The Republican congressmen Louis Gohmert and Paul Gosar adopted such extreme, conspiracy-tinged positions, even before the US Capitol attack, that a fellow member of the rightwing Freedom Caucus thought they “may have had serious cognitive issues”.
Denver Riggleman, once a US representative from Virginia, reports his impression of his former colleagues from Texas and Arizona in a new book.
The Breach: The Untold Story of the Investigation into January 6th is published in the US on Tuesday. The Guardian obtained an early copy.
Riggleman is a former US air force intelligence officer who lost his seat in Congress after he officiated a same-sex marriage. In his book, he describes fallout beyond his primary defeat, including someone tampering with the wheels of his truck, endangering the life of his daughter.
“If I ever find the individual who did that,” he writes, “God help that person.”
After leaving Congress, Riggleman worked for the House January 6 committee, members of which were reportedly angered by his decision to publish a book.
Describing text messages surrendered to the committee by Mark Meadows, Donald Trump’s last chief of staff, Riggleman shows that on 5 November 2020, two days after election day and with the result not called, Gohmert touted his experience as an attorney and tried to join the White House team working to overturn Joe Biden’s win.
“I’m in DC,” Gohmert wrote to Meadows. “Thinking I’ll head to Philadelphia to fuss. Would love to be there … at [White House] to be an ear for discussions and advice if asked. Handled massive fraud case vs Texas biggest utility … so some legal experience. May I come over?”
Meadows asked Gohmert to go on TV instead.
But Gohmert remained in Trump’s orbit. On 20 December, along with Scott Perry (Pennsylvania), Andy Biggs (Arizona), Jody Hice (Georgia), Matt Gaetz (Florida), Mo Brooks (Alabama) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), he attended a White House meeting with Trump at which election subversion was discussed.
According to testimony to the January 6 committee, Gohmert, Gaetz, Brooks, Greene, Perry and Biggs asked for pardons before Trump left office.
On 6 January 2021, a crowd Trump knew to be armed but told to “fight like hell” breached Congress in an attempt to stop certification of the election. Nine deaths have been linked to the riot, including law enforcement suicides.
Riggleman describes how in the aftermath of the attack, Gohmert and other Republicans continued to push conspiracy theories, claiming the attackers were leftwingers disguised as Trump supporters.
Such claims have entered the Republican mainstream. So has the father right.
Describing his own spell in Congress, between 2019 and 2021, Riggleman says he joined the hardline Freedom Caucus as a way to allay concerns among conservatives that he was insufficiently loyal to Trump.
Once in, he says, he “began to understand that some of my colleagues had fully bought into even the more unhinged conspiracy theories I had been seeing out on the campaign trail”.
Riggleman describes one meeting in which Gohmert “promoted a conspiracy theory related to master algorithms”, saying he “suspected there was a secret technology shadow-banning conservatives across all platforms”.
Riggleman writes that others “nodded along”, though “of course, that’s crazy”. He says he said “something to that effect” during the meeting in question.
In subsequent meetings, Riggleman “would come to see that Gohmert was one of a few colleagues who had gone deep down the rabbit hole.
“Scott Perry, Jody Hice, Randy Weber and the caucus chairman, Andy Biggs, all said things that stunned me.”
Gosar is a far-right provocateur whose many controversies include being censored for tweeting a video depicting violence against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent New York progressive.
Riggleman says Gosar and Gohmert “seemed to be joined at the brain stem when it came to their eagerness to believe wild, dramatic fantasies about Democrats, the media and big tech.
“I came to believe Gosar and Gohmert may have had serious cognitive issues.”
Riggleman also calls Gosar “a blatant white supremacist”, describing him and the Iowa Republican Steve King “making a case for white supremacy over pulled pork and ribs”.
“It was unbelievable,” Riggleman writes. “I had always bristled when I’d hear Democrats dismiss Republicans as ‘racists’. To me, it seemed like an easy insult that dodged policy discussions. Now, here I was behind the curtain, seeing that some of my colleagues really seemed to hold these awful views.”
Describing his own farewell address, which he made a month before the Capitol attack, Riggleman claims to have been “the canary in the coalmine” regarding extremism in the Republican party.
“On 10 December 2020,” he writes, “less than a month before the Capitol attack, I … railed against disinformation and ‘super-spreader digital viruses that create a fever of nonsense’ … I noted how QAnon promoters were linked with both the conspiracists who questioned the Covid pandemic and Trump’s Stop the Steal movement to overturn the election.
“… Based on what I had been seeing, I warned that we were heading down a very dark road. No one listened.”