The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The latest GOP efforts to bury Trump’s insurrection call for a tougher response

Trump supporters storm the Capitol on Jan. 6. (John Minchillo/AP)
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The prospects for a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection are looking increasingly grim. Republicans are pretending they have substantive objections to the makeup of the committee, and a lot of people are pretending to believe them.

Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continues to hope for a compromise on the commission’s structure that Republicans will accept.

If this must continue, here’s how Democrats should proceed. In a broad sense, they should commit to an approach that embodies three basic premises:

  1. The assault on the Capitol happened because then-President Donald Trump incited it.
  2. The mob was inspired by Trump’s months of effort to overturn the results, which he unambiguously intended to do, and by months of lies about the outcome’s legitimacy amplified not just by Trump but also by large swaths of the GOP.
  3. The single greatest threat posed by political radicalization in this country comes from violent right-wing extremism.

Republicans are eager to obscure these fundamental truths, which have been widely documented. As long as that continues, Republicans cannot credibly participate in any genuine accounting into what happened.

The Post sums up the standoff:

Congress’s pursuit of an independent investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection is facing long odds, as bipartisan resolve to hold the perpetrators and instigators accountable erodes, and Republicans face sustained pressure to disavow that it was supporters of former president Donald Trump who attacked the U.S. Capitol.

What’s crucial is that this “sustained pressure” Republicans feel to whitewash the role of Trump and his supporters is shaping their demands on the commission’s structure.

Early on, Pelosi proposed that the commission should examine everything that led up to the attack and to the effort to disrupt the election’s conclusion and the peaceful transfer of power. Her initial suggestion noted that lies about the election inspired what happened.

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But Republicans balked. If the commission looks at the role of right-wing extremism in the attack, they said, it must also look at all forms of domestic extremism, including the left-wing type.

Republicans have also objected to a Democratic proposal to give four commission appointments to each party’s congressional leadership, plus three to President Biden, instead demanding equal representation. But Democrats note that the Republican president incited the attack, giving Republicans an incentive to use equal representation to gum up the works.

Now Pelosi is declaring that she has developed another compromise, without saying what it is. And Republicans are expressing skepticism that their objections will be met.

But their objections cannot be met in a way that’s compatible with conducting a full accounting.

The GOP’s deranged anti-leftism

To grasp the full import of this, let’s look at the GOP demand for an investigation into left-wing violent extremism in its larger context. The ongoing claim of a dire left-wing threat has been central to the story Republicans have told about the election and the assault for months. It continues to serve as justification for their ongoing attack on democracy in multiple states.

In 2020, Trump had his top national security officials help fabricate an organized left-wing terror threat for him to campaign against. When Trump encouraged his right-wing paramilitary goons to prepare for a struggle over the results, he explicitly cited the “antifa” menace to rally them.

After the attack, Trump and his allies — including senior Republicans in Congress — falsely claimed in various ways that antifa was behind the attack, and others dismissed it as a false-flag operation. The hyped leftist threat has inspired endorsements of political violence from the likes of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), which Republicans largely declined to punish.

In reality, FBI director Christopher A. Wray recently clarified that antifa was not in the ranks of the rioters, and that the attack was indeed carried out by Trump supporters. And an independent study recently confirmed far-right groups are behind most recent domestic terrorist attacks.

The extreme left is making us do it

Meanwhile, the right-wing narrative has metastasized into the even-more-pernicious idea that if Republicans must resort to all manner of anti-democratic tactics and abuses of power, it’s because the extreme left made them do it.

A recent Tucker Carlson segment suggested that virtuous conservatives might be pushed by leftist extremism into fascism. And over the weekend, Florida’s GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, insisted Republicans might justifiably use legislative power to punish private companies for protesting GOP voter suppression, because they’re executing the agenda of the “extreme left.”

In the background to all this, the Big Lie of the stolen election is animating GOP voter-suppression efforts across the country.

On still another front, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) notes that Trump himself has begun to downplay the attack. Trump recently insisted rioters were “hugging and kissing the police.” Raskin asks whether Republicans might feel even more pressure to keep whitewashing the event.

“The Big Lie continues and grows with Trump’s claim that these violent insurrectionists are the victims of persecution,” Raskin told me. “That’s sharply inconsistent with any fact based investigation of the Jan. 6 attacks.”

In the end, you cannot disentangle the GOP’s ongoing radicalization from their continued flirtation with the lie about the stolen election and the refusal to acknowledge its central role in inspiring the attack, or from the hallucinatory depiction of the leftist terror threat that’s coursing though all of it.

The battle over the commission is constantly portrayed as devolving into “partisan” politics. But only one side actually wants a real accounting. This wildly lopsided imbalance will remain until Republicans are prepared to fully renounce all those pathologies. And Democrats shouldn’t hesitate to say so, clearly and forcefully.

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