On Jan. 5, Charles Herbster claims, he was at Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel with the president’s two adult sons, discussing ways to pressure Congress out of certifying Joe Biden’s victory. On Jan. 6, he attended a pro-Trump rally that later led to an attack on the U.S. Capitol.
On Monday, Herbster announced his candidacy for governor of Nebraska.
Herbster, who has agricultural businesses in multiple states, is running on the same staunch pro-Trump lines that brought him to D.C. on Jan. 6. (He did not enter the Capitol that day.) And he’s not alone. From Nebraska to New Jersey, attendees of the now-infamous rally that became a riot are campaigning for elected office. One—a longshot Michigan candidate who previously organized anti-lockdown rallies in his home state—even appears to have entered the Capitol.
Attending the pre-riot rally was perfectly legal, if controversial—even some elected officials took part. Recently elected U.S. Rep. Mary Miller spoke at the rally, giving an eyebrow-raising speech in which she stated that “Hitler was right on one thing: whoever has the youth has the future.” Her husband (a state representative in Illinois) owns a truck with a decal for the Three Percenter Militia that was parked on Capitol grounds on the day of the riot, as The Daily Beast previously reported.
Other politicians found themselves facing graver political trouble. Derrick Evans, a new West Virginia state delegate, was arrested for allegedly storming the Capitol. And Virginia’s state Senate voted to censure Amanda Chase, a state senator who attended the pre-riot rally. (Chase made a Jan. 5 video with the head of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, and later went on to call the Capitol attackers “patriots.” She does not appear to have entered the Capitol.)
But now, undeterred by hundreds of arrests of rioters since Jan. 6 and the ex-president being reduced to hurling insults at the Academy Awards, a new slate of Jan. 6 rally-goers is vying for its own place in government.
Some, like Herbster, are campaigning on their pro-Trump credentials. Herbster has billed himself as close to the former president’s orbit, even telling the Omaha World-Herald that he could not have participated in the Capitol attack because he left the rally early to go to Florida with the Trump family. Former Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway participated in Herbster’s campaign launch on Monday and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is reportedly advising Herbster’s campaign. His campaign did not return a request for comment.
Herbster is entering a crowded GOP primary. But in Virginia, restaurant owner Marie March won her Republican primary last week, making her all but a shoo-in to take office representing the state’s 7th District in the House of Delegates. March attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, but says she left before the crowd broke into the Capitol. Nevertheless, her attendance has reopened wounds in the state, with one of her would-be colleagues in the House of Delegates pointing to a Facebook post she made after Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd last year.
“The coming Civil War is complex,” the post began.
In a statement emailed through her campaign, March told The Daily Beast, “My husband, veteran father, and I attended President Trump’s speech on January 6, 2021 at the Washington Monument. Before President Trump finished his speech, my family and I left, and at around 2:00 PM we finished our meal outside of D.C. After that, we went home. Not only did I not enter the Capitol but I was not at the Capitol.”
“I apologize for nothing, I regret nothing,” she added.
The current candidates were not the only people to rally in Washington—and in some cases, allegedly breach the Capitol—on Jan. 6 to harbor personal political aspirations. At least 15 other prominent participants in the rally or the riot had run failed campaigns for political office, according to a Daily Beast count. Some of them, like Proud Boy and failed Hawaii candidate Nick Ochs and failed Texas candidate Jenny Cudd have since been arrested for their alleged roles in the attack.
Although Herbster and March claim to have left the rally early, other candidates appeared closer to the action.
Jason Howland, who is running for Michigan’s 31st house district in 2022, was spotted in the throng pushing its way up the Capitol steps, as the New Yorker previously reported. Last year, Howland co-founded the American Patriot Council, a right-wing group that rose to national prominence after many of the militia members who allegedly plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were reportedly found to have attended some of the group’s heavily armed rallies.
