Alex Holder, the British filmmaker who recently provided the House January 6 select committee with a trove of footage shot in the months leading up to the 2021 attack on the US Capitol, says members of former president Donald Trump’s family appeared largely unconcerned about the possibility that his repeated lies about a “stolen” election could lead to violence.
Last week, the select committee received hours of video from Mr Holder after he was issued a subpoena calling for “raw footage” taken by him and his colleagues on the day of the Capitol attack. The subpoena also requested footage of interviews with Mr Trump, Mr Pence, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, or Jared Kushner and “any footage pertaining to discussions of election fraud or election integrity surrounding the November 2020 presidential election”.
In an interview with The IndependentMr Holder said the focus of the series, which is set to premiere later this year on the Discovery+ streaming service, was on Mr Trump and his three eldest children — Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump — and spanned from September 2020 through the last days of Mr Trump’s tumultuous presidency.
The filmmaker is no stranger to documenting far-right politicians or their movements. He is perhaps best known for producing the 2016 film keep quietwhich followed Hungarian politician Csanád Szegedi for three years after the notorious anti-Semite discovered that he was Jewish.
Still, Mr Holder said he felt a sense of foreboding as filming progressed, particularly during a series of public appearances at “stop the steal” rallies by Mr Trump’s adult sons. Though, at first, he dismissed the Trumps’ violent campaign rhetoric as nothing more but an “American eccentricity”.
“As it progressed, I felt… there was sort of an undertone of… real, real fervor — like the need to battle,” he said. They were using words that were sort of quite aggressive or very aggressive, that I felt were sort of unusual”.
During the period between the 3 November 2020 election and the 6 January Capitol attack, Mr Trump and his legal team filed over 60 lawsuits with the aim of blocking certification of the then-president’s loss to Joe Biden. Nearly all of them were unsuccessful — some egregiously so to the point where at least one of his former attorneys has been suspended from the practice of law.
When that failed, Mr Trump and his allies started pressing state legislators to appoint so-called “alternate slates” of electors in the hope that then-vice-president Mike Pence could be persuaded to accept the existence of the faux electors as sufficient cause to reject the legitimate electoral votes from swing states won by Mr Biden.
The former president knew Mr Pence and his advisers had rejected that course of action after concluding that it was outside of his authority when he told a massive crowd of supporters to march to the Capitol, where Congress was meeting to carry out the final certification of his loss. He told them to march anyway, and the result was the worst attack on the US Capitol since British troops, under the command of Major General Robert Ross, set it ablaze during the War of 1812.
Mr Holder, who was at the Capitol that day, told The Independent he had felt violence would be the outcome of Mr Trump’s insistence on claiming the election was stolen from him long before 6 January.
“The idea of violence, to me, seemed likely because of the fact that when you tell 75 million people that their vote didn’t count, and the person that’s telling you that is not just the guy you voted for, but also the incumbent President of the United States, the chance of violence was always there,” he said.
He also recalled that one of Mr Trump’s children appeared to be particularly unconcerned about whether the stolen election lies he and his father were pushing would inspire their supporters to violence.
“When I asked Eric about the potential danger of sort of rhetoric and the sort of belligerence, he felt that it was… fair game in that it… was sort of the equivalent on the other side of the political discourse, or he felt that it was the right thing to do … because the election was stolen,” he said.
Even now — more than a year after filming for the project wrapped — the threat of Trump-inspired violence is once again hanging over Mr Holder, who told The Independent that as a result of his cooperation with the select committee coming to light, he has had to bring on armed security.
“People are … sending me screenshots of lunatics saying that I’m f**king MI-6 you know — or an undercover FBI agent who’s there to try and … destroy Donald Trump,” he said.
The select committee’s acquisition of Mr Holder’s footage showing what transpired as a result of Mr Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and install himself in the White House for a second term against the wishes of voters is just the latest bit of evidence chronicling what is possibly the most well-documented crime in American history.
