Series: The Insurrection
The Effort to Overturn the Election
But in hours of right-wing media interviews before and after the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, he repeatedly raised the prospect of violence as a possible response to Donald Trump losing the 2020 presidential election.
“This is pretty much it for our country,” Brooks said in a December podcast interview that has not been previously reported. “In my judgment, it rivals the election of 1860,” he added, referring to the election of Abraham Lincoln, “and we saw what ensued from that” — meaning the Civil War.
Brooks’ office didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article.
Brooks was outspoken in baselessly accusing Democrats of “stealing” the presidential election and seeking ways to keep Donald Trump in power. Now he is hoping those statements will springboard him to higher office in a Senate race that will test the endurance of Trumpism in the Republican Party and show what political consequences lawmakers may face for openly advocating anti-democratic ideas.
The Alabama congressman is expected tonight to announce his campaign to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring. Brooks is set to make his announcement alongside Stephen Miller, the former White House adviser who drove Trump’s hardline immigration policies, including family separation. As an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Miller frequently drew from white nationalist and white supremacist websites, according to emails revealed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Brooks and Miller have been allies since they worked together to defeat a bipartisan immigration compromise in 2013.
Brooks’ remark about the 1860 election came on an episode of Sean Hannity’s podcast that was guest-hosted by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and aired on Dec. 22. Though the episode was billed as “Previewing the Class of 2021” in Congress, Gohmert dedicated the entire 99 minutes to promoting conspiracy theories and falsehoods about Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
Brooks joined Gohmert toward the end of the show, along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, all leaders of the plan to object to Congress’s certification of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. The four members of Congress discussed how Trump supporters were mobilizing for a massive demonstration in Washington.
“On Jan. 6, this is somewhat akin to the Alamo,” Brooks said, referring to the famous battle in 1836 where Mexican troops wiped out rebelling Texans at a fort in San Antonio. “Although I hope we will survive.”
Brooks’ invocation of historical violence was a preview of the speech he gave on Jan. 6 at the rally on the Ellipse. Before Trump supporters marched to the Capitol and fought their way inside, Brooks asked if people were ready to lay down their lives for their cause.
“Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history,” Brooks said. “So I have a question for you: Are you willing to do the same?”
After the crowd turned violent — leading to five deaths and hundreds of injuries, endangering lawmakers and disrupting the congressional proceedings — Brooks faced blowback. House Democrats introduced a formal censure motion, and billboards in Alabama demanded his resignation.
Brooks defiantly denied any responsibility for the violence on Jan. 6. At the same time, he said he welcomed the criticism because he viewed it as helpful to his political prospects.
“That’s a good thing,” Brooks said in a Feb. 3 radio interview in response to a question about the billboards. “I don’t want to discourage it, because I think it's beneficial, at least in the state of Alabama, where winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the general election.”
On Dec. 2, Brooks became the first member of Congress to say he would object to the Electoral College votes from key states that delivered Biden’s victory. While the Constitution and federal law do establish a procedure for Congress to certify the Electoral College votes, many of Brooks’ fellow Republicans recoiled at the idea of trying to use it to overturn an election whose outcome they didn’t like. The certification in Congress is usually an uneventful formality after states have already certified their election results.
But Brooks himself presented it as a serious plan for keeping Trump in office despite losing the election. “Ultimately, Congress decides who won the White House, not the courts,” Brooks said in a Nov. 10 radio interview.
In dozens of right-wing media interviews between the Nov. 3 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection, Brooks spelled out his idea. If Congress rejected enough Electoral College votes to prevent either candidate from winning a majority, the presidency would be decided by the House of Representatives. The House would vote by state delegations, a majority of which were in Republican hands. All it would take for this plan to work, according to Brooks, was for enough Republicans to join him.
“In the United States Congress, we control who the president of the United States is,” Brooks said in an interview with the Epoch Times posted on Nov. 18. “The House would be in a position to elect a Republican to the White House.”
In Brooks’ telling, keeping Trump in power was just a question of political will. “No question it’s an uphill climb, because I’m not sure how many Republicans we have that are willing to do what’s necessary,” he said on Fox News on Dec. 4. “You have no idea who’s going to win the political fights or any other fight until you fight them.”
