GOP increasingly balks at calling Jan. 6 an insurrection
A growing number of Republican lawmakers are refusing to say that the Jan. 6 insurrection was actually an insurrection.
Nearly two dozen GOP House members voted against legislation this week that would award Congressional Gold Medals to police officers who defended the Capitol that day, in part because it describes the mob of then-President Trump’s supporters who were trying to stop Congress from ratifying the 2020 election results as “insurrectionists.”
“They were protesting. And I don’t approve of the way they protested, but it wasn’t an insurrection,” said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
“My goodness. Can you imagine what a real insurrection would look like?” he asked.
The lack of consensus among members of Congress about how to describe the Jan. 6 attack underscores how difficult it is for lawmakers to take actions such as establishing a bipartisan commission to investigate the day’s events, as well as the pervasiveness of GOP attempts to whitewash the severity of the violent attack on the Capitol.
Multiple news organizations, including The Hill, began referring to the events of Jan. 6 as an insurrection, broadly defined as an act of revolt against an established government, while they were still unfolding.
Following a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington headlined by Trump and scheduled to coincide with Congress’s certification of November’s Electoral College results, hundreds of supporters of the former president stormed the Capitol to prevent the formal count and transfer of power. Seven people died in connection with the ensuing violence, including two suicides in the following days, and more than 520 have since been charged with offenses ranging from assault to unlawful entry — though none have been charged with sedition thus far.
The article of impeachment against Trump that the House passed after the riot, which fell short of conviction in the Senate, specifically referred to his actions as “incitement of insurrection” and “willfully inciting violence against the government of the United States.”
While the House passed legislation to award medals to the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police overwhelmingly with broad support from both parties on Tuesday, a group of 21 Republicans voted against it in part because they believed its use of the term “insurrectionists” and description of the Capitol as the “temple of our American democracy” went overboard.
“You know what, police officers deserve to be awarded without having language in there that is offensive. And [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should have a bill where we can all vote for it and give them awards,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), adding that she “absolutely” objected to the House-passed bill’s use of the term “insurrectionists.”
When asked by The Hill whether she believed Jan. 6 amounted to an insurrection, Greene, one of Trump’s most vocal backers, instead pointed to unrelated violence by other groups.
“When you guys start asking about antifa and [Black Lives Matter] being insurrectionists, then I think we can have a grown-up, adult conversation about that,” she said.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (Texas), another Republican who voted in opposition, introduced his own counterproposal to award Congressional Gold Medals to the Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police that conspicuously makes no specific mention of the Jan. 6 riot.
Gohmert’s bill states that Brian Sicknick and Howard Liebengood of the Capitol Police, as well as Jeffrey Smith of the Metropolitan Police, “all passed in January 2021” without noting what event led to their deaths.
By contrast, Gohmert’s bill then goes on to specify that Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans was killed on April 2 “while protecting the north barricade of the Capitol” from a vehicle-based attack.
Gohmert said that his version “serves as a tribute to our officers rather than using them as political pawns.”
During a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing last month, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) declared that “it was not an insurrection.”
“There was an undisciplined mob; there were some rioters and some who committed acts of vandalism,” Clyde said, going on to add, in remarks sharply criticized by Democrats, that one scene of rioters walking between stanchions in Statuary Hall looked like a “normal tourist visit.”
Days later, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) similarly denied that the Jan. 6 riot should be called an insurrection and said it was largely a “peaceful protest.”
“Even calling it an insurrection, it wasn’t,” Johnson said during an interview with Fox’s “Ingraham Angle.” “You know, I condemned the breach. I condemned the violence, but to say there were thousands of armed insurrectionists breaching the Capitol intent on overthrowing the government is just simply false narrative.”
“By and large, it was peaceful protest, except for there were a number of people, basically agitators that whipped the crowd and breached the Capitol,” Johnson said.
Law enforcement found a variety of weapons on the rioters, including knives, bear spray, stun guns and a spear. At least four people have been charged with firearms offenses.
Both chambers of Congress had to abruptly pause formally counting the Electoral College votes confirming President Biden’s victory as lawmakers were evacuated. The rioters, who believed Trump’s false claims of election fraud, ultimately broke into the Senate chamber and came close to breaching the House floor as well.
Despite the arguments from some of their members, both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have previously used the term insurrection to describe the attack.
When the Senate came back into session to finish the Electoral College count on the night of Jan. 6, McConnell called the attack a “failed insurrection.”
And in a “Fox News Sunday” interview on April 25, McCarthy said, “you had an insurrection at the Capitol.”
But when a reporter asked McConnell at a press conference last week if he defined the events of Jan. 6 as an insurrection, he was less direct.
“Look, I’ve said a lot about that already. I said it on January 6th, I said it again February 13th. I’ve covered that comprehensively and I really don’t think there’s anything I could add,” McConnell said.
Trump’s own lawyers during his impeachment trial in February offered conflicting opinions about whether the attack on the Capitol amounted to an insurrection.
One of his attorneys, Bruce Castor, argued on Feb. 12 that “clearly, there was no insurrection.”
“‘Insurrection’ is a term of art defined in the law, and it involves taking over a country, a shadow government, taking the TV stations over, and having some plan on what you are going to do when you finally take power. Clearly, this is not that,” Castor said.
But a day later, another member of Trump’s defense team, Michael van der Veen, stated: “The question before us is not whether there was a violent insurrection of the Capitol. On that point, everyone agrees.”