Denver Riggleman on the role of the Freedom Caucus in a GOP majority: When ‘disinformation becomes policy’

Riggleman’s old lawmaker colleagues became his subjects of inquiry at the Jan. 6 committee. Now they’re poised for power.

Members of that caucus appear to have been instrumental in coordinating efforts to overturn the 2020 election, resulting in the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

In August 2021, Riggleman joined the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as a senior technical adviser, where he worked with a team to sort through millions of lines of data detailing communications by people — including members of the caucus to which he once belonged — involved in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Riggleman announced he had left the Republican Party in June and said his previous association with the House Freedom Caucus gave him a unique vantage point on the conspiracy-driven politics behind the effort to keep Donald Trump in power.

“It just gave me a unique perspective on how conspiratorial thinking can pollute an entire party, and how that can be pushed by a former president, who has no qualms about lying in order to further whatever objectives he might have,” Riggleman told Grid.

This Q&A has been condensed from two interviews and edited for length and clarity.

Denver Riggleman: I think part of that is they’ve become sort of the Trump Protection Society. I think that’s the first thing. I think that’s where they get their money and their fundraising. I think that’s how they keep their power, is by hooking themselves to Trump. They really don’t have a whole lot of policy recommendations to help the country. These are individuals who don’t get a whole lot of legislation passed. I think that’s part of it.

If I had to sum it up, it’s their ability to fundraise off their connections to the former president. I think the other thing, too, is that a lot of these individuals are conspiracy-minded. It seems like they’re more susceptible to outlandish theories, that seems like, than other members of Congress.

It gave me a unique perspective on how conspiratorial thinking can pollute an entire party and how that can be pushed by a former president who has no qualms about lying in order to further whatever objectives he might have.

That’s what should scare people. The charges or criminal referrals, you know — great. We should absolutely look at anybody for criminal activity. But the fact is, you had a whole party that was caught up in this massive conspiratorial grift that led to violence on Jan. 6.

And that’s what really frightens me, is that some of these conspiracy theories are baked in. So it’s not just the elected officials, it’s the base. So the problem is us. We’re the problem. And we have a diseased two-party system. And I think when people are that tribal, if you have one party, like the GOP, that’s in a hold-my-beer moment, the conspiracy theories, that is very concerning. And “The Breach” goes over that and maybe how we can break that cycle.

I think what they’re simply waiting for is, if the Republicans take over in 2023, which looks likely, they simply move on. Because there’s really no recourse [for the committee] if they don’t have interviews. If you haven’t interviewed them, you don’t have data on them, nor do you follow up on some of those things, because it’s very difficult for Congress to investigate Congress. It’s part of the authorities and part of some of the sensitivities there.

I think we should have been more aggressive in that vein. But again, you know, if it’s voluntary in any way, why would you come in at this point?

I think the committee succeeded in showing the insanity of “Stop the Steal” and some of those individuals who obviously were fundraising off of this and knew they were lying.

This is a bizarre time in our history, where disinformation becomes policy. That is what should scare people, not whether these people are charged. It should scare people that that type of crazy ran wild through the far-right. And that 147 Republicans voted to object to the electors in one way or the other.

However, I think we still need a year to a year-and-a-half with the data to look at actually how the command-and-control infrastructure worked. And DOJ, FBI — they have those authorities. But what I’ve been trying to say is, there’s been no criticism of the committee as far as the work that they’ve done. My criticism has been on policy, and the fact that we’re not looking at this as information warfare.

I think Jan. 6 was a learning point for a lot of these individuals who are radicalized, and maybe just the beginning of them learning on how to do this more effectively in the future. And I think we need to look at this as a domestic terrorism problem, apply counterterrorism tech techniques and data analytic techniques beforehand, and then put the resources toward that immediately.

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