In Call Before Jan. 6 Riot, a Plea to ‘Descend on the Capitol’

A week before an angry mob stormed the Capitol, a communications expert named Jason Sullivan, a former aide to Roger J. Stone Jr., joined a conference call with a group of supporters of President Donald J. Trump and made an urgent call.

After assuring his listeners that they had stolen the 2020 election, Sullivan told them they had to go to Washington on January 6, 2021, the day Congress would meet to finalize the vote count, and “go down to Capitol Hill.” ”. ,” according to a recording of the call obtained by The New York Times.

While Mr. Sullivan claimed he was “not inciting violence or any kind of riot,” he urged those on the call to make their presence felt on Capitol Hill in a way that would intimidate members of Congress, telling the group they had to make sure lawmakers inside the building “understand that people are breathing down their necks.”

He also promised that Trump would take action on his own; the president, he said, was going to impose a form of martial law on January 6 and would not leave office.

“Biden will never be in that White House,” Sullivan declared. “That is my promise to each and every one of you.”

The recording of the call, which took place on December 30, 2020, emerged as the Justice Department expanded its criminal investigation into the attack on Capitol Hill. It offers a glimpse of the planning that went on in the run-up to the Capitol and the mindset of some who zeroed in on January 6 as a kind of last resort to keep Trump in office. .

It also reflects the complexities that federal prosecutors are likely to face as they begin the task of determining how much, or even if, the people involved in the political demonstrations that preceded the assault may be responsible for the violence that erupted.

After more than a year of focusing exclusively on the rioters who participated in the storming of the Capitol, prosecutors have widened their gaze in recent weeks and begun to question whether those involved in fueling protests like the one Mr. Sullivan, can be held guilty of disrupting the work of Congress.

Sullivan’s comments during the call appeared to be an effort to motivate a group of people aggrieved by the election to take direct action against members of Congress on Jan. 6, foreshadowing what Trump himself would say in a speech that day. While it’s unclear if anyone on Mr. Sullivan’s call joined the mob that stormed the Capitol, he seemed to be exhorting his listeners to exert unusual pressure on lawmakers just as they were overseeing the final vote count. of the Electoral College.

In a statement provided by his attorney, Sullivan downplayed the nature of the call, saying he had simply “shared some encouragement” with what he described as “people who felt their votes had been disenfranchised in the election.” 2020”. Mr. Sullivan said he had been asked to join the call by a group of anti-vaccine activists, or what he called “health freedom moms,” who were hosting “a small permitted event” on Capitol Hill. January 6th. .

“I only promoted peaceful solutions where Americans could speak out and be heard as expressed in our First Amendment,” Sullivan said in the statement. “In no way do I condone the violence of the protesters.”

Still, on the recording of the call, Sullivan can be heard telling listeners that lawmakers inside the Capitol “need to feel pressure.”

“If we make people sweat inside that building and they understand that they may not be able to walk the streets anymore if they do the wrong thing, then maybe they’ll do the right thing,” he said. “We have to put that pressure there.”

As the Justice Department expands its investigation, federal prosecutors are using a grand jury in Washington to gather information on political organizers, speakers and VIP calls related to a series of pro-Trump rallies after the 2020 election. A prominent planner of those rallies, Ali Alexander, was subpoenaed by the grand jury and said last week that he intended to comply with their requests.

In the run-up to January 6, Mr. Alexander publicly discussed a lobbying campaign against lawmakers intended to stop the final election count, saying he was working with Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama and Representatives Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, all Republicans.

“The four of us planned to push Congress as hard as they voted,” Mr. Alexander said. he said in a since-deleted video in Periscope. The plan, he said, was “to change the hearts and minds of the Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from the outside.”

It is unclear if the Justice Department is aware of Mr. Sullivan’s conference call; the department declined to comment. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 events received a copy of the recording a few months ago from the woman who made it, Staci Burk, a law student and Republican activist from Arizona.

Shortly after the election, Ms. Burk became convinced that false ballots had been sent in large numbers to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. She eventually filed an anonymous ballot affidavit in a voter fraud case brought in US District Court in Phoenix by pro-Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

After becoming involved with Ms. Powell, Ms. Burk said that she had been approached by several members of a right-wing paramilitary group, the First Amendment Praetorian, and was associated with a former legal client of Ms. Powell, Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

Ms. Burk said members of the group then placed her under unwanted surveillance, insisting on moving into their home in what they described as an effort to protect her from people who might want to retaliate against her for reporting voter fraud.

He was a member of the First Amendment Praetorian, said Burk, who joined the conference call in which Sullivan participated. Ms. Burk said that she recorded the call, as she recorded other activities of the First Amendment Praetorian, because she felt threatened and unsafe by the group’s presence in her home.

At one point during the call, Sullivan was asked by an unknown interrogator if Trump intended to impose martial law on January 6. That explosive notion had been raised publicly two weeks earlier by Flynn during an appearance on the right. -to the Newsmax television network.

Mr. Sullivan responded to the question by telling the man that he anticipated that Mr. Trump would implement “a limited form of martial law” on January 6.

“I don’t see any other way around it, because he’s not going to allow voter fraud to happen,” Sullivan said. “It’s not going to happen.”

A social media consultant who calls himself “the wizard of twitter”, Mr. Sullivan worked for a political action committee led by Mr. Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, during the 2016 presidential campaign. According to Reuters, one of the projects he did for Stone was a strategy paper that described how to use Twitter “swarms” to amplify political messages.

More recently, Mr. Sullivan has taken an active role in promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that prominent liberals belong to a Satan-worshipping cult of pedophiles. In a public appearance last year with Mrs. Powell and Mr. Flynn, Mr. Sullivan called Hillary Clinton a “terrible woman” and then gestured that she should be hanged.

In the pre-Jan. 6 conference call, Sullivan told his listeners that he was an expert at making things go viral online, but that it wasn’t enough to simply spread the message that the election had been stolen.

“There has to be a multi-pronged strategy, and I think that multi-pronged strategy is going down on Capitol Hill, without a doubt,” he said. “Make those people feel it inside.”

Lucas Broadwater contributed report.

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