politics is running out, you might as well load up on the complimentary protein. —Christina Cauterucci

Nest Thermostats

Trump was apparently convinced to continue pursuing specious claims of election fraud during this very meatball-filled meeting on Dec. 18. One of the few participants who did not believe Trump should do that was White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, who described a moment on that day like so: “At one point General Flynn took out a diagram that supposedly showed IP addresses all over the world—who was communicating with whom via the machines, and some comment about, like, Nest thermostats being hooked up to the Internet.”

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The Flynn team’s theory—to be clear—was that the Chinese government had hacked into voting machines via internet-connected smart thermostats. This allegation was originally popularized by a man named Jovan Pulitzer, a Dallas-based gentleman who self-publishes books about finding lost treasure under the name “Commander Pulitzer” and who also contributed to the post–Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” effort by introducing the Arizona legislature to a system by which fake Chinese ballots would purportedly reveal themselves by containing traces of bamboo. Shockingly enough, he didn’t find any—but folks, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t smash everything in your house that has an LCD screen with a hammer to prevent the Chinese from installing Hillary Clinton as president in 2024! —Ben Mathis-Lilley

Ketchup

Donald Trump’s favorite food is ketchup. He is known to eat it with a side of dry steak. So you know he wasn’t particularly pleased when, on another day last December, he apparently threw his ketchup against the wall. According to the testimony of former Mark Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson, this meltdown occurred during an all-time temper tantrum, thrown by Trump in the White House dining room, after Attorney General Bill Barr told the Associated Press that “we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” Hutchinson said that she had heard the ruckus firsthand; she testified that she went into the dining room to see shattered porcelain on the floor and “ketchup dripping down the wall.” Then she helped clean it up. Here’s hoping the president’s aides poured him two fingers of ketchup to take the edge off. —Jim Newell

White Blazer

To relay this information publicly, under oath, and in front of the House Jan 6. Committee, Hutchinson testified on June 28, wearing a white blazer, and bright white nail polish. The New York Times’ chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman zeroed in on the choice: “Ms. Hutchinson’s pristine white jacket practically glowed through the screen. And in Washington, and especially in the context of President Trump and his focus on pageantry, a white jacket has never been just a white jacket,” she wrote. Friedman added that in addition to being a nod to the suffragists and the importance of women’s rights, a white blazer also suggests “a sense of strength and clarity.” When paired with Hutchinson’s incredible testimony about cleaning up splattered ketchup, it’s no surprise she dubbed it “the most powerful fashion moment of the reality series so far.” Sarah Matthews, a former deputy press secretary to Trump, who testified on July 21, also wore white (a dress). And Liz Cheney echoed Hutchinson’s look the same evening, sporting a white blazer—and specifically naming the suffragists in her closing remarks. It’s a lot for one clothing item to carry, but then again, what can’t a white blazer do? The ladies will need to find a new symbol come September though—no white blazers after Labor Day! —Susan Matthews

Steering Wheel

On the day Hutchinson testified, she told a story, which she heard secondhand, about an altercation in the president’s motorcade vehicle following the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. Hutchinson says that Tony Ornato, a deputy chief of staff, told her that Trump demanded to be taken to the Capitol to join his beloved crowd of marauders. When he was told that wouldn’t be happening, “the president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel,” Hutchinson said. Trump also allegedly used his “free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel,” the head of Trump’s Secret Service detail. This extraordinary story was challenged after the hearing: Several news outlets reported that anonymous sources were claiming that Ornato and Engel denied this. The truth remains somewhat mysterious, but none deny that Trump was livid in the vehicle. For what it’s worth, it’s generally considered poor form to grab the steering wheel of a car if you are not driving the car. —Jim Newell

Descendents T-Shirt

Gen X punk had quite the cameo at the Jan. 6 hearings when Jason van Tatenhove, once a spokesperson for the anti-government Oath Keepers militia, testified to the select committee about the history of the group and its role in the attack on the Capitol. As van Tatenhove stood at the hearing to take a much different kind of oath, observers homed in on his black T-shirt featuring the cover art for Everything Sucks, a 1996 album by the iconic punk rockers the Descendents. Van Tatenhove’s fit got so much attention and scrutiny—he was also wearing a denim jacket with pins, one of which symbolized the alt-metal band Deftones—that the Descendents felt the need to state on Twitter that they “completely disavow groups like the Oath Keepers.” (Van Tatenhove says he left the group five years ago.) Unlike some other famous punks, the Descendents have consistently opposed the political right: The band had a song on 2004’s Rock Against Bush compilation and released a post–Jan. 6 track referring to Trump as an “asshole Twitter troll” and “fucking twit.” But look, it wouldn’t have been that shocking if van Tatenhove had remained a Descendents fan during his dalliance with the right. Remember when Paul Ryan claimed that he loved Rage Against the Machine? —Nitish Pahwa

Baseball Bat

The hearings featured video testimony that had been previously taped, allowing viewers a glimpse into the living space of several witnesses. Former White House attorney Eric Herschmann chose to frame himself, in his pre-taped testimony, between three pieces from his contemporary art collection: an image of a panda seductively rising from a pool; a row of three sculpted wigs; and a baseball bat with the word JUSTICE painted on the business end.

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That bat, which Politico reports was given to Herschmann by a friend after he won a trial, lent a bit of smug, on-the-nose gravitas to Herschmann’s account of how Trump and his allies planned to delegitimize the 2020 election results and attempt to steal back the presidency. In one of the most indelible soundbites from the hearings, Herschmann recalled telling Trump lawyer John Eastman, “Get a great F-ing criminal defense lawyer. You’re gonna need it.” Justice served! (Metaphorically, I guess, because who knows if any of these people will actually be convicted of anything.)

