Jan. 6 committee set to examine Trump's connection to Capitol rioters – a militia expert explains this complex relationship

It’s not quite clear what, exactly, former President Donald Trump was doing and privately saying inside the White House during the five long, violent hours when more than 2,000 rioters invaded the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

It’s a key timeline that the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol is set to explore on July 21, 2022 during its latest – and possibly lastpublic hearing.

At the heart of the issue is Trump’s precise engagement, if any, with the rioters and several fringe nationalist militia groups, including the Proud Boys, Three Percenters and Oath Keepers, that stormed the Capitol.

Amy Cooter, a senior lecturer in sociology at Vanderbilt University, embedded with militia groups, mostly in Michigan, from 2008 through 2012. Knowing who these groups are – and how they have changed over time – makes it easier to understand the Jan. 6 attacks, Cooter said.

“Fifteen years ago, people thought of these groups as being niche, crazy people. That’s not really what I saw in my fieldwork – I saw people who were just more willing to be open about their political perspectives than maybe more mainstream Republicans were at the time. It seemed to me, both then and now, that their concerns resonate with a broad swath of the population,” Cooter said in a recent interview.

We asked Cooter to explain what drives these groups and their complicated relationship with Trump and the government.

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