Vivek Ramaswamy is turning to new talking points — conspiracy theories

During the fourth Republican presidential debate earlier this month, Vivek Ramaswamy used his national on-screen appearance to suggest without evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was an “inside job.” 

“Why am I the only person on this stage, at least, who can say that Jan. 6 now does look like it was an inside job?” Ramaswamy said.

Since then, he’s brought that line and more onto the campaign trail in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses. He has brought up conspiracy theories around Jan. 6, the 9/11 attacks, the foiled kidnapping plot targeting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and, most recently, the notion that political elites are conspiring to replace President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for president next year. 

NBC News asked Ramaswamy how he felt about Alan Hostetter, a convicted participant in the Jan. 6 riot and a former California police chief who called for the execution of Donald Trump’s political enemies, offering praise for Ramaswamy and his statements during his sentencing for his activity on Jan. 6. Ramaswamy, in response, did not specifically address Hostetter’s praise of him but spoke more broadly about the Jan. 6 prosecutions. 

“I’ve met many peaceful protesters from Jan. 6 that in the stories that I’ve heard from them seemed like unjust prosecutions,” Ramaswamy said.

Hostetter was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison on charges of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, entering or remaining on restricted grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, and disorderly or disruptive conduct on restricted grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.

“If you had told me that Jan. 6 was in any way an inside job, the subject of government entrapment, I would have told you that was crazy talk, fringe conspiracy theory nonsense. I can tell you now, having gone somewhat deep in this, it’s not,” Ramaswamy said, describing the evolution of his views over nearly three years. He later added, “The reality is, we know that there were federal law enforcement agents in that field. We don’t know how many.”

“I’m old enough to remember when it was a ‘conspiracy theory’ to say that COVID-19 originated from a lab in Wuhan. And that Hunter Biden’s laptop was ‘Russian misinformation.’ And when the media swore that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election,” Tricia McLaughlin, Ramaswamy’s communications director, replied when asked to comment on the candidate’s statements about Jan. 6 and other issues.

More than 1,200 defendants have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. There is no evidence that federal agents were actually involved in the riot. But the remarks are part of a pattern of Ramaswamy raising conspiracy-related questions about federal agents’ involvement in major events.

“I think it is legitimate to say how many police, how many federal agents, were on the planes that hit the Twin Towers,” Ramaswamy told The Atlantic in August. “Maybe the answer is zero. It probably is zero for all I know, right? I have no reason to think it was anything other than zero. But if we’re doing a comprehensive assessment of what happened on 9/11, we have a 9/11 commission, absolutely that should be an answer the public knows the answer to.”

When visiting the memorial in Lower Manhattan on the anniversary this year, he said he stood by those sentiments. While there has been extensive reporting on intelligence and information-sharing failures in the lead-up to 9/11, there is no evidence that federal agents were on the hijacked planes.

Following the release of The Atlantic article, Ramaswamy initially claimed he was taken out of context before the outlet released a transcript and audio of his remarks. Ramaswamy later posted on social media that his comments were related to what he described as a cover-up of an alleged Saudi intelligence official’s involvement in the activities of two hijackers before the attacks.

In 2021, the FBI closed its investigation into three Saudi nationals suspected of helping two hijackers prior to the attacks, according to a Justice Department document that had previously been classified.

In the decades after the attack, “the FBI has not identified additional groups or individuals responsible for the attack other than those currently charged which is consistent with the final conclusion of the 9/11 Commission Report,” the document adds.

Most recently, Ramaswamy has taken aim at Democrats including Whitmer and Biden.

“If you told me three years ago, when I was a biotech CEO, that the Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot in Michigan was an inside job of entrapment. I would have told you that was crazy,” Ramaswamy said to a crowd of thousands, including many children, at Turning Point’s conference in Phoenix.

“Turns out that the militia organization that supposedly organized it was at least a third infiltrated by Fed informants and feds,” Ramaswamy said. In September, three out of the 14 individuals involved were acquitted, but nine were convicted in connection with the plot. FBI informants helped provide the information that led to the militia members’ arrest.

And last week, when House Republicans voted to authorize their formal impeachment inquiry into Biden, Ramaswamy told NBC News that he believes this move by House Republicans is linked to broader Democratic plans to move Biden aside in 2024, despite the fact that the party has rallied around him.

House Democrats voted unanimously against authorizing the impeachment inquiry.

“I think part of what’s going on in the broader … Democratic establishment, in particular, is, they are preparing to move Biden to one side,” Ramaswamy said in Iowa. “So we got to cut through. Also, some of the timing of this is the beginning of laying the trap for making sure that Biden has moved out of the way so that the Democratic Party can trot out its next puppet.”

On Thursday morning, during a campaign stop in Pella, Iowa, Ramaswamy went deeper into this theory: “I thought it’s gonna be Gavin Newsom or Michelle Obama.” Later he said it will be someone hiding “in plain sight.” “It’s actually Nikki Haley,” he said.

“See the things that they call the conspiracy theories, it’s not [a] conspiracy theory,” Ramaswamy told event attendees. “It’s emergent reality. It’s staring you in the face, but it’s so obviously staring you in the face that you miss it,” he remarked in closing.

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