Jan. 6 committee hearings: Why Americans say they tuned in to watch – USA TODAY

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  • At least 20 million people tuned into the first primetime Jan. 6 committee hearing on June 9.
  • The next two Jan. 6 committee hearings are scheduled for July.
  • Viewers who talked to USA TODAY said they want to see ‘accountability’ from the hearings.

WASHINGTON – All Diane Webb wants to know is the truth behind what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Webb, 57, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, is worried about conspiracy theories and people spewing misinformation on social media. So when she saw online that the Jan. 6 committee was laying out their findings, she wanted to get the “information firsthand for myself.”

From there, she wanted to make her own determination about former President Donald Trump’s involvement.

“I want to hear and be able to come to the conclusion of did he or did he not on my own,” said Webb, an independent who watched the primetime hearing and subsequent hearings on ABC News. “And not being influenced by outside people or groups or politicians.”

At least 20 million people tuned into the first primetime Jan. 6 committee hearing on June 9. Major news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC and ABC News aired it, along with C-SPAN. NBC News NOW and USA TODAY live-streamed the hearing online. FOX News was the only national outlet to not air the hearings live. Detractors have called it a “waste of time.”

Since then, the average has dipped into the low millions as the hearings have been taken out of the primetime slot.

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In interviews with USA TODAY, Americans from across the political spectrum have tuned in to the hearings to find out the truth about what happened during the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol. 

Most importantly, viewers said they want to see accountability for what happened that day at the U.S. Capitol — even against former President Donald Trump if it’s warranted.

“Who says the next person they come up behind him, behind Biden or whoever, won’t do the same thing,” Webb said, who is a recently retired foster care case manager. “If I have to give accountability, then I don’t care who you are, the president of the United States has to give accountability as well.”

As the hearings continue, Wedd said she believes it’s important for people to pay attention because “we cannot set the precedent for someone with that much power to to get away with things like this.”

Webb added: “It is important. It is important for voters to know so that they can be informed so they can know who to vote for in the next election.

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‘Trump was probably trying to convert the United States into a very authoritarian country’

Growing up in a military family, Remus Bowman, said love for this country runs deep.

The 66 year old who is from New Orleans, Louisiana, and served in the Marine Corps, said he was shocked. How could this guy become president and a traitor to the country all at the same time? 

Bowman is glued to the TV.  After watching the hearings, he believes that Trump and his followers are resisting the changing demographics of the United States and perceive it as a loss of power.  

“They’re afraid of the inevitable that the United States at some point, not too long from now, is gonna be a predominantly brown country,” Bowman said, adding that’s what he thinks was behind the events of Jan. 6. 

More: Is the Jan. 6 committee sitting on explosive evidence of Trump’s role in the Capitol assault?

“They had a process in place where Donald Trump was probably trying to convert the United States into a very authoritarian country,” he said. “The plans that these people actually had to destroy this country, to take away democracy.”

Once the committee’s hearings are over, Bowman said that he wants to see Republican senators and congressmen lose their jobs.

“They’re traitors to democracy. There are traitors to the Constitution. Their job is to protect the country, and they’ve given up that responsibility.”

Bowman pointed to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., saying that he incited people to attack the capitol. 

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Bowman said he also wants to see Trump go to jail, though he noted that likely won’t happen.

“I would like to see him pay a debt for what he’s done,” he said. He added that rioters never would have come to the United States Capitol “had it not been for the fact that they had a president of the United States invite them to come and attack the government.”

“It is hard to believe that they have taken this country and turned it inside out,” Bowman said.

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‘I want the book thrown at them’

Judy Stahl considers herself an outlier from the average American when it comes to her interest in politics — going as far as running for office.

So when she saw the Jan. 6 committee was going to hold a primetime hearing, she knew she wasn’t going to miss it.

But Stahl, a Democrat who previously ran for the state legislature and for Congress, was driving down from Prescott, Arizona to her sister’s ranch in Patagonia, near the United States’ southern border the same day as the hearing. On the way, she also needed to stop by several friends’ houses, one in Phoenix and the other in Tucson. 

More: What ties does Ginni Thomas, the Supreme Court justice’s wife, have to Jan. 6?

Stahl, 62, pulled into the driveway three minutes before 5 p.m. MST — the time the hearings began in Arizona. 

“I came into the house and sat down and was glued to the screen. I tell you I was bound and determined I was not going to miss a minute of it,” Stahl said. “And I wanted to see it live because there’s something important about that.”

Stahl said it’s important for her to watch the hearings because she has seen how her state has become a “nest for conspiracy theories.”

“Where I live I am in the minority in my beliefs, but I know that as a nation, I’m in the majority, and I refuse to be silent,” Stahl said.

Stahl said she hopes that Trump and other lawmakers and officials are held accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“I want to see them held to the highest standards of our laws, whether that means that the criminal Trump goes to prison, that everybody who has held an elected position or an appointed position, that that they are stripped of whatever benefits they got from supposedly serving in any capacity in the United States government,” Stahl said. “I want the book thrown at them.”

‘We should have trust in our government’ 

When Donald Trump was elected, Jesse Rodriguez gave him the benefit of the doubt. After all, even though he considers himself a Democrat, he has voted Republican “at times.”

