20 million people saw the prime-time Jan. 6 hearing. Here’s why Americans say they’re tuning in.

·11 min read

Corrections & clarifications: This story has been updated to correct a misspelling of Diane Webb's name and misidentification of Jesse Hernandez. 

WASHINGTON – All Diane Webb wants to know is the truth behind what happened at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Webb, 57, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, is worried about conspiracy theories and people spewing misinformation on social media. So when she saw online that the Jan. 6 committee was laying out their findings, she wanted to get the “information firsthand for myself.”

From there, she wanted to make her own determination about former President Donald Trump's involvement.

“I want to hear and be able to come to the conclusion of did he or did he not on my own," said Webb, an independent who watched the prime-time hearing and subsequent hearings on ABC News. "And not being influenced by outside people or groups or politicians.”

At least 20 million people tuned into the first prime-time Jan. 6 committee hearing on June 9. Major news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC and ABC News aired it, along with C-SPAN. NBC News NOW and USA TODAY livestreamed the hearing online. Fox News was the only national outlet to not air the hearings live. Detractors have called it a "waste of time."

Since then, the average has dipped into the low millions as the hearings have been taken out of the prime-time slot.

Democracy vs. witch hunt: What congressional campaigns are posting about Jan. 6 hearings, by party

In interviews with USA TODAY, Americans from across the political spectrum have tuned in to the hearings to find out the truth about what happened during the riot Jan. 6, 2021.

Viewers said they want to see accountability for what happened that day at the U.S. Capitol – even against former President Donald Trump, if it’s warranted.

Diane Webb, 57, of Wichita, Kansas, is pictured.
Diane Webb, 57, of Wichita, Kansas, is pictured.

“Who says the next person they come up behind him, behind Biden or whoever, won't do the same thing?” said Webb, a retired foster care case manager. “If I have to give accountability, then I don't care who you are, the president of the United States has to give accountability as well.”

As the hearings continue, Wed said she believes it’s important for people to pay attention because “we cannot set the precedent for someone with that much power to to get away with things like this.”

Webb said, “It is important. It is important for voters to know so that they can be informed so they can know who to vote for in the next election.

‘Trump was probably trying to convert the United States into a very authoritarian country’

Remus Bowman,  who grew up in a military family, said love for this country runs deep.

The 66-year-old, who is from New Orleans and served in the Marine Corps, said he was shocked. How could this guy become president and a traitor to the country all at the same time?

Bowman is glued to the TV.  After watching the hearings, he said Trump and his followers are resisting the changing demographics of the USA and perceive it as a loss of power.

“They're afraid of the inevitable that the United States at some point, not too long from now, is gonna be a predominantly brown country,” Bowman said, adding that's what he thinks was behind the events of Jan. 6.

More: Is the Jan. 6 committee sitting on explosive evidence of Trump's role in the Capitol assault?

"They had a process in place where Donald Trump was probably trying to convert the United States into a very authoritarian country. The plans that these people actually had to destroy this country, to take away democracy.”

Remus Bowman, 66, of New Orleans, La., is pictured.
Remus Bowman, 66, of New Orleans, La., is pictured.

Once the committee’s hearings are over, Bowman said, he wants to see Republican senators and congressmen lose their jobs.

“They're traitors to democracy," he said. "There are traitors to the Constitution. Their job is to protect the country, and they've given up that responsibility.”

Bowman pointed to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., saying that he incited people to attack the Capitol.

Jan. 6 committee hearing schedule: Here's when (and what) to expect at the next Jan. 6 hearings

Bowman said he wants to see Trump go to jail, though he noted that probably won’t happen.

“I would like to see him pay a debt for what he’s done,” he said. He said rioters never would have come to the Capitol “had it not been for the fact that they had a president of the United States invite them to come and attack the government."

“It is hard to believe that they have taken this country and turned it inside out."

‘I want the book thrown at them’

Judy Stahl considers herself an outlier from the average American when it comes to her interest in politics – going as far as running for office.

When she saw the Jan. 6 committee was going to hold a prime-time hearing, she knew she wasn’t going to miss it.

Stahl, a Democrat who ran for Congress, was driving down from Prescott, Arizona, to her sister's ranch in Patagonia, near the southern border the same day as the hearing. On the way, she needed to stop by several friends' houses, one in Phoenix and the other in Tucson.

More: What ties does Ginni Thomas, the Supreme Court justice's wife, have to Jan. 6?

Stahl, 62, pulled into the driveway three minutes before 5 p.m. MST – the time the hearings began in Arizona.

“I came into the house and sat down and was glued to the screen. I tell you, I was bound and determined I was not going to miss a minute of it,” Stahl said. “And I wanted to see it live because there's something important about that.”

Judy Stahl, 62, of Prescott, Arizona, is pictured.
Judy Stahl, 62, of Prescott, Arizona, is pictured.

Stahl said it’s important for her to watch the hearings because she has seen how her state has become a “nest for conspiracy theories.”

“Where I live I am in the minority in my beliefs, but I know that as a nation, I'm in the majority, and I refuse to be silent,” Stahl said.

Stahl said she hopes that Trump and other lawmakers and officials are held accountable for the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“I want to see them held to the highest standards of our laws, whether that means that the criminal Trump goes to prison, that everybody who has held an elected position or an appointed position, that that they are stripped of whatever benefits they got from supposedly serving in any capacity in the United States government,” Stahl said. “I want the book thrown at them.”

'Supposed to be sacred'

When Trump was elected, Jesse Hernandez gave him the benefit of the doubt. Even though he considers himself a Democrat, he has voted Republican "at times."

