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The attempted revolution was televised — and filmed

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The House select committee investigating the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, began its recent calendar of public hearings with two witnesses. One might have been predicted: a police officer at the Capitol that day who was assaulted by supporters of Donald Trump. The other probably wouldn’t have been: a documentary filmmaker named Nick Quested.

Quested was there because he was a witness to the actions of the extremist Proud Boys group in the days leading up to the riot and on Jan. 6 itself. The group gave him that access, agreeing to participate in the production of a film about its efforts despite its predilection for violence and lawbreaking. So the committee asked Quested to come and describe what he saw; in private, the committee reviewed the footage Quested and his team had captured.

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As it turns out, though, having a filmmaker follow you around and make a movie about you was not simply something that appealed to the vanity of the Proud Boys. On Tuesday, we learned that Trump himself was working with a documentary filmmaker named Alex Holder. In a subpoena obtained by Politico, the committee asked Holder to turn over any footage from Jan. 6 in which plans to overturn the election were discussed and any interviews with Trump, his family and former vice president Mike Pence.

In a statement, Holder said that he’d turned over the compliant footage to the committee. The project began in September 2020, he wrote, with his team “simply [wanting] to better understand who the Trumps were and what motivated them to hold onto power so desperately.” Safe to say that the team was well positioned to explore that question.

CBS News’s Robert Costa spoke with people who’d worked on Trump’s 2020 campaign and saw the filmmakers at the campaign headquarters. One told Costa that the project was “a family thing,” which would help explain why its existence was apparently not broadly known. The result is reportedly a three-part series on the former president that includes footage from Capitol Hill on the day of the riot.

There was another documentary crew at the Capitol that day, too, capturing footage of another actor enthusiastic about the spotlight. Next month, filmmaker Alex Lee Moyer is expected to release a film called “Alex’s War,” focusing on the notorious disinformation peddler Alex Jones. Jones was at Trump’s rally outside the White House on the day of the riot and walked with Trump supporters to the Capitol, footage of which appears in an early cut of the film. At the Capitol, he briefly addressed the crowd with a bullhorn.

Speaking on a podcast last year, Moyer described being there with Jones.

“The scope of the movie is about Alex’s career. It’s not about his personal life. It’s not like tabloid-y,” she said. “It’s set against the backdrop of the fallout around the election.” She lamented that she’d been identified at the Capitol by the site Jezebel as a potential protester since she “couldn’t spill the beans to everybody that I was there shooting this movie.” On Instagram that day, she posted a photo remarking that it was “the day we almost died but instead had a great time.”

Jones himself was subpoenaed by the House committee and offered testimony. (He claimed on his show that he’d invoked the Fifth Amendment numerous times when doing so.) There’s no known footage of Jones inciting violence on Jan. 6 itself, but investigators were probably more curious about his activity in the weeks prior. He’d been involved in the “Stop the Steal” effort after the 2020 election and had pushed people to Washington both for the Jan. 6 protest and prior rallies, including one in November 2020. Jones has been identified as a major conduit of funding for events associated with Jan. 6, though he was denied an opportunity to speak during Trump’s rally that morning. Instead, Jones spoke at a secondary rally on the evening of Jan. 5, 2021.

It does not appear that Moyer has been subpoenaed. (A question posed to the House committee did not receive a response by the time of publication.) It may be the case that Jones is sufficiently distant from the central events of the day that any footage might not be pertinent to the case the committee is building.

What makes the work of the known documentary filmmakers useful isn’t necessarily what they saw on Jan. 6 but what they saw on the days prior and following. The House committee doesn’t just want Holder’s footage from Capitol Hill; it wants to know what Trump et al said at other points, too. Among Quested’s contributions to the probe was footage from a meeting between the Proud Boys and the right-wing extremist group Oath Keepers on Jan. 5. And who knows what Moyer might have been privy to.

Some of the most useful footage from the day, of course, was captured not by professional documentarians but amateur ones: the rioters themselves. Never before has a criminal event been so thoroughly committed to film. For prominent participants, though, this impulse was simply outsourced. Trump’s team, the Proud Boys and Jones all wanted a record of what they were up to. They were just prominent enough that they didn’t have to live-stream to Facebook. They could have someone else capture it.

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