As precedent, Brooks cited the disputed election of 1876, which Congress resolved by electing Rutherford Hayes in exchange for ending Reconstruction.
“It was on the heels of hundreds of thousands of Southerners being killed in the war of Northern invasion, as a lot of Southerners viewed it back then,” Brooks said in a Dec. 17 talk radio interview. “Hayes cut that deal. Then he was elected president of the United States, and he was honorable, so he kept his promise and he withdrew the Northern forces and Reconstruction ended.”
“We Need to Fight and Take It Back”
Brooks’ rhetoric continued to escalate in the runup to Jan. 6. In some interviews, he talked about fighting in terms of voting and pressuring lawmakers, the way that many politicians use the word without meaning literal combat.
“How it plays out, quite frankly, is dependent on the American people,” Brooks said on Fox News on Jan. 3. “To the extent they contact their senators and their congressmen and demand honest and accurate elections, then we’re going to win this fight on Jan. 6. But if the American people do not rise up, if they don’t contact their senators, if they don’t contact their congressmen, demanding that their congressmen and senators do the right thing for our republic, well then, we’re not going to win on Jan. 6. So I urge all Americans to participate in this fight on behalf of their country.”
At other times, however, Brooks spoke of fighting as armed struggle, foreshadowing his speech at the Ellipse.
“When it came time to fight in the Revolutionary War, beginning in 1776, people actually put their lives at stake,” Brooks said in a Newsmax interview aired on Dec. 17. “All throughout history, American history, there have been time after time where American men and women have stood strong and fought for their country, often losing their lives in order to keep our republic, keep our liberty, keep our freedoms. And the bedrock of all those things are accurate and honest elections. And right now, the socialist Democrats have successfully stolen those from the American people in 2020. And we need to fight and take it back.”
Brooks indicated in media interviews that he chose his words carefully. “If I’m on the radio, I know that every word that I say is going to be recorded forever,” Brooks said in a Jan. 4 radio interview, in the context of defending Trump’s pressuring of Georgia officials to reverse that state’s election results in a phone call that the president didn’t know was being recorded.
Brooks met with Trump at the White House in December, along with Biggs and Gosar, to discuss their plans for Jan. 6. As Brooks recounted in a Dec. 29 Fox News interview, Trump told the representatives that a senator would join their objection, the necessary step for a debate and vote in both chambers. The next day, Dec. 30, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., became the first senator to announce he would object.
Brooks, Biggs and Gosar also, according to “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, came up with the plan to amass a crowd outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. “We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting,” Alexander said in a video that he later deleted, “so that who we couldn’t lobby, we could change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside.”
Spokespeople for Brooks and Biggs have denied working with Alexander. Gosar, who appeared at earlier events with Alexander in Arizona, hasn’t commented on their relationship. Spokespeople for Biggs and Gosar didn’t respond to requests for comment, and Alexander couldn’t be reached.
Brooks made clear that his ultimate goal was to keep Trump in office.
“Kind of like bowling a 300 game or hitting a hole-in-one, that’s actually reversing the election fraud effort on the part of the Democrats such that Joe Biden is not sworn in on Jan. 20, Donald Trump is," Brooks said in a Jan. 4 Newsmax interview.
“We Did Not Have Ultimate Success”
Once rioters breached the Capitol, Brooks immediately blamed left-wing agitators whom he called “antifa.” “You have to ask yourself, who would be motivated to distract from our message,” Brooks said in a Newsmax interview on the night of Jan. 6, while waiting for the certification proceedings to resume. “I don’t believe that’s in the interest of the Trump supporters.”
Brooks continued this effort to shift blame in a radio interview the next day. “Too many Trump supporters were angry and allowed themselves to be manipulated or orchestrated by fascist antifa types,” Brooks said.
The interviewer, Dale Jackson, pressed Brooks to acknowledge and condemn the violence by Trump supporters. “Why are you trying to make this about antifa as opposed to about the clear, obvious Trump supporters?” Jackson asked. “Why are we trying to diminish this?”
Brooks shot back, “That is the political spin that the fake news media and the socialist Democrats are trying to put on this.”