Hernandez, 23 said he would like to see him in jail after the Jan. 6 riot.

Hernandez said many around him in the rural town of Garden City, Kansas, believe those who rioted at the U.S. Capital on Jan. 6 were “true patriots.”

He doesn’t see it that way.

Jesse Hernandez, 23, of Garden City, Kansas, is pictured.
Jesse Hernandez, 23, of Garden City, Kansas, is pictured.

“It's not everyday that you see people here going and rioting at our nation's Capitol, a place that's supposed to be sacred,” he said. “It's not what we should be standing up for as a nation.”

Hernandez said he heard about the hearings after several politicians tweeted about them. Although he doesn’t have cable, Hernandez said he streamed the hearings through Peacock.

“It's something serious. People went in there with the intent of trying to overthrow the government,” he said. “They tried to go after like Nancy Pelosi and also Mike Pence as well. People that shouldn't be touched in that way.”

More: At Jan. 6 hearing, a spotlight on two election workers who faced down Trump and his allies' demands

He said Trump going to jail would set a precedent that no leader can try to overturn an election.

“None of our ex-presidents have tried to do that type of stuff, at least in the way that he's done it,” he said. “It shouldn't have to be something that we sweep under the rug and move on from it.”

‘It wasn't just a bunch of people who showed up to the Capitol’

For Noah Mitchell, 19, the Jan. 6 riot hit close to home.

Mitchell, a student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, lives on Capitol Hill and watched the hearings at home. Mitchell said he comes from a family very interested in politics and watched the first hearing live with his mom in his basement.

Mitchell, who is majoring in political science, said he watches the hearings to see how people respond to the findings and what they mean for elections – especially among the Republican Party.

More: Who has been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee?

“How people see it is going to kind of determine how the country moves forward,” he said.

As the committee reveals more information on Trump and his allies' actions to overturn the election, Mitchell said he is interested in learning more of who was involved.

“It seems that there's a much larger narrative, a larger story in that the president and those around him were planning to stay in office despite knowing that he lost the election,” Mitchell said.

Noah Mitchell, 19, is pictured.
Noah Mitchell, 19, is pictured.

There are two outcomes Mitchell said he wants to see: for the Republican Party to be accountable and for the American public to see there was a coordinated effort to overturn the election.

“I hope Americans can see that it wasn't just a bunch of people who showed up to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and just went inside,” Mitchell said. “That it was a coordinated thing that went on from the election.”

‘Democracy is an incredibly fragile thing’

Amid worries about the economy, inflation and COVID-19, Franco Caliz, 33, said it’s easy for people to forget about what happened on Jan. 6.

Caliz, who lives in Miami, said that when he brings up that date, he often gets a “huh?” look across the face of those he’s talking to. Caliz said what happened that day was “criminal.”

“I don't think we should be letting people off the hook who helped create that situation in the first place,” he said.

Caliz, who watched the prime-time hearing on CBS News, said he wants Republicans who helped assist with the riots to be held accountable, adding that it’s crazy that some members of Congress sought pardons.

Franco Caliz, 33, of Miami Florida is pictured.
Franco Caliz, 33, of Miami Florida is pictured.

If a lawmaker “were in cahoots with the White House in terms of trying to figure out how they could best support these people who were literally acting in a criminal manner and who were attacking our freedom to me, like that's what the goal of the hearing should be,” Caliz said.

Caliz said the insurrection could have long-term effects on democracy. He said that inflation will get better and that the economy constantly moves back and forth but that “democracy is an incredibly fragile thing.”

“It's something that we all talk about has been frayed and pushed to the edges more and more with the hyper partisanship that there is,” he said. “There's a line where you cross what is tolerable and it is hard to come back from that line in our political discourse.”

‘Democracy is not free, and you can lose it much easier

For María Aviles, being politically engaged started at a young age.

As a child, Aviles saw her mother vote in every election, as the precinct was at her elementary school in her hometown of Tucson, Arizona. Aviles’ father got involved in activism after a private developer tried to expand a golf course in her neighborhood that would have eliminated an area for children to play. Though it took time, her dad was on the winning side and got a park built instead.

Aviles said those events sparked her interest in staying engaged – seeing democracy work for her parents, who immigrated from Michoacán, Mexico.

The 2016 election was a turning point for Aviles, who said Trump’s campaign was “tearing people apart.” Aviles, 45, said she saw the thousands of people storming the Capitol as a sign of the "permanence" of Trump’s message.

Fact check: PBS airing Jan. 6 hearings, but some local affiliates keep regular programming

“There was a little bit of that cognitive dissonance right where you're like, ‘This is really happening,’ and then when it wouldn't stop, then it was like, a sense of panic,” Aviles said. She said the people who rioted were not Americans because they didn’t believe in the Constitution and peaceful transfer of power.

“That to me was like, ‘Oh, this is so bad,’” she said. “We can have political differences, right? But this was the concept itself. Like the platform under which we all can argue our points of view just not existing anymore.”

María Aviles, 45, of Goodyear, Arizona, is pictured.
María Aviles, 45, of Goodyear, Arizona, is pictured.

Aviles, who watched the hearing the first night on MSNBC with her husband at their home in Goodyear, Arizona, said she hopes that through the hearings, Americans will be able to “put the puzzle together” on what happened at the Capitol that day and what led to those events.

“Democracy is not free, and you can lose it much easier. That's kind of the part that scares me and makes me kind of sad,” Aviles said. “That's troubling to me that it could be lost because we just weren't paying attention.”

Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan. 6 committee hearings: Why Americans say they tuned in to watch

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting