WASHINGTON — A panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday afternoon featured Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., alongside Jeff Brain, a tech CEO whose site was used to organize “caravans” to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol protest. The appearance comes as Democrats continue to investigate the role Republican members of Congress played in the violence that took place at the Capitol that day.
During the panel, Brain said he founded his company CloutHub in 2018 in response to concerns about “censorship on social media.” He boasted that the platform provides users with “tools” for political activism.
“It’s no longer enough to be on a platform where you merely just post in exchange for likes,” Brain said. “We need to be on platforms where we can actually engage, organize, mobilize and advocate for the issues that are important to us.”
CloutHub allows users to make posts and join groups discussing various topics. The login and account creation pages of the site currently boast a backdrop with photos of the Capitol dome. One of the most popular topics on the site is a hashtag related to the QAnon conspiracy theory. The site also hosted a “Patriot Caravans for 45” page to “organize ride sharing to DC for January 6th protest” against the certification of former President Donald Trump’s election loss.
Thousands of people came to Washington on Jan. 6 including Trump supporters, QAnon adherents and members of other far-right groups. Many came prepared with tactical gear and weapons. They stormed the Capitol and vandalized the building. Five deaths were linked to the riot.
A link to the “Clouthub Caravan Group” was featured on the website of the “Wild Protest” one of the main pro-Trump rallies that was planned for that day.
“Groups of patriots are setting up carpools and caravans across the US to join us in DC,” the Wild Protest site said. “Groups will be traveling through and Michigan, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Alabama, and more. Join the group to find routes and rides.”
Brain personally participated in the main caravan page, which has since been deleted. Archived versions of the site show it was topped with a message from Brain.
“Welcome … list your location and indicate if you need or can offer a ride and for how many. Add your state from the add topics option. … You can search by state,” Brain wrote.
Other more mainstream social media sites were also used to plan protests at the Capitol. However, companies including Twitter and Facebook have banned false election-fraud claims and QAnon-promoted conspiracies. Trump himself was removed from Twitter and Facebook in the days after the attack. In his CPAC remarks, Brain explicitly framed CloutHub as an alternative to these restrictions.
“Clout stands for influence and that’s what we’re looking to give you,” Brain said. “We’re here to empower you, particularly this group. After what happened recently, you should be engaged on CloutHub.”
While the “Patriot Caravans for 45” page that was featured on the “Wild Protest” site is no longer online, as of this writing, CloutHub still features multiple pages discussing plans for traveling to the Capitol on Jan. 6. There are at least four separate local “Patriot Caravans for 45” currently on the site for New York, Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On the Florida page, multiple people discussed plans to rent charter buses to go to the Capitol. A user called “MrM1A2” said they were looking for a ride and boasted of their military experience and equipment.
“COMBAT VETERAN JUST LOST MY RIDE FROM NAPLES FL to DC HAVE EXTRA WALKIE TALKIES AND SUPPLIES I WILL FUND MY TRIP,” MrM1A2 wrote.
Brain did not respond to messages on the site asking if he had any concerns in the role it played in organizing the protests in light of the violence that took place. Years prior to founding CloutHub, Brain drew attention for leading an effort to have parts of the San Fernando Valley secede from Los Angeles.
The CPAC panel with Brain and Gaetz was aimed at discussing “how government, big tech, and media are colluding to deprive us of our humanity.” Brain and Gaetz did not share the stage at the same time. The congressman spoke directly after Brain and described technology companies as a “threat to our liberty.”
“I’m a canceled man in some quarters of the internet,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment about whether he was aware of the role Brain’s site played in organizing the Jan. 6 Capitol protests.
The CPAC panel coincided with a debate in Congress over how to investigate the Capitol attack. And some Democrats have concerns that Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is attempting to limit the scope of a potential commission to protect GOP members of Congress from scrutiny.
“McConnell is concerned with shielding his members, but there’s much less exposure for his members than the house side,” said a Democratic staffer who requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
On Wednesday, McConnell criticized a proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to have a 9/11-style commission investigate the Capitol riot. McConnell said Pelosi’s plan for the commission was overly “partisan” because it would feature seven members appointed by Democrats and four appointed by Republicans. Along with rejecting a Democratic majority on the committee, McConnell argued a commission should not “go beyond a targeted, after-action analysis of the security failures here at the Capitol complex.”
A Jan. 6 commission cannot be established with less than 60 votes in the Senate, which requires some Republican support. Short of that, Democrats could set up a partisan select committee, but those investigations are typically lower profile than a bipartisan commission.
“This is the party that literally encouraged and participated in the insurrection,” a senior Democratic House aide said of congressional Republicans. “Many of them are the people who need to be investigated for how it happened.”
Multiple Democrats have raised concerns about the conduct of their colleagues and potential links to participants in the Capitol attacks. McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the Jan. 6 commission.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought up the commission proposal on a phone call with members of her caucus yesterday, according to a source who was on the call, and she expressed concern about McConnell’s efforts to limit the scope of a commission. Pelosi, the source said, indicated she expected to negotiate with McConnell about the makeup of a commission, but not its purview.
The speaker’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Multiple links between Republican House members and people who participated in the mob and helped organize the Jan. 6 protests have been reported in the weeks since the violence. Several Democrats have raised questions about a tour Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., gave to a large group the day before the attack. Boebert did not respond to a request for comment.
The Capitol Police are reportedly investigating whether lawmakers guided rioters through the Capitol prior to the attack and the FBI has seized congressional phone records as part of its ongoing investigation.
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