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How Trump's 'will be wild!' tweet drew rioters to the Capitol on Jan. 6

A tweet by former President Donald Trump appears on screen during a House Select Committee hearing to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Court documents reveal this tweet drew rioters to Washington, D.C., that day.
Mandel Ngan
/
AFP via Getty Images
A tweet by former President Donald Trump appears on screen during a House Select Committee hearing to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Court documents reveal this tweet drew rioters to Washington, D.C., that day.

At 1:42 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2020 - shortly after a six-hour Oval Office meeting described by a White House aide as "unhinged" - Donald Trump sent a tweet "that would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm, and change the course of our history as a country," in the words of Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

"Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election," Trump tweeted, even after he had heard from many of his top political and legal advisers that he had, in fact, lost.

"Big protest in D.C. on January 6th," he wrote, referring to the day Congress was set to formally certify Joe Biden's victory in the electoral college.

"Be there, will be wild!"

On Tuesday, the congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol laid out their argument that Trump's tweet played a key role in fomenting that day's violence.

"President Trump's tweet drew tens of thousands of Americans to Washington to form the angry crowd that would be transformed on Jan. 6 into a violent mob," said Raskin.

A man who pleaded guilty to breaching the Capitol building, Stephen Ayres, testified to the committee that Trump's social media posts encouraged him to attend the rally on Jan. 6. "​​He basically put out, you know, come to the 'Stop the Steal' rally, you know, and I felt like I needed to be down here," Ayres testified.

Court documents from the more than 800 criminal cases stemming from the Capitol riot tell a similar story. In several cases, records from the criminal proceedings have referenced how Trump's tweet motivated rioters to make plans to come to Washington, D.C., and, in some cases, to gather weapons and body armor ahead of the trip.

Here are some of those cases:

United States v. O'Brien

On the same day of Trump's tweet, Kelly O'Brien of Pennsylvania posted on Facebook, according to prosecutors:

"CALLING ALL PATRIOTS! Be in Washington D.C. January 6th. This wasn't organized by any group. DJT has invited us and it's going to be 'wild.'"

On Jan. 6, O'Brien was among the rioters who breached the building. When she saw a sign for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's office, she allegedly said on tape, "Look at that sign. We have to smash this place."​​ After exiting the Capitol, she posted on Facebook, "I'm out. I'm safe. Someone may have trashed a certain speaker of the houses [sic] office. But I will never tell who."

O'Brien pleaded guilty to entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and was sentenced to 90 days of incarceration and 12 months of supervised release.

United States v. Meggs

According to federal prosecutors, in December 2020, an Oath Keepers leader from Florida named Kelly Meggs sent a series of messages on Facebook that referenced Trump's tweet.

"Trump said It's gonna be wild!!!!!!! It's gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that's what he's saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!!! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your s***!!"

​​

The House Committee alleged at its most recent hearing that Meggs also communicated with the leader of the Proud Boys soon after Trump sent the tweet.

"Phone records obtained by the Select Committee show that later that afternoon, Mr. Meggs called Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and they spoke for several minutes," said Raskin. Around that same time, prosecutors say, the Proud Boys also formed what they refer to as the "Ministry of Self Defense," which would coordinate planning for the group's actions on Jan. 6.

Tarrio was not in Washington, D.C., during the Capitol riot - a court ordered him to stay away from the city following a Jan. 4, 2021 arrest on separate charges - but prosecutors allege that he conspired with other members of the Proud Boys to commit sedition. Tarrio has pleaded not guilty.

Meggs, federal prosecutors say, conspired with other Oath Keepers to bring weapons to the Washington, D.C.-area ahead of Jan. 6, 2021, and allegedly stormed the building with other members of the group in a military-style "stack" formation.

