Convicted Jan. 6 Rioters Are Running for Congress. House Republicans Aren’t Fazed.
Some sitting Republican members think it’s a question for voters to decide, while others aren’t concerned because they think rioters that day were merely sightseers.
Nearly 900 people have been convicted of crimes related to breaching the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Now, at least four of them are trying to make their way inside the building again, but this time as elected officials.
House Republicans say they’re fine with it.
“Obviously, I want to see the best candidates possible run,” Arizona GOP Rep. Eli Crane told NOTUS. “But at the end of the day, I love it when the American people have variety and choice because that gives them the opportunity to send the best people up here, and I do believe we need better people up here.”
“For any candidate in our great country, voters are able to evaluate what their background is and make that decision,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, who is retiring.
“It’s not my position to comment on who is eligible and who is not. The Constitution is clear,” Florida’s Byron Donalds said.
While these Republicans agreed it’s a question for voters to decide, others aren’t concerned for another reason: They say many rioters that day were merely sightseers, caught up in chaos that might have been instigated by federal agents. (There’s no evidence to support that conspiracy theory.)
Top GOP lawmakers have also pushed for lighter treatment of defendants. Earlier this year, when Rep. Elise Stefanik was asked if people who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 should be held accountable in court, she said she is worried about how Jan. 6 “hostages” are being treated. House Speaker Mike Johnson, too, opted to blur faces in some footage from that day because “we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.”
The most high-profile Jan. 6 felon gearing up to run is the infamous “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley. Shirtless with a painted face and horns, Chansley was one of the most public faces of the insurrection. He was convicted of obstructing an official proceeding and faced one of the harshest sentences: 41 months in prison. He was ultimately released in March 2023. If Chansley wants to vote in the November election — whether he’s on the ballot or not — he’ll need to petition the state before his voting rights are restored.
Chansley has filed a statement of interest with Arizona’s secretary of state to run as a Libertarian for the seat in the 8th Congressional District being vacated by Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko. If he gathers enough signatures required to make the ballot, his biggest competition will be the winner of the congested Republican primary on Aug. 6.
On Jan. 6, Indiana Republican Greg Pence was rushed out of the Senate by the Secret Service with his brother, then-Vice President Mike Pence, shortly before Chansley and others breached the floor. Crowds around the Capitol that day were chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” But even he appeared to shrug off Chansley’s potential bid when NOTUS informed him of the run.
“I’ll be darned, huh,” he said. “It’s up to his constituents.”
Ryan Zink, who is running in Texas’ 19th District, was convicted in September of one felony related to the riot, which includes blocking an official proceeding. The judge in his trial has delayed his sentencing until the Supreme Court rules on whether impeding an official proceeding is more inclusive than just “congressional inquiries and investigations.”
His father, Jeff Zink, is also running for Congress, but in Arizona. The elder Zink, who was also on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, has not been charged with any crime, and both men maintain Ryan Zink never committed a crime.
Jeff Zink said he believes, in general, that those with Jan 6. convictions should face no restrictions running for office, and those who engaged in violence or caused damages should be considered on a “case-by-case” basis.
“The people who did damage need to be held accountable. I did not condone, I actually condemned the actions of the people assaulting police officers…they crossed barriers forcefully,” Zink said.
Two other Jan. 6ers convicted on felonies running are former state legislator Derrick Evans, who is running for Congress as primary challenger to GOP Rep. Carol Miller in West Virginia, and Philip Sean Grillo, a Republican candidate running to replace former Rep. George Santos (who was kicked out of Congress prior to a verdict on multiple federal charges) in New York.
At least seven Republicans who admitted to being on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 ran for Congress in 2022, and one — Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin — won, but none of them had been charged or convicted of any crime. The current crop of candidates is the first to include Jan. 6 rioters who have actually been convicted of committing crimes that day.
Nothing in the Constitution prevents a convicted felon from being in Congress, but House Democrats argue that those who rioted at the Capitol shouldn’t return there anyway.
“If you are an insurrectionist and you’re someone who was literally a part of an attempted coup on our country, which is also treason…you should be barred from running for office,” said Rep. Maxwell Frost, a Democratic freshman from Florida.
Arizona Democrat Greg Stanton predicted that voters will reject any Jan. 6 candidates.
“If the Republicans keep putting up election deniers and people who either participated in or support the insurrection, they’re going to keep losing races,” he said. “The voters have spoken with clarity that they reject that level of extremism.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that under Arizona law, Chansley can petition the state to restore his right to vote.