Matt Gaetz echoed Donald Trump’s infamous remarks about the far-right Proud Boys on Thursday, as the Florida Republican congressman and other rightwing supporters of the former US presidentattended his criminal trial in Manhattan.

“Standing back, and standing by, Mr President,” Gaetz wrote on social media, with a photo of his group of supporters standing behind Trump outside the court where Trump is on trial on election subversion charges arising from hush-money payments to an adult film star during the 2016 campaign.

The Proud Boys, a “western chauvinist” group, were involved in street violence during Trump’s years in power, clashing with leftwing protesters.

Identifiable by their black and yellow colors, they participated in the attack on Congress of 6 January 2021, when Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” to block certification of his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden, in service of Trump’s voter fraud lie.

Proud Boys leaders convicted of crimes including seditious conspiracy are among hundreds of rioters jailed over the attack.

Trump faces jail himself if convicted in New York, where he faces 34 charges, or in three other cases containing 54 more criminal counts, concerning election subversion and retention of classified information.

Gaetz offered a form of a famous Trump utterance. In a debate with Biden in September 2020, the then president was asked if he would condemn white supremacist and militia groups who clashed with social justice protesters that summer, following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Trump said: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa [anti-fascist groups] and the left.”

Amid uproar about an apparent endorsement of violent extremists, Trump said “I don’t know who the Proud Boys are” and: “Whoever they are, they have to stand down. Let law enforcement do their work.”

But Proud Boys celebrated. Membership “tripled, probably”, one member, Jeremy Joseph Bertino, told the House January 6 committee. Bertino pleaded guilty to plotting with other Proud Boys to violently stop the transfer of power.

Supporters of Trump in Bedminster, New Jersey in April. Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

In the current campaign, Proud Boys have shown up at Trump rallies. At some rallies, Trump has played a chorus of January 6 prisoners singing the national anthem. Vowing to pardon January 6 rioters, he has called such prisoners “hostages”.

Gaetz, of Florida, was part of the latest contingent of rightwing lawmakers to show up in Manhattan in Trump’s support.

Asked if Gaetz intentionally used verbiage adopted by the Proud Boys, a spokesman, Joel Valdez, told the Associated Press: “The tweet speaks for itself.”

Outside court, Gaetz told reporters: “We are here of our own volition, because there are things we can say that President Trump is unjustly not allowed to say.”

That was a reference to a gag order which Trump repeatedly violated, paying $1,000 fines until the judge threatened incarceration.

On Tuesday, one court reporter said Trump appeared to be editing comments for surrogates to make in his stead.

Gaetz followed Trump supporters including the House speaker, Mike Johnson, in standing outside court to deride the charges against Trump.

Alluding to a famous children’s toy, Gaetz said prosecutors had made up “the Mr Potato Head of crimes” to bring Trump to trial.

Another pop culture reference surfaced when Lauren Boebert tried to speak.

The Colorado extremist was subjected to cries of “Beetlejuice!” – a reference by hecklers to her ejection from a Denver theatre in September, over lewd and disruptive behaviour during a performance of a musical based on a Hollywood movie.

Posting footage of the heckling, Boebert said: “I’ll never stop standing up for President Trump, even if I’m the last one standing.”

Republicans control the US House by a narrow margin, 217 seats to 213. The House was open for business on Thursday but nonetheless six more GOP members were seen at the courthouse in Manhattan.

The others were Andy Biggs and Eli Crane of Arizona, Mike Waltz of Florida, Andy Ogles of Tennessee, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia and Ralph Norman of South Carolina.

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