Now, Rodriguez, 23 said he would like to see him in jail after the Jan. 6 riot.

But Rodriguez is an outlier in the rural town of Garden City, Kansas. Many around him believe those who rioted at the U.S. Capital on Jan. 6 were “true patriots.”

He doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s not everyday that you see people here going and rioting at our nation’s Capital, a place that’s supposed to be sacred,” he said. “It’s not what we should be standing up for as a nation.”

Rodriguez said he first heard about the hearings on Twitter after seeing several politicians tweet about it. Although he doesn’t have cable, Rodriguez said he was able to stream the hearings through Peacock.

“It’s something serious. People went in there with the intent of trying to overthrow the government,” he said. “They tried to go after like Nancy Pelosi, and also Mike Pence as well. People that shouldn’t be touched in that way.”

More: At Jan. 6 hearing, a spotlight on two election workers who faced down Trump and his allies’ demands

He added that Trump going to jail for these actions would set a precedent that no future leader can try and overturn an election.

“None of our ex-presidents have tried to done that type of stuff, at least in the way that he’s done it,” he said. “It shouldn’t have to be something that we sweep under the rug and move on from it.”

‘It wasn’t just a bunch of people who showed up to the Capitol’

For 19-year-old Noah Mitchell, the Jan. 6 riot hit close to home.

Mitchell, a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, currently lives on Capitol Hill and has been watching the hearings at home. Mitchell said he comes from a family very interested in politics, and even watched the first hearing live with his mom in his basement. 

Mitchell, who is majoring in political science, said he is mainly watching the hearings because he wants to see how people respond to the findings and what it means for future elections — especially among the Republican party.

More: Who has been subpoenaed so far by the Jan. 6 committee?

“How people see it is going to kind of determine how the country moves forward,” he said. 

As the committee continues to reveal more information on Trump and his allies’ actions to overturn the election, Mitchell said he is interested in learning more of who was involved.

“It seems that there’s a much larger narrative, a larger story in that the president and those around him were planning to stay in office despite knowing that he lost the election,” Mitchell said. 

There are two outcomes Mitchell said he wants to see after the hearings finish: accountability from the Republican Party and for the American public to see there was a coordinated effort to overturn the election.

“I hope Americans can see that it wasn’t just a bunch of people who showed up to the Capitol on January 6, and just went inside,” Mitchell said. “That it was a coordinated thing that went on from the election.”

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‘Democracy is an incredibly fragile thing’

With worries about the economy, inflation and COVID-19, Franco Caliz, 33, said it’s been easy for people to forget about what happened on Jan. 6. 

Caliz, who lives in Miami, Florida, said when he brings up that date, he often gets a “huh” look across the face of those he’s talking to. But Caliz said that what happened to him that day was “criminal.”

“I don’t think we should be letting people off the hook who helped create that situation in the first place,” he said. 

Caliz, who watched the primetime hearing on CBS News, said he wants Republicans who helped assist with the riots to be held accountable, adding that it’s crazy to him that some members of Congress were seeking pardons.

If a lawmaker “were in cahoots with the White House in terms of trying to figure out how they could best support these people who were literally acting in a criminal manner and who were attacking our freedom to me, like that’s what the goal of the hearing should be,” Caliz said.

Caliz underscored that the insurrection could have long-term effects on United States’ democracy. He said that inflation will get better at some point and that the economy is constantly moving back and forth, but that “democracy is an incredibly fragile thing.”

“It’s something that we all talk about has been frayed and pushed to the edges more and more with the hyper partisanship that there is,” he said. “There’s a line where you cross what is tolerable and it is hard to come back from that line in our political discourse.”

‘Democracy is not free, and you can lose it much easier’

For María Aviles, being politically engaged started at a young age. 

As a child, Aviles saw her mother vote in every election, as the precinct was at her elementary school in her hometown of Tucson. Aviles’ father got involved in local activism after a private developer tried to expand a golf course in her neighborhood that would have eliminated an area for children to play. Though it took time, her dad was on the winning side and got a park built instead.

Aviles pointed to those events as to what sparked her interest in staying engaged — seeing democracy work for her parents, who both immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico.

But the 2016 election was a turning point for Aviles, saying that Trump’s campaign was “tearing people apart.” When Aviles, 45, saw thousands of people storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, she said she saw that as “permanence” of Trump’s message.

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“There was a little bit of that cognitive dissonance right where you’re like, ‘This is really happening,’ and then when it wouldn’t stop, then it was like, a sense of panic,” Aviles said. She added the people who rioted were not Americans because they didn’t believe in the constitution and peaceful transfer of power.

“That to me was like, ‘Oh, this is so bad,’” she said. “We can have political differences, right? But this was the concept itself. Like the platform under which we all can argue our points of view just not existing anymore.”

Aviles, who watched the hearing with her husband at their home in Goodyear, Arizona on MSNBC the first night, said she hopes that through the hearings, Americans will be able to “put the puzzle together” on what happened at the Capitol that day and what led to those events.

“Democracy is not free, and you can lose it much easier. That’s kind of the part that scares me and makes me kind of sad,” Aviles said. “That’s troubling to me that it could be lost because we just weren’t paying attention.”

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

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