january 6 committee

Republicans Exonerate Trump by Whitewashing January 6

“Legitimate protesters” on January 6, 2021. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Those who have been following the impressively methodical narrative- building of the House select committee investigating January 6 have to wonder why rank-and-file Republicans have been unmoved by the growing evidence of Donald Trump’s criminal culpability before, during, and after the Capitol riot. Are they off somewhere watching reality shows and crying la, la, la, can’t hear you! when the January 6 hearings are mentioned? Is the Fox News–imposed boycott of the hearings working?

Actually, there’s plenty of evidence for a more sinister interpretation of Republican rank-and-file sangfroid about January 6: More and more of them have decided it wasn’t a riot, much less an insurrection, but an act of “legitimate protest,” according to a Monmouth poll. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explains:

The poll asked people in June 2021 and June 2022 whether each of those labels were appropriate descriptors for what transpired on Jan. 6, 2021. And the GOP shifts are pretty uniform:

* While 33 percent of Republicans said in June 2021 that Jan. 6 was an insurrection, that number is now just 13 percent.

* While 62 percent of Republicans called it a “riot” back then, that’s down to 45 percent.

* While 47 percent said it was a “legitimate protest,” that’s now up to 61 percent.

This change in perception seems to have begun even earlier, as Blake notes, citing CBS News/YouGov findings from both right after the Capitol riot and a year later:

While in January 2021, 56 percent of Republicans understood Jan. 6 as an attempt “to overturn the election and keep Donald Trump in power,” that number dropped to just 33 percent by December. That’s a remarkable number of people who accepted a pretty vanilla statement about reality and then, nearly a year later, abandoned it.

However you measure it, the effect of this whitewashing of January 6 is unmistakable: If the attack on the Capitol was an act of “legitimate protest,” then it doesn’t matter what Trump and his cronies did to enable, plan, or execute these events. And all the painstaking evidence the House select committee has put together is just noise based on the partisan notion that something sinister was going on that day. Yes, there are still some Republicans alarmed by the mob’s actions, and most of them haven’t gone so far as to embrace Georgia Congressman Andrew Clyde’s characterization of the Capitol riot as a “normal tourist visit.” But the trajectory toward historical revisionism is unmistakable.

When Donald Trump was on trial in the Senate on impeachment charges arising from the attack on the Capitol, Mitch McConnell spoke for many Republicans in blasting Trump’s conduct in no uncertain terms but asserting that his conviction after leaving office was unconstitutional. Other Republicans argued Trump was pretty much an innocent bystander. Here was Ted Cruz: “Donald Trump used heated language, but he did not urge anyone to commit acts of violence … This impeachment trial did nothing to bring the domestic terrorists who committed this heinous attack to justice.” A few Republicans in Washington tried to pretend the attack was some sort of Reichstag-fire provocation staged by antifa or other leftists (another claim the January 6 committee is in the process of demolishing). But the idea that nothing bad really happened was not something you heard very often. Now, it’s becoming the conventional wisdom among Republican voters.

It has taken a lot of misinformation and self-deception to produce this level of mass amnesia. But it could definitely blunt the impact of what we have learned and are about to learn from the House select committee or from future criminal proceedings generated by the U.S. Department of Justice or Georgia’s Fulton County district attorney. If Team Trump and his friends at the Capitol with the confederate flags and the tactical gear and the Viking horns were just exercising their First Amendment rights of speech and assembly on January 6, who could hold them accountable for any collateral damage? Nobody but witch-hunting socialist Democrats.

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Republicans Exonerate Trump by Whitewashing January 6