As Howland and the mob reportedly pushed past officers under the bleachers, videos appear to show his APC co-founder Ryan Kelley, who is running for governor of Michigan, in sunglasses and a black and white American flag cap, filming on his phone as rioters shouted “We’re in! We’re in!” In March, Kelley admitted to Michigan Live, which ID’d him in multiple videos, that he was in Washington that day to back Trump and referred to an event that day as “energizing.” He also told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he did not participate in the unrest. “I never entered the Capitol, that is accurate,” Kelley said via text message. “Likewise, no I did not push past any officers, nor did I have any confrontation with officers and it is not accurate to suggest otherwise.”
Howland, meanwhile—a co-organizer of last April’s American Patriot Rally, in which heavily armed protesters stormed into the Michigan State Capitol building to protest lockdown—may have been more bold, according to videos and stills from that day. In one video, a man who bears a striking resemblance to Howland and wears the black T.A.T. baseball cap that Howland occasionally wore in his own YouTube videos before Jan. 6, stands a few feet from the marble columns in the Capitol crypt. Howland did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him for his story and, like Kelley, he has not been charged with any crimes.
Meanwhile, the APC currently maintains a watchlist calling for the arrest of 17 public figures it says have violated the U.S. Constitution, from Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan secretary of state who affirmed the 2020 election results to Vice President Kamala Harris.
A few years ago, association with a group like APC, which hosted a rally outside the Michigan Capitol in June to help the public learn more about militias, may have placed a candidate in the fringes of the far right. But in Michigan, where state GOP Chair Ron Weisman recently joked about assassinating two congressmen from his own state party who voted to impeach President Trump, Howland and Kelley may not be that far off the mainstream.
“Normally that would be something that’s disqualifying, but in this race it seems to be something in the plus column,” Rodericka Applewhaite, senior communications adviser for the Michigan Democratic Party, said of Kelley’s actions on Jan. 6.
“Maybe the fringe candidates are the moderates in the Republican party,” Applewhaite added.
Still, Applewhaite said she doesn’t consider Kelley, who recently posted on his campaign’s Facebook page that face masks “condition [children] for servitude,” to be a “real candidate” or threat to Whitmer, who was elected by a margin of nearly 10 percentage points in 2018.
Howland could potentially face even longer odds in his race for Michigan’s House District 31, which a Democrat has held for over three decades. But state Rep. William Sowerby, who currently holds the seat and is term-limited, pointed out that Michigan will be redistricted before the 2022 election, and Macomb County, where he and Howland live, “could be divided up much differently from what it is right now.”
“What I’ve seen is the GOP in Macomb County has become far more extreme in its beliefs and platforms, which is concerning,” Sowerby told The Daily Beast.
In New Jersey, those fringes have found a home at the head of a local Republican Party. Edward Durfee is the chair of the state’s Northvale Republican Club, and a candidate for New Jersey’s 37th Assembly district.
He’s also a decade-long member of the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, WNYC reported, and has previously led a fundraiser for an Oath Keepers recruitment billboard in his state.
The Oath Keepers are now under scrutiny after members were accused of plotting to break into the Capitol and arrest people inside. Some of the group’s leaders are facing conspiracy charges for what prosecutors allege was a well-coordinated plan, with members communicating with leaders throughout the day. Durfee, who is not accused of a crime, told WNYC he’d worked security for the group at the Capitol and used HAM radio to keep in contact with other members.
“I got my radio on the right channel so I could talk to other guys on the detail,” he told the outlet, adding that he was hit by pepper spray during the day’s events.
Durfee, who did not return a voicemail seeking comment for this story, is running a long-shot campaign. New Jersey’s 37th Assembly district is a solidly Democratic stronghold. The Northvale Republican Club told The Daily Beast that while it "supports candidates running for the positions in the Borough of Northvale. We have historically not endorsed candidates outside of those republicans running for positions within the Borough."
Still, the club hasn’t flinched from Durfee's affiliations in the past. It has previously defended Durfee when opponents noted his Oath Keeper creds. Last year, when Durfee ran for Northvale city council, his opponents targeted him with a mailer calling him and the Oath Keepers “radical extremists.”
The Northvale Republican Club called the accusations “innuendos.”
This story has been updated with comment from the Northvale Republican Club.