GOP efforts to downplay danger of Capitol riot increase
Attempts to whitewash the violence of the Jan. 6 insurrection and cast the rioters as sympathetic characters are becoming increasingly common among Republican members of Congress.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) this week said it was a “false narrative” to say “there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol,” while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said the rioters charged with crimes were facing overly harsh treatment in jail and questioned why Congress isn’t also investigating liberal protests over racial justice last year that at times turned violent.
Other Republicans in recent days have falsely claimed the rioters weren’t armed and questioned whether people in the mob were really former President Trump’s supporters. One GOP lawmaker compared one image of the Capitol breach to a “normal tourist visit.”
Only 35 House Republicans backed legislation to form a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack in a vote this week, and the bill appears doomed in the Senate. It all makes forming any kind of bipartisan probe of the harrowing day appear unlikely.
Differences over former President Trump are at the heart of the issue, with many Republicans wanting to downplay an event closely tied to their party’s leader. The commission bill was negotiated by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), one of the 10 GOP lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol riot.
Johnson rejected the notion of calling the Jan. 6 attack an insurrection during a Fox News interview this week and maintained the protest against Congress certifying President Biden’s election victory was largely “peaceful.”
“By and large, it was a peaceful protest, except for there were a number of people, basically agitators that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol. That’s really the truth of what’s happening here,” Johnson said.
Law enforcement has charged more than 400 people with crimes related to the Capitol breach. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer, while about 140 police officers were injured after being attacked by people in the mob.
Lawmakers were forced to evacuate the House and Senate chambers in the middle of debate over challenges to the presidential election results in one of the most serious breaches of the Capitol in history.
Greene used multiple House floor speeches this week to draw attention to what she views as overly harsh treatment for people accused of crimes related to Jan. 6, pointing to those held in solitary confinement and one defendant whose lawyer said he was “viciously and savagely” beaten by a corrections officer in a D.C. jail.
“One person accused faces seven years in prison for walking through the open doors of the Capitol, taking photos in the hallway, and leaving without doing any harm,” Greene added.
Greene further warned that a commission on Jan. 6 would be used to “smear Trump supporters and President Trump for the next few years” and said there should be more investigation into Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests that turned violent.
“Months after January 6, men and women are still being held in jail, and they haven’t seen their day in court. Justice should be served for January 6, but this Congress needs to care about the people of the United States who have not seen justice for the riots of the past year. This Congress is failing the American people,” Greene said.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) similarly said in a House floor speech of his own that the Justice Department is “criminalizing political protest — but only political protest by Republicans or conservatives.”
He added “there’s no evidence … that this was an armed insurrection,” specifying “armed meaning with firearms” — despite the fact that multiple people have been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon in connection with Jan. 6. Law enforcement also found a variety of weapons on the rioters, including a spear, baseball bats, knives and bear spray.
Pushback against such comments has been swift.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) on Thursday introduced resolutions to censure three Republicans for offering mischaracterizations of Jan. 6 during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing that he argued “disrespects the sacrifices made by law enforcement officers on that day and creates danger by emboldening and legitimizing future actors who would attack the United States Capitol in a similar manner.”
Cicilline is specifically targeting Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) for stating that an image of rioters walking through stanchions in Statuary Hall looked like a “normal tourist visit”; Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) for saying “in fact, it was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others”; and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for describing a rioter shot by a Capitol Police officer while attempting to breach the House chamber as a “veteran wrapped in an American flag” who was “executed” and stating that “outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters.”
Clyde himself was photographed helping security officers barricade a door to the House chamber where rioters were trying to break in on Jan. 6, suggesting he saw them as a threat and not visitors on a tour.
While 19 Democrats have co-sponsored Cicilline’s effort, no Republicans have signed onto any of the censure resolutions.
But during House floor debate on the bill to create a Jan. 6 commission, one of the Republicans who voted for it condemned the efforts to “whitewash” the violence.
“Unfortunately, many who rightly criticized and condemned the attack that day have walked back their words or softened their speech. But even more troubling, there has been an active effort to whitewash and rewrite the shameful events of that day to avoid accountability and turn away from difficult truths,” Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) said, without naming names.
“This is not picking at a scab. In order to scab over, a cut has to first heal. Rather than start to mend, the wound from January 6 was hastily bandaged and continues to fester. Only by airing it out and addressing what occurred can we hope to move past and heal,” he said.
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