As we reflect on the events that rocked the Capitol and the nation on Jan. 6, 2021, the perpetrators, their supporters and even some eyewitnesses are offering revisionist versions of the facts, backtracking on their own words of condemnation issued at the time or claiming it never even happened.
The facts of Jan. 6 are well-known. We saw them play out live on TV and they include the following:
◗ The attempt by more than 140 Republican senators and representatives to overturn the 2020 election results as a first move to reinstall Donald Trump as president.
◗ Trump’s incendiary speech, inciting the mob’s march on the Capitol.
◗ The violent multi-hour assault on law enforcement personnel defending the Capitol by hundreds of armed Trump supporters shouting, “Hang Mike Pence!”
◗ The planned paramilitary assault by domestic violent extremists like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.
◗ Trump’s refusal for more than three hours to take any action as president to stop the assault on Congress by his devoted followers.
When it comes to the facts of Jan. 6 and the months of incitement leading up to that day, we have the receipts. And we will soon learn more from the House investigative committee that includes Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.
Many pundits around the country raised alarm bells about Trump’s shocking and abnormal post-election behavior. Here are some excerpts from my monthly IBJ columns chronicling the inexorable march toward Jan. 6.
Trump’s false election-fraud claims posed an imminent danger to American democracy. From Nov. 20, 2020: “Trump’s embarrassing, toddler-like rejection of the clear reality of his electoral defeat, his false and unsubstantiated charges of ‘fraud,’ his refusal to cooperate in the statutorily mandated presidential transition process, and his purging of the top echelons of America’s national security establishment is unprecedented in the history of the United States. Worse, it endangers the legitimacy and stability of our democratic system and the continuity of government.”
Over the ensuing weeks, what became known as the Big Lie took over much of the Republican Party, and the potential for violence by Trump loyalists was becoming clear. From Dec. 11, 2020: “Republican politicians are playing a dangerous game. Every time they give credence to Trump’s false allegations of fraud or refuse to recognize Biden as president-elect, they pull at the delicate fabric of our democracy and might help to inspire mayhem. I teach a class on terrorism, and my fear is that their inflammatory—and knowingly false—rhetoric could incite right-wing extremist groups or lone wolves to commit acts of political violence, hoping to overturn what they have been told is a ‘stolen election.’”
From the column published three days after the Capitol attack: “As we approached Congress’ constitutionally mandated certification of the election results on Jan. 6, the increasingly incendiary language coming from the president and other Republican leaders, which culminated with Trump’s provocative speech at his ‘Stop the Steal’ rally, made it likely that some sort of violence would result. But I did not anticipate what actually happened: the storming, temporary capture and desecration of America’s temple of democracy, the U.S. Capitol, by a violent pro-Trump mob.”
Jan. 6, 2021, was not a “false flag” operation committed by antifa, nor were the pro-Trump rioters “ordinary tourists.” No, it was an insurrection, an attempted coup and an act of domestic terrorism.
And it might be a harbinger for 2024 if the Big Lie continues to be propagated by Republican officials, social media and right-wing cable news and radicalizes future violent extremists.•
Atlas, a political scientist, is a senior lecturer at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI.
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Correction: In the third to the last paragraph, the timing of the column referenced has been corrected. The column was published three days after the Capitol attack. You can see more corrections here.