Meggs is charged with seditious conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

United States v. Kasper

On Jan. 2, 2021, Riley D. Kasper of Wisconsin posted a meme on Facebook with a picture of Trump and a reference to the former President's tweet, according to federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors allege that Kasper later assaulted police officers protecting the Capitol with pepper spray. In a private Facebook message cited by prosecutors, Kasper allegedly wrote, "I pepper sprayed 3 cops so bad they got undressed and went home." In another message, he allegedly wrote, "there is definitely something satisfying about pepper spraying cops in riot gear and watching them run from you like a b****."

Kasper has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

United States v. Bisignano

Gina Bisignano of California replied directly to Trump's "will be wild" tweet, and posted, "I'll be there," according to federal court records.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Bisignano allegedly entered Capitol grounds and filmed herself saying, "we are storming the Capitol. And I'm going up in there, I'm going to break into Congress." Prosecutors say she and other rioters "attempted to force their way into the building" and waved rioters into a tunnel defended by police, before ultimately dispersing. At one point, she allegedly shouted through a megaphone "break the window!" at a person hammering at a Capitol window, and "You are not going to take away our Trumpy bear!"

Bisignano pleaded guilty to Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Civil Disorder among other charges. While awaiting sentencing, Bisignano sought to withdraw her guilty plea to the charge of obstruction of an official proceeding. The court has not yet resolved the issue.

United States v. Reffitt

Guy Reffitt's family told ProPublica that Trump's tweet prompted Reffitt to make plans to travel to Washington, D.C., which is backed up in text messages presented at trial by prosecutors.

On Dec. 20, 2020, Reffitt messaged members of the Texas Three Percenters, a far-right militia group he belonged to, "Our President needs us. ALL OF US...!!! On January 6th. We The People owe him that debt. He Sacrificed for us and we must pay that debt. Cutting the head of the demon and demanding Constitutional expulsion of corrupt congressional officials." A week later, he wrote, "The fuel is set. We strike the match in DC on the 6th."

On video and in text messages, Reffitt repeatedly discussed dragging elected officials out of the building by their hair.

Reffitt was later convicted at trial of all charges, after prosecutors presented evidence that he traveled to Washington, D.C. with a handgun, an AR-15-style rifle, and body armor. He led rioters up steps outside the Capitol building with a holstered handgun on his hip, but turned back after police doused him in pepper spray. After he returned home, prosecutors said, he told his children not to turn him in to the FBI, saying, "Traitors get shot." Reffitt's son ultimately testified against him at trial.

Reffitt is currently awaiting sentencing.

United States v. Hostetter

In the run-up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Alan Hostetter of California led a series of rallies against COVID-19-related lockdowns and in favor of overturning the 2020 election results with increasingly violent rhetoric.

"Some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three," said Hostetter in one video he posted to YouTube. "Tyrants and traitors need to be executed as an example."

Hostetter also appeared to directly respond to Trump's tweet.

"Late last night President Trump tweeted that all patriots should descend on Washington, D.C. on Wednesday 1/6/2021," Hostetter wrote on Instagram on Dec. 19, 2020. "I will be there, bullhorns on fire, to let the swamp dwellers know we will not let them steal our country from us. I hope you can join me!!"

In his own court filing - Hostetter is representing himself - Hostetter wrote that he booked a hotel room in Washington, D.C. after Trump's "will be wild" tweet. Prosecutors say that, around that same time, Hostetter was in contact with members of an extremist militia group known as the Three Percenters.

Hostetter spoke at a rally on Jan. 5, which longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone also appeared at, and said, "We are at war in this country, we are at war tomorrow."

On Jan. 6, Hostetter said in an Instagram video that he could not get close to Trump's speech at the Ellipse "because we have some personal protective gear and backpacks and things of that nature that they won't allow in, so we're going to get as close as we can."

During the riot, Hostetter allegedly reached the West Terrace of the Capitol, where he took a selfie with one of his co-defendants. He did not enter the building. On Instagram, Hostetter called the insurrection "the shot heard round the world" and said, "we are just getting started."

Hostetter has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.