Three months after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, Democrats and Republicans alike are responsible for a shameful failure to respond as hopes fade for a comprehensive review of the deadly assault on the seat of our government.
A new attack on the complex by a lone actor took the life of another U.S. Capitol police officer on Good Friday, a tragic reminder of the ongoing threat to the force itself and the lawmakers they sacrifice to protect.
While various congressional committees are investigating Jan. 6, there is no consensus for establishing a 9/11-style commission as the parties bicker over the rules and scope. NBC reported last month that lawmakers are “growing increasingly pessimistic that an agreement on establishing a commission can be reached,” and Sen. Roy Blunt, a GOP leader, said that his “instinct is it isn’t happening.”
Given the threat of future political violence, with the Capitol again as a target, a comprehensive review is necessary to ascertain the way the attack came together -- both spontaneously and through coordinated planning -- and why the compound was so vulnerable to the siege.
Back in February, even Trump loyalist Sen. Lindsey Graham said he supported a full commission to learn what happened, ensure it can’t happen again, and “make sure the Capitol footprint is better defended” should there be another attack. His GOP colleague Sen. Bill Cassidy agreed, saying he wanted to know why there wasn’t adequate law enforcement present: “There should be a complete investigation about … what was known, who knew it, and when they knew it.”
The 9/11 commission, titled The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, conducted interviews with more than 1,000 people, reviewed 2.5 million pages of documents and took two years. The group was evenly split between the parties, with equal subpoena power.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to stack a Jan. 6 commission with more Democrats than Republicans. She has proposed President Biden appoint three members and then the four congressional leaders each name two, which would mean Democrats would have three more members than Republicans would have.
Meanwhile, many Republicans, starting at the top with former President Trump, are downplaying the insurrection or -- worse -- recasting the story of the tragic day.
GOP leadership has rightly criticized Pelosi’s proposal. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it “a partisan play,” while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was “partisan by design.” True. But McConnell insisted any commission probe left-wing groups like antifa that were not involved in the attack, and that is BS by design.
Republican lawmakers rarely speak of Jan. 6, few have condemned it, and some, such as Sen. Ron Johnson, have actually questioned whether the mob was made up of Trump supporters. And of course, the nearly two-thirds of the House GOP conference that voted to decertify the election outcome, just hours after the attack, aren’t pushing for a commission. Twelve GOP lawmakers voted against a resolution to bestow the Congressional Gold Medal on the U.S. Capitol Police and the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department because the word “insurrectionists” was in the resolution.
Meanwhile, Trump is busy gaslighting conservative media audiences and his supporters about the assault. Last month he acknowledged that hundreds have been charged and said “some things should happen to them,” but blatantly lied about the events on Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News Channel.
“It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat,” Trump said. “Look, they went in, they shouldn’t have done it,” he continued. “Some of them went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know, they had great relationships, and a lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”
All of that vigorous scrubbing is working well with his supporters, and has helped GOP officeholders desperate for his help in 2022 whitewash Jan. 6 as another protest gone awry. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows roughly half of Republican voters see the insurrection as nonviolent or a foil by left-wing extremists to “make Trump look bad.” The same survey shows six of 10 GOP voters believe Trump’s lies about a stolen election, and that fewer than a third of them believe Trump was at all responsible for inciting the riot.
Two injured Capitol Police officers think otherwise, and have sued the former president in Federal District Court for $75,000 in damages each. Their complaint blames Trump not only for inciting an “insurrectionist mob” with election lies he told “over many months,” but also for failing to “take timely action to stop his followers from continued violence.” The complaint includes details of the physical and emotional trauma the two men sustained in the attack, including that as one was physically crushed while being sprayed with chemicals that burned his throat, eyes and skin, a rioter yelled that he was “disrespecting the badge.”
The Capitol Police collectively is despairing after the death of officer Billy Evans on Friday, the injuries and the emotional toll of Jan. 6, too much overtime and plummeting morale as their ranks thin from the cumulative stress on the 2,000-person force. The chairman of their union told the Associated Press that the officers are “reeling,” and that hundreds of them are seeking early retirement or looking for other jobs.
