Those at the US Capitol on January 6 Now Running for Office Should Be Condemned, Watchdog CEO Says
"Anybody who participated in trying to overturn a free and fair election ... ought not to be in a position of authority in this country," said Noah Bookbinder, President and CEO of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
It was a day of shock and horror as rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021. A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection with the Jan. 6 attack. Many more were injured and traumatized, and more than 700 arrests were made as a result of the assault on the Capitol. And as the House committee investigating that fateful day continues its work, it appears some who were there that day after heeding the call of then-President Donald Trump to march to the Capitol are now running for elected office themselves.
The riots began by many of whom who were said to have been inspired by Trump as he falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged, that ballots were miscounted or misplaced and that his loss to President Joe Biden was illegitimate.
“This was an election that has been verified by people in Donald Trump's own administration, as well as by all sorts of objective observers as one of the freest, safest, least fraudulent in history," Noah Bookbinder, an attorney and President and CEO of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told Inside Edition Digital. “Anybody who participated in trying to overturn a free and fair election, trying to devalue the votes of millions and millions of Americans who voted for president in 2020 ought not to be in a position of authority in this country."
But some who were present as a mob stormed the Capitol are now working to join the institution that rioters disrespected, assaulted and threatened. At least three people who were at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack are now running for Congress this November, according to The New York Times.
Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL running for Congress in Wisconsin, was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the Times and the Daily Beast reported.
"Derrick Van Orden crossed police barricades, entered the restricted area of the Capitol grounds, and watched as fellow insurrectionists broke into the Capitol and sought to bring the peaceful transfer of power to a halt. Any statement to the contrary is completely and provably false and shows that Derrick will say and do anything to cover up his actions that day," Wisconsin State Senator and nominee for Congress Brad Pfaff, who Van Orden is running against, told Inside Edition Digital in a statement. "Hardworking families need homegrown values in Congress, not a proven insurrectionist like Derrick."
Days after the assault on the Capitol, Van Orden wrote in an op-ed in The La Crosse Tribune that he had traveled to Washington “for meetings and to stand for the integrity of our electoral system as a citizen.”
“When it became clear that a protest had become a mob, I left the area, as to remain there could be construed as tacitly approving this unlawful conduct,” Van Orden wrote. “At no time did I enter the grounds, let alone the building.”
He said that he returned to his hotel "and sat in shock watching the images unfold on television."
Majewski said he "committed no crimes" and "broke no police barriers."
When reached for comment and presented with Pfaff's statement, a spokesperson for the Van Orden campaign directed Inside Edition Digital to the January 2021 op-ed Van Orden wrote for the La Crosse Tribune.
J.R. Majewski, an Air Force veteran running for Congress in Ohio, was on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, the Times reported.
Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who Majewski is running against, told Inside Edition Digital: "On January 6, 2021, a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and erected a gallows on Capitol grounds calling for the Vice President of the United States to be hanged. Over the course of several hours, more than a hundred Capitol Police officers were injured. J.R. Majewski not only attended that day, he broke past police barricades and even raised money for others to join him. In his own recorded videos, J.R. shares that he had a good time, that he blames Capitol Police for the attack, and that he’d be ready to do it again. Not once has J.R. ever apologized. Not once has he denounced what happened. J.R. Majewski is a dangerous radical, and he should never serve in the U.S. Congress.”
Majewski did not respond to Inside Edition Digital's several requests for comment or the opportunity to respond to Kaptur's statement.
Sandy Smith, a self-described entrepreneur and farmer running for Congress in North Carolina, who attended Trump's rally at the Ellipse and then marched to Capitol Hill, posted on Twitter that day that she had come to Washington to “#FightForTrump" and wrote at about 10 p.m. that night, "Today I went to DC along with fellow Patriots to support President Trump. I still stand with President Trump and believe he won this election! Stay strong patriots!”
Senator Don Davis, who Sandy Smith is running against in North Carolina, did not address Smith in a statement sent to Inside Edition Digital. Instead, he said, "I remain focused on fighting for eastern North Carolina families. We need access to quality healthcare, resources in our classrooms, and good-paying American jobs. I will fight in Congress to make sure we get our fair share. As a US Air Force Academy graduate, a former Air Force officer, and a lifelong public servant, I have taken oaths to uphold our Constitution, and I look forward to doing the same when elected."
Smith did not respond to Inside Edition Digital's multiple requests for comment or the opportunity to respond to Davis' statement.
Van Orden, Majewski and Smith have not been charged with engaging in any illegal behavior and have all denounced the violence they witnessed. Donald Trump has endorsed all three candidates for office.
There have been many other elections that have seen individuals who were present at the Capitol on Jan. 6 run. At least 57 people present at the Capitol on Jan. 6 announced they would run for some sort of election this year, Politico reported.
“Rather than disqualifying them from public service, the events of Jan. 6 appear to have served as a political springboard for dozens of Republicans who will be on the ballot this year for federal, state and local offices,” Politico reported in January.
In many instances, those running for office after being present on Jan. 6 either lost their respective elections or dropped out of their races. But to date, at least 11 people who were present on Jan. 6 have been elected to offices ranging from their respective state legislature to local city councils and school boards, Politico reported.
And though none of the candidates in those races have been charged with any wrongdoing, some say the question of if they or anyone present on Jan. 6 should ethically be allowed to run for office remains.
