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Documentary footage from filmmaker shows evidence that Jan. 6 was a planned attack

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection held a televised primetime hearing last night. Committee members and viewers at home heard testimony from two witnesses who were there that day, starting with U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards. She was the first law enforcement officer to be injured in the riot.

(SOUNDBITE OF JANUARY 6 INSURRECTION)

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

That's sound from a video showing her being knocked to the ground by rioters who broke through a barrier outside the Capitol. Someone in the crowd slammed a metal bicycle rack into her, knocking her unconscious. And when she came to...

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

CAROLINE EDWARDS: What I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I had seen out of the movies. I couldn't believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people's blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos.

PFEIFFER: Edwards suffered a traumatic brain injury that day. During the same attack, she saw someone pepper spraying her colleague, Officer Brian Sicknick.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

EDWARDS: I turned, and it was Officer Sicknick with his head in his hands. And he was ghostly pale. And I was concerned. My cop alarm bells went off because if you get sprayed with pepper spray, you're going to turn red. He turned just about as pale as this sheet of paper. I looked back to see what had hit him, and that's when I got sprayed in the eyes as well.

PFEIFFER: Officer Sicknick died the following day. Since January 6, some people have described the events as a protest that got out of hand. But there's evidence this was a planned attack. That evidence includes the work of the hearing's second witness, Nick Quested.

CHANG: Quested is an award-winning documentarian. In January 2021, he was filming the violent extremist group the Proud Boys and was with them before and during the riots. Representative Bennie Thompson is chair of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. And last night, he said Quested's footage and information are crucial because...

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: A central question is whether the attack on the Capitol was coordinated and planned. What you witnessed is what a coordinated and planned effort would look like. It was the culmination of a months-long effort spearheaded by President Trump.

CHANG: Well, joining me now is Nick Quested. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

NICK QUESTED: Oh, thank you for having me.

CHANG: Thank you for being with us. So I want to go back to January 5, 2021. You testified yesterday that you were with the leader of the Proud Boys that day, Enrique Tarrio. You were filming him for your documentary. You testified that you saw him meet in a parking garage with the leader of another far-right group, the Oath Keepers. And I want to ask you, what did Tarrio tell you about what happened during that meeting?

QUESTED: Well, Mr. Tarrio told us that he discussed his communications with his friends. And he was asking for some advice from Kelly Sorrell, who is a lawyer that has some experience in Second Amendment issues.

CHANG: OK. Did Tarrio mention anything, anything at all at the time that might have suggested what would happen on January 6, the next day?

QUESTED: No. There was no projection forward. The discussion was about where he was going to stay and about the security of his communications because he's had his computer, his phone and his Apple Watch held by the D.C. police after his arrest for carrying the extended magazines into D.C. and for burning the Black Lives Matter flag on December the 12. I mean, but in retrospect, he did mention that his - he was concerned for his boys and wanted to stay close to them and stay - so he chose to stay in Baltimore, which is about kind of half an hour to 40 minutes north of D.C.

CHANG: Right. OK. Well, the next day on January 6, you were filming the Proud Boys when they attended a rally in Washington, D.C. They marched to the Capitol. What did you see once you arrived at the Capitol? Just describe it real quick for us.

QUESTED: Well, there's two aspects towards arriving at the Capitol. First is at 10:30, we picked up the Proud Boys as they're watching down the Mall. And we are trying to cover it like a normal scene, like we're running ahead to get shots or to the side or even inside them. And we walked past the Capitol. And we'll walked past the Capitol at 11:52 a.m. And there was only one police officer on the barricades that subsequently are overrun by the protesters. We then walked around the Capitol, and then we doubled back. And they had lunch at this taco truck, food truck - there's a group of food trucks on Constitution. And then around 12:45, we walked over to the peace circle and we stopped. And what was notable about that was there's this man called Ryan Samsel who had these white sleeves on and a T-shirt above his long-sleeved white shirt. And he puts his arms around Biggs, who's one of the Proud Boy leaders. And I hadn't seen this man before, so it's a little strange because Mr. Biggs, you know, doesn't seem like the cuddliest person in the world. And then I saw Mr. Samsel walk up towards the barrier.

CHANG: I'm so sorry for cutting in, because we have only about a minute left. But what I want to understand from your perspective, in your mind, were the Proud Boys simply there to attend a rally and things just got out of hand, as many of those who support them say is what happened or was violence the plan? What was your sense that day? In 50 seconds we have left.

QUESTED: I don't know if violence was a plan, but I do know that they weren't there to attend the rally because they had already left the rally by the time the president had started his speech. You know, I think if you wanted to look to their intentions, you should look more at their text chats and their communications prior to the event. But from what I catch it on the day, I can't speak. There's only one moment where that - the sort of facade of marching and protesting might have fallen, which is there was a - one of the Proud Boys called Milkshake and Eddie Block on his livestream catches Milkshake saying, well, let's go storm the Capitol with Nordean - Rufio - one of the leaders of the Proud Boys saying, you could keep that quiet, please, Milkshake. And then we continued on marching.

CHANG: Oh. Well, I am curious, because you've been a long-time documentarian. You've been in war zones. When you were there that day, how much did you fear for your own safety? How fearful, how scared were you?

QUESTED: Well, I did get into - my camera was broken by a rioter, and I did get into some scuffles. But when you have your camera, you have a function in this environment. So you're not really thinking about the ramifications of what's going on. And normally, in riot circumstances, the police are the adversary. And this time, the police weren't pushing back. They weren't using water cannons or dogs or large quantities of mace and tear gas. The police were very passive and very restrained because I think they were so overmatched. They felt that any type of pushback would have been catastrophic for them. And it ended up being catastrophic until they could hold the line that basically that - upper tunnel or after they pushed back the protesters out towards 5:00.

CHANG: You had a chance to testify for something like 8 1/2, maybe 9 minutes last night. Is there anything you think Americans should know about January 6 that maybe you were not asked by any of the panelists last night?

QUESTED: I don't - I think the committee have laid out a very erudite and compelling roadmap to the case that they are now going to prove with their witnesses and with the investigation. So I'd like to reserve that until after the committee has made its case, because I think that despite the the politicization of the process, I think the committee is endeavoring to present the facts. And I'm interested to see how that all comes together. And hopefully, those present - that presentation of the facts will enable Congress to provide legislation that would stop this ever happening again.

CHANG: I'm curious how you're feeling inside as a journalist, as a documentarian, because now that you have seen the trajectory of events that occurred on January 6 and afterwards, does it make you think back to things you may have missed while you were following around members of the Proud Boys, things that you should have paid closer attention to? Do you replay things that you observed that maybe you interpret differently now in retrospect?

QUESTED: In hindsight, you can always criticize your technique and your interview technique because we were making a very different film when we were interviewing Mr. Tarrio. We were making a film about why America is so divided. So in retrospect, if I'd have known what I know now about the text chats and the interactions between the three strands of the Trump campaign's efforts to maintain President Trump as the president, I would be asking very different questions. I think I would go back and do everything differently.

CHANG: That was documentarian Nick Quested. He was one of the two witnesses who testified last night in the first of the select committee's several hearings to becoming about the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Thank you so much for joining us today.

QUESTED: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
Kathryn Fox