During a hearing before the US House of Representatives committee investigating the riot, Stephen Ayres said he felt called by former President Donald Trump to come to Washington on January 6, 2021.
He described being swept away by Trump’s false claims and believing as he marched to the Capitol that Trump would join them there and that there was still a chance the election could be overturned.
“I felt like I was horse shy. I was locked up the whole time,” said Ayres, who is due to be sentenced in September after pleading guilty to an offense in the riot.
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His message to others: “Take off the blinders, step back and see what’s going on before it’s too late.”
“It changed my life,” he said. “And not for good.”
Ayres, who was not charged with violence or destruction on Jan. 6, said he worked for a furniture company in northeast Ohio for 20 years but lost his job and sold his home after the riot. He was accompanied by his wife at the hearing.
After the hearing, Ayres addressed officers in the committee room, who said they had been verbally and physically assaulted by the angry crowd. Ayres apologized for his actions to Capitol Police Officers Aquilino Gonell and Harry Dunn, Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges and former MPD officer Michael Fanone.
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Officers seemed to react differently to Ayres’ attempt to make amends.
Fanone told The Associated Press that the apology wasn’t necessary because “it doesn’t get me anywhere”. Hodges said on CNN he accepted the apology, adding, “You have to believe that there are people out there who can change.”
Gonell, who recently found the injuries he succumbed to on January 6 would no longer allow him to be a part of the force, said he accepted Ayres’ testimony but it was not much.
“He still has to answer legally for what he did. And to his God. So it’s up to him,” the former sergeant said.
Dunn, who didn’t get up when Ayres approached him, said he didn’t accept his apology.
The Jan. 6 House Committee investigating the riot tried to use Ayres’ testimony to show how Trump’s Dec. 19, 2020 tweet calling his supporters to Washington mobilized not only far-right groups but average Americans as well to invade the nation’s capital.
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Ayres described being a staunch supporter of Trump on social media before Jan. 6 and said he felt he had to heed the president’s call to go to Washington, DC, for the “Stop the Steal” rally get.
“I was very upset, as were most of his supporters,” Ayres said when asked about Trump’s unsubstantiated election claims. When asked by Rep. Liz Cheney if he still thinks the election was stolen, Ayres said, “Not so much now.”
Ayres said he had no plans to storm the Capitol before Trump’s speech “upset everyone.” He had thought the President would join them in the Capitol.
“Basically, we just followed what he said,” Ayres said.
Ayres said he and friends accompanying him to Washington decided to leave the Capitol when Trump sent a tweet urging rioters to leave the country. If Trump had done that earlier in the day, “we might not be in this dire situation,” Ayres said.
Ayres said he was furious that Trump was still pushing his false claims about the election.
“I hung on every word he said,” he said. “I followed everything he put out.”
His statement echoed the words of many Capitol rioters who have expressed remorse for their crimes at sentencing hearings.
He is among about 840 people charged with federal crimes related to the January 6 riot. More than 330 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to an offense carrying a maximum sentence of one year in prison. More than 200 were convicted.
At his trial, Ayres admitted that he had driven from Ohio to Washington on the eve of the Stop the Steal rally to protest Congress’s confirmation of the Electoral College vote count. He entered the Capitol through the Senate Wing doors and stayed there for about 10 minutes while joining other rioters in chanting.
In a Facebook post four days before the riot, Ayres included a picture of a placard that read, “The President is calling on us to return to Washington for a major protest on January 6.”
In another Facebook post before the riot, he wrote: “The mainstream media, social media, the Democratic Party, the FISA courts, Chief Justice John Roberts, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, etc…everyone has VERRAH on one incumbent US President committed! !! Everyone will now hear from ‘We The People!’ informed.”
Associated Press reporters Farnoush Amiri, Mary Clare Jalonick and Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report from Washington.
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
https://6abc.com/rioter-apologizes-stephen-ayres-us-capitol-riot-jan-6-hearing/12048853/ Jan. 6 Capitol rioter Stephen Ayres apologizes to police officers after House committee hearing testimony