“One is as a moral, ethical, rational question. People who undermined this ability of Americans to vote for their leaders should not then be occupying those leadership positions,” Bookbinder said. “People who undermined this ability of Americans to vote for their leaders should not then be occupying those leadership positions.
“I think certainly as a moral and ethical matter, it should be [enough to disqualify someone from running],” Bookbinder continued. “President Trump and other speakers at that rally used all kinds of violent rhetoric. They encouraged the crowd to go to the Capitol. They encouraged the crowd to be tough and to essentially push Vice President Pence and Congress to stop the counting of votes, and that is something that sought to overturn a free and fair election, and to disenfranchise millions of Americans.”
Throughout this election year, courts have been trying to grapple with the legality of candidates who were present for Jan. 6.
“As a matter of law, the Constitution actually has a provision that deals with that,” Bookbinder said. “The 14th Amendment, which was adopted in the wake of the Civil War, says that anyone who has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution, who then participated in insurrection, is disqualified from holding state or federal office."
But the Amendment does not specifically mention those who have potentially participated in an insurrection who after doing so looks to run for office. "That's a pretty specific set of conditions. It has to be somebody who was at the time or had previously been in office," Bookbinder said.
In March 2022, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that candidates who take part in an insurrection may be barred from holding public office under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, Bloomberg reported. The ruling is only legally binding in states that make up the Fourth Circuit which are Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, according to Bloomberg.
"How it probably should work out on the merits is not going to translate in practice for some time, but the efforts to figure out how the law applies are going to happen over the next few years, and it'll take a little while, I think, for that all to be figured out," Bookbinder said.
In one instance, however, an elected official’s actions on Jan. 6 did get him ousted from office.
A New Mexico judge this September found Couy Griffin to have been involved in the insurrection. He is the founder of the group "Cowboys for Trump," which was present on Jan. 6. Though Griffin's participation was determined to be nonviolent, it disqualified him from holding his position as County Commissioner in Otero County.
"He took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States ... [and then] engaged in that insurrection after taking his oath," Judge Francis Mathew wrote when he delivered his decision in early September.
Bookbinder's organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington represented three New Mexico residents who brought the civil lawsuit against Griffin that resulted in his removal as County Commissioner. He said this decision was the first of its kind.
“[Griffin] was on the steps of the Capitol on that day with a bullhorn, encouraging and rallying the crowds. He had been found guilty of a misdemeanor for his participation in that,” Bookbinder said. “A judge in New Mexico found that Jan. 6 constituted an insurrection under the 14th Amendment, and that Mr. Griffin had participated in the insurrection, even though he was not personally violent, because he had helped to plan. He had encouraged people. He justified and normalized the violence that happened on that day, and he has been thrown out of office."
Bookbinder noted that Mathew’s decision could set a precedent going forward.
"He's now been locked out of his office, and his official computer was taken away," Bookbinder said. "So, this is a live example of that legal provision appropriately disqualifying someone who participated in the events of Jan. 6.”
When reached for comment, Griffin disputed participating in an insurrection and said in an emailed statement to Inside Edition Digital that his trial "was politically motivated and the judgement was pure fraud."
"I had no intent of stopping the 'transition of power' nor overthrowing our government in any way," he said. "My concern on Jan 6th was based solely on the integrity of our elections and the idea that election laws had been broken. By joining others on Jan 6th I only wanted to lobby Mike Pence as well as Congress to allow the states the respect of certifying the vote on the state level. All well within the bounds of the law.
"The act of insurrection is not self executing in regards to section 3 of the 14th Amendment," he continued. "It states very clearly in section 3 of the 14th amendment that insurrection can only be legislated by a 2/3 majority vote by Congress. For a state district court judge to rule on the grounds of insurrection thru a civil lawsuit in a bench trial is nothing short of a total and blatant disregard for the law. Judge Matthews had absolutely zero jurisdictional standing to rule the way he has."
When asked what went through his mind following the verdict, he said, "I was in shock and disbelief that this matter even went to trial. It should have never been heard in a state district court. But when the plaintiffs have names like Lawrence Tribe, Erwin Cherminsky, Dan Abrams, and the NAACP state district court judges are wooed into making fraudulent legal decisions.
"I honestly don't want to remain in politics but I also don't want to lose my country," he continued. "And where I stand now I see nobody else on the local level willing to stand in the gap and fight for representation of those of us who have been forgotten about. So I may not necessarily want to stay in politics but I'm willing to stay in politics for the good of my country. And I may add that I pray my next position is appointed not necessarily elected."
Bookbinder said that just because Griffin didn’t participate in violence, doesn’t mean he didn’t take part in the insurrection.
“It also has to be someone who participated in insurrection, which doesn't need to mean violence, but it does mean directly encouraging, facilitating, organizing this attempt to stop the execution of laws of the United States. In this case, it was the electoral counting by Congress. So, they're pretty specific conditions,” he said.
As election day— Tuesday, Nov. 8— fast approaches, Bookbinder noted he believes that all voters should take issue with the idea of Jan. 6 participants running for office.
“Republicans should be for this. Democrats should be for this,” Bookbinder said. “This should not be a partisan thing. It should not be an ideological thing. It should unite all of us, and the fact that there are now segments of our society that don't seem to be for free and fair elections, and don't seem to value the peaceful transfer of power is a scary thing as we seek to ensure that the United States continues to be a democracy in a meaningful way going forward.”
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