“Well, I’m not the fake news media, I’m not a socialist Democrat,” Jackson countered. “Why don't people just condemn this and stop trying to find reasons why it happened? … Your Facebook and Twitter page I guarantee is filled up the same way mine is with people talking about this in this way. And I just say we’ve got to be more forceful, I think. Am I wrong?”
Brooks didn’t answer directly. “I don’t know what’s on my Facebook page,” he said with a laugh. “That’s something that my staff does, not me.”
“My point is this,” Jackson concluded, giving Brooks one last chance to unequivocally condemn the violence by Trump supporters before the interview ended. “I see too many of them saying, ‘Yeah, see, it’s antifa, it’s not this,’ and they're using this as a reason. And I just don’t think that’s a good — that’s not helpful in any way.”
Brooks demurred. “Well, I think the main message, which we’ve diverted from, is the fight we had last night in the House of Representatives and the Senate to try to protect and promote honest and accurate elections,” he said. “And it’s most unfortunate that whomever was able to divert attention from that, and unfortunate that while we made progress, we did not have ultimate success.”
In an interview with ProPublica, Jackson said he understood Brooks to be condemning the violence. “The only disagreement we were having was whether antifa was a key driver of this thing,” he said. “It wasn’t whether or not it shouldn’t have happened or was wrong. I think we all agree on that.”
“You Can Resist, Often Through Violence”
Brooks elaborated on his views on violence in another radio interview on Jan. 7.
“Might I suggest that over history, when you’re in a republic, and there is no longer confidence in the election system, you have three options,” he said in the interview, which was reported on at the time by The Intercept. “You can emigrate from that country, which is what a lot of people did in the 1920s and 1930s, in socialist Germany, with Adolf Hitler. You can submit, which is also what a lot of people did in Germany. Or you can resist, often through violence. None of those three options are good.”
“Wait a minute,” the host, Matt Murphy, interrupted. He pressed Brooks to clarify: “You said we must emigrate, leave?”
“No, I’m telling you what has happened historically over time when a republic loses confidence in its election system,” Brooks said. “What do people, individual people do?”
They continued going back and forth, with Murphy giving Brooks more opportunities to walk back from raising the specter of violence and Brooks sticking to it.
Finally, Murphy tried: “When you bring up one of your options to be violence, it brings us directly to your words yesterday, Mo. And I’m wondering if you regret saying what you said at the rally yesterday?”
“Absolutely not,” Brooks said.
Murphy, who didn’t respond to a subsequent request for comment, then suggested the need to reckon with the ideas that motivated Trump supporters to attack the Capitol. “We better be willing to have serious discussions about what led to the level of frustration and anger that would cause people to allow their emotions to bubble over to the point that they would engage in something like this,” he said.
Brooks’ response was to explain that people were losing faith in voting — a view he had spent months promoting, and which he said left violence as one of three options. “It’s pretty clear,” he said, “people are getting frustrated, and they’re losing confidence in the honesty and accuracy of the election system.”
Brooks also shared a version of this view on Twitter that morning, writing that people who come to believe that voting can no longer get the results they want may be “FORCED” to “fight back with violence.”
“How Can You Misinterpret My Intent?”
Weeks later, Brooks distanced himself from the violence of Jan. 6. At a home-state rally on Jan. 23, Brooks defended his speech at the Ellipse by accusing journalists of twisting his words.
“The news media, which is supposed to be the safeguard of any republic, has to a large degree become nothing more than a socialist propaganda puppet that rivals those in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao Zedong’s Communist China, and socialist Germany’s 1920s and 1930s,” Brooks said, repeating his unusual way of avoiding the term “Nazis.” “The fake news media and the socialists deceitfully suggest I intended to incite a riot when my words prove the exact opposite.”
Brooks explained that when he said on Jan. 6, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he was referring to voting in the 2022 and 2024 elections. He said his meaning was clear because as he said those words, he swapped out a camouflage Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus cap for one that read “Fire Pelosi.”
“How can you misinterpret my intent?” Brooks said, drawing cheers.
But what Brooks did not acknowledge or attempt to explain was the next sentence that immediately followed “kicking ass”: the line asking those assembled whether they were willing to sacrifice “their blood” and even “their lives.”
“My answer is yes,” Brooks said on Jan. 6. “Louder. Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?”