OK, but there’s more.

The bat is one of a series of 2013 artworks by New York­–based artist Sebastian Errazuriz. On the webpage displaying the JUSTICE bats, Errazuriz writes that they are meant to raise awareness about the prevalence of domestic violence in the U.S. Nevertheless, he was pleased to see his art in concert with testimony of Herschmann’s efforts to dissuade Trump’s team from pursuing a coup. “It’s an honor to see my work in a historic moment on the wall of a collector and lawyer that embodies the ideal of the artwork. Someone who believes in defending Justice; regardless of being republican or democrat, even if it means losing your job,” Errazuriz wrote in an Instagram post.

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He could have stopped there. Instead, Errazuriz complimented Herschmann further. “I’d like to have that guy on my corner if I marry Amber Heard,” he wrote.

Record scratch—didn’t this guy make the JUSTICE bat specifically to condemn domestic violence? In response to an Instagram commenter who called his quip “really disappointing,” Errazuriz wrote that the Heard comment was just a joke. But, he clarified, “Men are occasionally victims of abuse too. Some women are occasionally proven to be abusive. … Should we send an innocent person to jail because he was a man and give the guilty person 100 M because she was a woman and we must always support women’s rights even if they are proven to be guilty?”

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This one’s got layers! A lawyer who defended Trump against impeachment, served in the Trump White House, and then testified that he was shocked and appalled to find that the people around him were trying to break the law. An artist who makes art about the scourge of domestic violence, then joins the masses in smearing a famous abuse survivor as a greedy, opportunistic liar. Justice, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder. —Christina Cauterucci

Diet Dr. Pepper

The MAGA insurrection was many things, but among them, it was super half-assed and arrogant: Did these people really think the U.S. Senate was going to just give up on approving the transfer of presidential power because Capitol operations were interrupted by a bunch of message board conspiracy weirdos and guys from racist social clubs? What was the long-term plan there? The whole thing was the work of people who don’t understand how real work actually is done, which was perhaps best captured by a moment involving diet soda in “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell’s recorded testimony.

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Powell, whose amateurish and error-riddled suits alleging election fraud were thrown out of court as soon as real people finished reading them, spoke to the committee over video, in advance of the hearings, wearing a leopard-print blouse. She seemed mostly concerned with tossing off snotty asides about the advice given to Trump by White House lawyers Pat Cippolone and Eric Herschmann, whose advice turned out to have been completely prescient and correct (and who additionally pulled Trump out of the fire Powell and others had started by successfully defending him in impeachment proceedings a short time later).

After one such comment—about how unbelievable it was to her that no one in White House legal team had told Trump he should use his authority under Area 51 Ghost Protocol (or something like that) to seize the nation’s voting machines—she was so satisfied that she paused to take a two-second chug from a fully upended can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Case closed, mic drop! Last August, a judge in Michigan ordered Powell to take 12 hours of remedial legal education. —Ben Mathis-Lilley

The Ginger Mint/USB Sticks

The human consequences of the Jan. 6 plot were outlined in a hearing that featured mom-and-daughter Atlanta election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss. The pair spoke in recorded and live testimony, respectively, about how their volunteer work as vote tabulators was part of their commitment to their community; both spent election night, November 2020, at Atlanta’s State Farm Center simply doing their jobs. Afterwards, they were picked out of essentially random security footage by self-appointed online fraud detectives and accused of carrying out a conspiracy to elect Biden. Rudy Giuliani claimed, in all but explicitly racist language, to have spotted them exchanging “USB drives” of, I guess, fake voting data “as if they were vials of heroin or cocaine.” Trump, for his part, accused them of helping dump “suitcases” of fake votes into the system. The allegations, the women say, triggered a deluge of both electronic and in-person harassment and left them living their lives as privately as possible so as to avoid situations in which their names might be mentioned in public within earshot of some vindictive MAGA/QAnon nut. The “suitcases,” for the record, were standard storage crates. Moss said at her hearing that the handful of “USB drives” she was purportedly handing her mother was a ginger mint. —Ben Mathis-Lilley

Chunky Jewelry and Conservative Necklines

There were all kinds of astounding statements made during the Jan. 6 hearings. And yet there is one statement that didn’t get nearly enough attention: the statement necklace.

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That’s right. I’m talking about that big, bold necklace that has become the centerpiece of the congressional wardrobe (at least, for the women). Now, a lot of people may think that throwing a big statement necklace on an otherwise boring red, white, or blue dress-jacket combo will make an outfit look more stylish, sophisticated, or maybe even a little bit exciting. Regretfully, they’re wrong.

Still, a look conveys a message. And the message sent by the chunky jewelry and high necklines adorning the congresswomen at the hearings was clear: These gals mean business! They don’t have time for fashion, let alone Trumpian nonsense.

Take Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s long, double-layered pearl and gold emblem necklace during Day 7 of the Jan. 6 hearing. The necklace? Too long. The pearls? Too large. And the gold emblems? A little too close to pirate coins.

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And yet, it conveys a certain undeterred tone.

Anyone who has covered the Hill or lived in D.C. or frankly has eyes knows that Congress has never been a place known for cutting-edge fashion. And I suspect some people reading this very blurb may think that talking about what our elected officials were wearing while investigating an assault on our democracy is trivial or undignified. Why, after all, should we care what Rep. Elaine Luria was wearing while showing a video of Josh “High Knees” Hawley booking it out of the Capitol?

To those people I say: Fashion has always played a part in politics. These costumes helped those running the hearings assume a serious, yet theatrical, role. After all, what were the Jan. 6 hearings if not a Shakespearean drama playing out on the world stage? —Katie Rayford

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