Champion man expected to testify today in front of Jan. 6 committee

proud boys

WARREN — A Trumbull County man who pleaded guilty last month to charges stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is scheduled to testify before Congress today as part of the ongoing investigation into the attacks.

Stephen Ayres, 39, of Champion, pleaded guilty June 8 as part of a plea agreement his lawyer reached with prosecutors in May.

ABC News reported Monday evening that Ayres is set to testify in a public hearing today before the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol last year, according to a source familiar with the matter. The hearing is expected to focus on the rise of radical extremism in the United States, and the source said one of the key witnesses will be Ayres, ABC News reported.

A former spokesman for the Oath Keepers militia group, Jason Van Tatenhove, will also be testifying Tuesday, the source said.

Ayres agreed to plead guilty to count three of his indictment, a misdemeanor convicting him with disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restrictive building or grounds.

The sentence, because Ayres did not carry a weapon or engage in violent behavior, carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a fine of not more than $100,000 and a term of supervised release of not more than one year, according to court documents.

The documents, however, noted that Ayres has no prior criminal convictions and his sentencing guideline range is between no time served to six months, with an estimated applicable fine of between $2,000 and $20,000. Ayres’ attorney has the right to ask the court to waive any fine.

Three other counts against Ayres — a felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding, and misdemeanor counts of unlawful entry into a restricted building or grounds and disorderly conduct in the Capitol building — were dismissed.

Ayres of Carolewood Circle NW remains free on a personal bond.

In court documents filed last month, Ayres acknowledged that the day before the riot, he drove to Washington, D.C., to protest Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election results, according to ABC News.

On Facebook, Ayres had spotlighted then-President Donald Trump’s call for supporters to descend on Washington on Jan. 6, which Trump said will “be wild” in a tweet he posted on Dec. 19, 2020.

During Tuesday’s hearing, ABC news reported the committee hopes to explore the impact that tweet had on Trump’s supporters, committee aides said. The hearing is expected to also include clips from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s deposition with congressional investigators last week, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Two days before he left for the nation’s capital, Ayres posted a message on Facebook saying, “Mainstream media, social media, Democrat party, FISA courts, Chief Justice John Roberts, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, etc. … all have committed TREASON against a sitting U.S. president!!! All are now put on notice by ‘We The People!'”

In the week before that, Ayres said in social media posts that it was “time for us to start standing up to tyranny!” and he warned that “If the (deep state) robs president Trump!!! Civil War will ensue!” according to the FBI the news agency reported.

Ayres joined the mob outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, then entered the building that afternoon, court documents state.

An attorney representing Ayres declined to comment when contacted by ABC News.

TIES TO TRUMP

After members of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6, 2021, their leader called someone on the phone with an urgent message for then-President Donald Trump, another extremist told investigators.

While gathered in a private suite at the Phoenix Park Hotel, an Oath Keeper member says he heard their leader, Stewart Rhodes, repeatedly urge the person on the phone to tell Trump to call upon militia groups to fight to keep the president in power.

“I just want to fight,” Rhodes said after hanging up with the person, who denied Rhodes’ appeal to speak directly to the Republican president, court records say.

Federal prosecutors have not said who they believe Rhodes was speaking to on that call, which was detailed in court documents in the case of an Oath Keeper member who has pleaded guilty in the riot. An attorney for Rhodes says the call never happened.

The story, however, has raised questions about whether the extremist group boss may have had the ear of someone close to Trump on Jan. 6 — an issue that could take center stage when the House committee that’s investigating the insurrection holds its next public hearing today.

The Jan. 6 committee has said it is looking closely at any ties between people in Trump’s orbit and extremist groups accused of helping put into motion the violence at the Capitol.

Top leaders and members of the Oath Keepers and another far-right group — the Proud Boys — have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the most serious cases the Justice Department has brought so far in the Jan. 6 attack.

Neither federal prosecutors nor House investigators have alleged that anyone in the Trump White House was in communication with extremist groups in the run-up to Jan. 6.

But at least two men close to Trump — longtime friend Roger Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn — have known contacts with far-right groups and extremists who, in some cases, are alleged to have been involved in Jan. 6.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, also told the House committee that she heard the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers mentioned leading up to the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington on Jan. 6. But no further details about that have been revealed.

Cassie Miller, a Southern Poverty Law Center senior research analyst who has provided the committee with information about extremists, said she expects lawmakers to build on that testimony and possibly reveal more information about connections between people close to Trump and groups like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

“Right now, things are very blurry,” Miller said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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