When 21 House Republicans voted against honoring the police officers who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, a number of them offered a wretched but revealing excuse: The measure defined what happened as an “insurrection,” and this must not be permitted.

The Republican effort to rewrite the history of the insurrection has taken many forms, but at its core is something very fundamental. It’s an effort to deny that Donald Trump actually did incite a mob of his supporters to employ intimidation and violence for the express purpose of overturning the outcome of a free and fair election, to seize a second term as president illegitimately.

Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, one of those 21 Republicans, had an extraordinary encounter with D.C. police officer Michael Fanone in the Capitol on Wednesday that unmasks the deeper pathologies driving that effort to sanitize Jan. 6 in a new and unsettling way.

The Post has now interviewed Fanone and obtained new details about the encounter. Fanone, who was injured on Jan. 6 and has since been harshly critical of Republicans, says he boarded a Capitol elevator with Clyde and extended a hand.

Clyde — who recently went viral for likening Jan. 6 to a “normal tourist visit” — declined to shake hands, claiming not to know Fanone’s identity. Fanone then introduced himself as a “police officer” who “fought to defend the Capitol,” and described his injuries. Whereupon this happened:

“His response was nothing,” Fanone said. “He turned away from me, pulled out his cellphone and started thumbing through the apps.”
Fanone said Clyde turned on the camera app but did not point the phone in his direction. Fanone said he believes Clyde was trying to record audio of the encounter.
“After that, I just simply stood there,” Fanone said.
He said Clyde bolted when the doors opened.

One of the most widely echoed hot takes on all this is that Republicans are prioritizing Trump over the police who protect them. Another is that Republicans only honor cops selectively, particularly when Black Lives Matter activists are protesting against them.

But something much more elemental is at play here. Why is Fanone such a problem for Republicans?

House Republicans at times defended the Jan. 6 Capitol mob with false statements and said the attacks were not an insurrection during a May 12 hearing. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Because Fanone is demonstrating with uncommon clarity that at a basic level, a large swath of Republicans, in aligning themselves with Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, also aligned themselves with lawlessness and civic breakdown, against democratic stability and the rule of law.

This is the fundamental truth that Republicans want to erase from public memory. Fanone has made this a lot harder: He has done numerous high-profile interviews denouncing Republican efforts to rewrite this history, calling them “lies” and “bulls--t.”

Clyde, to be sure, represents a particularly malevolent strain of this effort to rewrite the history of Jan. 6. His “normal tourist visit” nonsense is up there with other similarly disgusting claims: that the rioters were “peaceful patriots,” that there’s no clear proof they were Trump supporters, that Trump didn’t actually incite them, that Black Lives Matter activists are far more threatening.

Plenty of Republicans have not gone to such ugly places. Some Republicans have even been willing to blame Trump for inciting the attack, though they have tended to go mute since then.

But Clyde’s posture is widely shared among Republicans in a more fundamental sense. Like Clyde, a very large number of Republicans are devoted to maintaining the impression that it’s not all that crazy for GOP voters to believe there just might be something suspect about the 2020 results.

Clyde was one of the Georgia Republicans who falsely suggested there had been widespread election fraud in his state. But many other Republicans are in the same basic place.

About 140 House Republicans voted to invalidate President Biden’s electors. Republicans everywhere keep suggesting GOP voters are right to lack “confidence” in the 2020 outcome and in our election system. Republicans in numerous states are using this claim to justify an escalation in voter suppression tactics. Republicans are happy to allow sham examinations of the vote to continue in Arizona and Georgia, and Republicans are taking those efforts to other states.

In other words, very much like Clyde, much of the GOP not only actively fed the belief that a grand injustice had been done, which helped inspire the attack on the Capitol; they want those pathologies in some sense to live on.

And this has worked. As William Saletan’s review of polling shows, many Republican voters are still deeply in thrall to those pathologies.

Fanone is a walking embodiment of the horror that unfolded when a mob of Trump supporters acted on perceptions of that invented injustice, perceptions that much of the GOP is responsible for helping to create.

For obvious reasons, Fanone is a highly sympathetic figure, which is why he’s such an effective messenger in this regard. But he has also been effective because he’s telling large truths, and everyone knows it. Which is exactly why Clyde ran away from him.

Watch the latest Opinions video:

The U.S. health-care system is broken, but do other countries have it better? Seven leading health economists and public policy experts weigh in. (James Fox/The Washington Post)

Read more: