U.S. House panel probing Capitol riot holds hearing in Washington

Who is Stephen Ayres and why is he testifying in the Jan. 6 hearings?

Stephen Ayres, a Donald Trump supporter who pleaded guilty to entering the Capitol on Jan. 6 testified on July 12 before the House committee investigating the insurrection, saying the former president “riled up” the crowd who “were following what he said” ahead of the insurrection.

Ayres appeared during the committee’s seventh public hearing which focused on the role of violent far-right extremist groups during the Capitol siege and the role Trump had in using social media to encourage supporters to come to Washington for a “big protest.”

WATCH: What we learned on Day 7 of the Jan. 6 hearings

Ayres had been an avid Trump supporter and social media user who repeated the former president’s social media calls to action ahead of the siege.

“Where will you be on January 6th?” Ayres wrote on Facebook, according to a government affidavit and arrest warrant. He added “are you willing to start fighting for the American Dream[?]”

Ayres was arrested after the FBI was alerted to his actions on Jan. 6, which he streamed live on his Facebook account. Ayres has pleaded guilty to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds and voluntarily testified to the House committee.

During his testimony, Ayres recounted how he was swept up in Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and believed the election was stolen, in part because he followed the former president on several social media accounts.

Ayres described himself as an American family man who worked at a cabinet company in northeast Ohio and enjoyed playing basketball and camping with his family. According to Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson, Ayres was typical of the many Trump supporters who went to protest on Jan. 6, but were not affiliated with any organized groups.

Ayres attended the “Stop the Steal” rally Jan. 6, but said he had no intention of going to or entering the Capitol until Trump instructed his followers to march to the building.

“Basically, the president got everyone riled up, told everyone to head on down, so we were following what he said,” Ayres said.

As the attack on the Capitol began and members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence were forced into secure locations amid the insurrection, Trump initially refused to condemn the rioters. Ayres said that when Trump finally asked the rioters to leave, they did so. He believes that if Trump had asked the rioters to leave the Capitol earlier in the attack, people would have likely left.

Since then, Ayres testified, he has stopped believing the election was stolen. In addition to the criminal charges he faced, he lost his job and had to sell his home. He testified that following Trump’s call on Jan. 6 changed his life “not for the good, not for the better.”

“I was hanging on every word [Trump] was saying. Everything he was putting out I was following it. I mean, if I was doing it, hundreds of thousands or millions of other people were doing it. Or maybe even still doing it,” Ayres said.

During the July 12 hearing, committee member Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said that a Dec. 19, 2020 tweet from Trump asking his supporters to attend the Jan. 6 rally “was a siren call to these folks.”

The federal government charged Ayres with multiple crimes related to the Capitol riot, but dropped three of the four charges after Ayres pleaded guilty to disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds.

Because Ayres did not have a weapon or injure anyone on Jan. 6, the maximum penalty for the charge is one year of prison, a fine of $100,000 and a year of supervised release, though he has not yet been sentenced.

Ayres testified alongside Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesman for far-right paramilitary group the Oath Keepers.

For more on the key players in the Jan. 6 committee hearings, click here.