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WASHINGTON — New, harrowing video of the Jan. 6 insurrection features U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls in the House chamber, flanked by a Capitol security guard aiming his pistol at rioters on the other side of a door trying to break through.
The video was released Friday by the Justice Department after a request by NBC News ahead of the third anniversary of the deadly riot. The Richmond Republican is seen shouting through shattered window panes.
“I’ve been in law enforcement in Texas for 30 years, and I’ve never had people act this way,” Nehls said to the rioters. “I’m ashamed!” Nehls was wearing a mask with a Texas flag, as masks were mandatory in the chambers at the time.
“We’re coming in one way or another,” a rioter in the video says.
In the midst of the attack, Nehls posted on social media a picture of himself helping barricade the door as he condemned the violence.
“What I’m witnessing is a disgrace. We’re better than this. Violence is NEVER the answer,” he wrote.
But in the years since, Nehls — who did not respond to request for comment — has downplayed the significance of the historic attack and defended many of the rioters who have since been prosecuted. He has remained a staunch apologist for former President Donald Trump, parroting false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
“I was at the doors on January 6, face to face with protestors, and I know firsthand there was NO INSURRECTION,” Nehls posted on social media in October.
Nehls has denied that Trump bears any responsibility for the attack, asserting instead that it was a failure of U.S. Capitol Police to prevent rioters from entering the building. He has blasted a House investigation into Trump’s role in inciting the attack as partisan and plans to defend the former president in a case disqualifying Trump from the 2024 ballot for his role on Jan. 6.
Nehls has also offered qualified defense of many of the rioters in the months after the attack. He said Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who died after being shot by Capitol Police, was murdered and demanded an investigation into USCP’s role in her death. He told Texas Monthly in 2022 that “a majority of the people in the Capitol that day had no intention to turn into criminals or insurrectionists.”
On Jan. 6, 2021, protesters, seeking to stop the certification of the 2020 election results, stormed the Capitol after rallying with Trump blocks away from the building. For weeks, Trump had spread misinformation that the 2020 election had been stolen from him. During the rally that day, Trump told attendees: "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."
Trump’s critics argue the sentence is a smoking gun, showing Trump knowingly incited a riot. His defenders, however, point out that he called on rally attendees to go to the Capitol “peacefully and patriotically.”
The House impeached Trump for his role in the attack, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in the move. No Texas Republicans voted for impeachment. Almost all voted to object to the election results just after the Capitol attack, including Nehls.
Trump is currently under criminal indictment for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which culminated in the attack on the Capitol. His actions led to the Colorado Supreme Court deeming him ineligible for the presidency under the 14th Amendment, which bars from office those who “engaged in insurrection” after taking an oath to protect the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court plans to rule on the state court’s decision.
Nehls has spoken publicly about his efforts to stop the rioters that day, joining with fellow Texas Republicans Pat Fallon, Ronny Jackson and Tony Gonzales to hold the doors shut with Capitol Police. He posted on social media at the time that he was “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Capitol police barricading entrance to our sacred House chamber, while trying to calm the situation talking to protestors.”
But he also lambasted the House committee investigating the attack as a “weapon against President Trump” and blamed then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not securing the Capitol. He urged the committee to instead “investigate the negligent leadership of the Capitol Police.”
Then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had nominated Nehls to serve on the committee, but pulled his Republican choices from the panel after Pelosi objected to two of them. Nehls was not one of the Republican members Pelosi opposed, but he became an outspoken critic of the committee’s work afterward.
Nehls wrote a book about Jan. 6, claiming the election and impeachment were rigged to damage Trump. Trump said in a review that the book was “Must Read for All Americans.”
Nehls’ support for Trump goes beyond many House Republicans. He often goes out of his way to praise the former president and herald him as the “leader of our party.” During the fraught search for a new House Speaker following McCarthy’s October ouster, Nehls proposed Trump as the only person who could unified the fractured party and become speaker.
“Donald Trump can do things that are impossible and turn them into reality,” Nehls said in October during the speaker election.
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