In total, 140 officers were injured on Jan. 6, assaulted by a supposedly pro-cop mob that included several current and former members of law enforcement. A Washington Post report last week about a former Utah police “officer of the year” being charged in the riot, noted that such arrests for participating in the attacks “have raised alarms about the presence of right-wing extremists among the rank-and-file of police departments across the country.”
More than 300 people are facing federal charges, more than 20 of whom are connected to right-wing extremist groups and militias. Congressional Democrats are considering the idea of a new domestic terrorism czar to serve under the director of national intelligence as intelligence officials have testified that the nation faces a burgeoning domestic terror threat from such groups.
There are also questions about the role members of Congress played in the insurrection. Rep. Mo Brooks, who spoke at the Save America Rally that day with President Trump, called it “the day patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” He railed against “socialist Democrats” who were destroying the country and said, “We’re going to stop them. … We are not going to let them continue to corrupt our elections and steal from us our God-given right to control our nation’s destiny.”
Later Brooks was upset that the rioters, whom he called “fools,” distracted from the efforts by himself and others to decertify the election.
“We were going to have a debate on the House and Senate floors about voter fraud and election theft and that message, those facts, did not get out though the news media. ... The news media was absorbed by the attack on the United States Capitol,” he said.
Brooks was named by Ali Alexander, an organizer of the Save America Rally who set up a “Stop the Steal” website on Nov. 4, as one of the three members of Congress (along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs) he worked with to encourage crowds at the Capitol that day. Through staff, Brooks denied knowing Alexander.
Alexander, now banned from Twitter, had tweeted on Dec. 8, “I am willing to give my life for this fight.” That was dangerous lunacy on its own, but shortly afterward the Arizona GOP retweeted Alexander and asked, “He is. Are you?” It also tweeted a clip from one of the "Rambo" films, with a quote from it: “This is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something.” This is also dangerous lunacy. From a state party.
After the insurrection, Gosar attended a white nationalist conference where organizer Nick Fuentes -- also involved in the “Stop the Steal” movement and in planning for the protests -- described watching the insurrection with delight: “I said to myself, ‘This is awesome!’” Fuentes added, “To see that Capitol under siege, to see the people of this country rise up and mobilize to D.C. with the pitchforks and the torches -- we need a little bit more of that energy in the future.”
How many more prominent or credible messengers -- on social media, in state parties and in the U.S. Congress -- were encouraging violence as a means of overturning the election results and still are? What kind of precedent have they set for future elections?
Rep. Liz Cheney, who survived a challenge to her leadership post after voting to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection, is one of the few voices in the GOP who seems concerned.
Speaking recently at a Reagan Institute event, Cheney said it was “very” important “for us to ignore the temptation to look away,” and “especially for us as Republicans, to make clear that we aren’t the party of white supremacy.” Cheney spoke directly to the connection between her party and extremist groups. “You saw the symbols of Holocaust denial, for example, at the Capitol that day. You saw the Confederate flag being carried through the rotunda, and I think we as Republicans in particular have a duty and an obligation to stand against that, to stand against insurrection.”
And few House Democrats have pushed back against Pelosi for imperiling the prospects of a commission, as has Sen. Chris Coons. A close ally of President Biden who often speaks on behalf of the administration, Coons said the commission needs to be balanced. “The leaders of the 9/11 commission have said part of why it was so successful was that it was even, it was balanced, and it was led by folks who were well-respected and well-regarded, who had a reputation for working across the aisle,” Coons told CNN in February.
More Democrats should urge Pelosi to propose an evenly split panel, while more Republicans should step up to protect the Capitol and build a record for history, one they know saw a mob chasing down our vice president, who just barely escaped to safety while they screamed, “Hang Pence!”
This shouldn’t be glossed over, excused, diminished or forgotten.
Cheney, Coons and a few others cannot, by themselves, overcome our diseased politics that have rendered members of a Congress unable to take care of the concerns of its constituents, and unable to take care of their own security or the health of our democracy.