In addition to the thousands of hours of Capitol surveillance video, police body-worn camera footage, and mobile phone-shot video taken by many of the rioters themselves, the House select committee now has the entirety of what Mr Holder and his team shot over a period of months, including interviews with Mr Trump and Mr Pence. It also has a record of his own observations of him which he related to the committee during a transcribed interview on 23 June.
Mr Holder acknowledged that his film does chronicle the events leading up to the Capitol attack, but said also that it serves as a “fascinating insight into the Trump dynamic” that “shows a sort of Succession type vibe between the three siblings and who could potentially one day take over from their father in terms of heading that sort of Trump dynasty”.
Although a number of people in the former president’s inner circle were reportedly blindsided by the news that Mr Holder’s film even existed, he said both the Trump campaign and Mr Trump’s White House staff were well aware of the project, which required him and his team to be cleared into the presidential security “bubble” by the Secret Service.
Mr Holder also says he gave up no editorial control in exchange for access to the former president and his family. In one clip he posted to his Twitter account of him, the former president is shown spending several minutes obsessing over whether and how to position a glass of water sitting on an end table before the start of an interview for the film.
The influence of new video footage is at least in part behind the select committee’s decision to pause the series of hearings it has held since 9 June, and leaves open the possibility that the panel will add hearings to the series it has already planned in order to make good use of what it has found in Mr Holder’s archives.
According to multiple reports, the panel has taken a particular interest in an interview he recorded with Ivanka Trump, during which she reportedly contradicted what she told committee investigators earlier this year.
In sworn testimony, Ms Trump told the panel her “perspective” of the 2020 election results had been “affected” by former attorney general William Barr’s 1 December 2020 pronouncement that there had not been widespread fraud in the previous month’s presidential election, contrary to what her father was claiming at the time.
In a videotaped deposition, Mr Barr said he had told Mr Trump the claims of fraud that the then-president’s legal team were pushing in numerous lawsuits were “bulls**t” and said Mr Trump had “become detached from reality” in the days following his loss to Joe Biden.
Asked about what Mr Barr had said, Ms Trump told the panel: “I respected Attorney General Barr, and accepted what he was saying”.
But Ms Trump’s statements to the select committee, made under penalty of perjury, contradict what she told Mr Holder in an interview for his documentary.
Filmed in mid-December 2020 — well after Mr Barr’s declaration that the 2020 election was above-board — the former clothing line owner turned unpaid presidential adviser told the filmmaker she wanted her father to “continue to fight until every legal remedy is exhausted” and said “a lot of Americans feel very, very disenfranchised right now, and really, question the sanctity of our elections” as a result of Mr Trump’s defeat.
For his part, Mr Holder declined to go into much detail when asked what he discussed with the select committee, citing a desire to not interfere with an ongoing investigation.
“They were interested in the material that we provided, then they asked the very sort of clear and concise questions. And so they were very professional, and they certainly are doing their job,” he said.
But he did tell The Independent that there are most likely far more ex-Trump White House staffers who blame the former president for what happened on January 6 than those whose identities are currently a matter of public record.
“There were definitely people there that did not think that … the situation was acceptable,” he said when asked about the reaction inside the White House in the days between the pro-Trump riot and the end of Mr Trump’s term.
“Some people were just sort of concerned about their future and didn’t sort of offer any opinions. Some people were just concerned because they couldn’t do the jobs for other people at the same time [as their own due to attrittion]. And there were people there that were unhappy with the situation,” he said.
Mr Holder declined to say whether the select committee concluded its’ business with him following his 24 June interview. But according to two sources familiar with the panel’s efforts, the filmmaker will most likely be asked to return to Washington for more questions, both in private and at a future public hearing.
Asked what he thought his work will contribute to the committee’s findings, Mr Holder replied that he wasn’t in a position to say what parts of his footage the committee will find most useful as it continues its’ probe into the events of January 6.
“In terms of what I think that they might find… I just don’t know, I’m not a politician and I don’t know or rely on facts. And so what they’re looking for could be something that I find innocuous,” he said. “All I’m doing is answering their questions and providing them what they whatever they ask for”.