Stephen Ayres says he was a staunch supporter of President Donald J. Trump in the days leading up to Jan. 6.
“I was hanging on to every word he said,” Ayres told the congressional committee investigating what happened that day. “Whatever he broadcast, I followed him.”
Ayres, one of more than 840 people charged in connection with the day’s events, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge last month. He is likely to be sentenced in September.
Ayres told the committee he had a family and a job when he entered the Capitol that day. He believed the former president’s claims about voter fraud and he was upset. He felt it was his duty as a patriotic American to answer the call of his president.
“I felt like I needed to be here,” he said.
Ayres had come for the rally, but the former president’s fiery speech prompted him to join the crowd.
“We were just following through on what he said,” Ayres recalled.
He thought Trump would be there too, and at the time Ayres was still hoping the election result would be overturned.
Now he looks back with regret. He lost his job and was forced to sell his house.
“It definitely changed my life, not for the good,” Ayres said. “Certainly not for the best.”
Ayres isn’t the only one to express regret.
The committee showed a text exchange between Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Katrina Pierson, the rally organizer, on the evening of Jan. 6.
Describing what he viewed as “a sitting president asking for civil war,” Parscale said he felt guilty for helping Trump get elected in the first place.
“You did what you felt right at the time,” Pierson said, “and so that was right.”
“Yes,” Parscale replied, “but a woman died.”
He was referring to Ashli Babbitt, the Trump supporter who was shot by Capitol police as he tried to break into the House chamber.
“You realize that was going to happen,” Pierson replied.
“Yeah,” Parscale replied, “if I was Trump, and I knew my rhetoric killed somebody. …”
“It wasn’t the rhetoric,” Pierson wrote.
“Katrina,” Parscale replied. “Yes it was.”
Amid the committee’s investigation, a group of Trump critics released a 72-page report examining the former president’s numerous unsuccessful challenges to the election results.
“Even now, 20 months after the election, a period in which Trump supporters have strenuously scoured every nook and cranny for evidence that the election was stolen, they stand empty,” the report said. . “Claims are being made, trumpeted in sympathetic media, and accepted as true by many patriotic Americans. But upon objective examination, they failed each time.
The report found no evidence of fraud on the scale necessary to move the result in any state.
“In fact,” he said, “there was no fraud that changed the outcome, even in one neighborhood.”
After his arrest, Ayres stepped away from social media and took a more critical look at those same fraud allegations. He came to realize that the defeated president’s claims made no sense.
“It’s too big,” he told the committee. “There would be no way to keep something like that quiet.”
Ayres believes he wasn’t the only one taken in by Trump’s lies.
“If I did, hundreds of thousands of other people did, or maybe still do,” he said. “Who knows? In the next election, they might be on the same path as we are right now.
Ayres has some advice for these people.
“The most important thing for me is to take the blinders off,” he said. “Make sure you step back and see what’s going on. Before it is too late.”
Do you think anyone will listen?