Within a few hours, though, the same House Republicans reinforced just how necessary that conversation is — and how they had just applied a tiny Band-Aid to a gaping wound.
Over and over again at a hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, House Republicans defended the people who stormed the Capitol and lodged conspiracy theories about what truly happened that day. Much of it was disprovable or completely baseless. Plenty of it ran counter to what their own leaders have said about that day.
Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) certainly took the cake. He claimed what happened that day was “not an insurrection” and said at one point that video of the day’s events showed it looked like a “normal tourist visit.”
The video we’ve seen of that day, though, showed no such thing. There were certainly people who were not violent and might have stumbled into participating, but police officers were overrun, attacked and beaten. People died. Windows were broken and barricades overwhelmed. There were menacing chants about finding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and hanging then-Vice President Mike Pence.
In addition, just because insurrectionists are inept or unsuccessful doesn’t mean they aren’t insurrectionists. Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Tex.) echoed Clyde’s point, asking rhetorically, “Was Jan. 6 an insurrection, or could it be more accurately described as a mob of misfits committing disorderly conduct, violent injury, civil disorder, vandalism, unlawful entry, etc.?”
Merriam-Webster defines an “insurrection” as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” This was 100 percent that. This was intended to overturn a democratic election with no evidence that it was wrongly decided. Being a “misfit” doesn’t mean that’s not what you’re doing.
Clyde’s Georgia colleague, Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), offered his own novel argument for why Trump wasn’t at fault.
“Now, let’s keep in mind that the location where the president started his speech — where the speech took place — it’s a 45-minute walk from that location to the Capitol,” Hice said, noting that breaches of barricades around the Capitol took place around the time Trump’s speech ended at 1 p.m. He added: “It would have been about 2 o’clock before the earliest attendees of Trump’s speech could have arrived at the Capitol. … Where is the real narrative in all of that?”
Let’s set aside the long-debunked idea that Trump’s speech is the only thing that could have incited the rioters. (Even those who preplanned could well have been acting on Trump’s previous rhetoric about violence by his supporters and a “stolen” election narrative.) Does the timeline even make sense?
Not at all.
First, it’s less than a 45-minute walk from the Ellipsis to the Capitol.
Second, the Capitol itself wasn’t breached until after 2 p.m. — indeed, a little more than 45 minutes after Trump’s speech ended.
And third, the earliest breaches of the Capitol perimeter did occur around the time Trump’s speech was wrapping up, but they were also much closer to the Ellipsis (it was a big perimeter), meaning it would have taken less time to get to them. Trump’s speech included plenty of early rhetoric that could have logically spurred such action by people who didn’t stick around for the whole thing — especially if they knew Congress was in the process of accepting the electoral college results and time was of the essence.
Not to be outdone by his timeline claim, Hice continued to say, “In fact, it was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.”
The scenes led to at least four deaths. The D.C. medical examiner has said that two people died of cardiovascular disease, while another died of amphetamine intoxication, and a fourth was fatally shot while trying to break into a crucial area of the Capitol (after shouts that police had a gun on the other side). Police officer Brian D. Sicknick was later ruled to have died after suffering two strokes. Trump allies have pointed particularly to the latter incidents as evidence that it wasn’t caused by the riot, but what are the odds that five people involved in such scenes die of things completely unrelated to those scenes? It’s unthinkable.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) continued the effort to deflect blame by rehashing an old claim that perhaps there were provocateurs involved.
“I don’t know who did a poll that it’s Trump supporters,” Norman said of those who stormed the Capitol.
After hundreds of arrests, there remains no evidence that those who rioted were anything but that — and plenty of evidence that they did so in support of Trump, by their own admissions.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, who was appointed by Trump, also testified under oath in March, “We have not seen evidence of that at this stage” regarding any fake Trump supporters involved. And again, he said: “We have not seen any evidence of that.”
The last claim we’ll spotlight here came from Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), who echoed Clyde’s arguments about the supposed non-nefariousness of those who stormed the Capitol (despite video evidence to the contrary). Gosar said the Justice Department, which has charged hundreds in connection with the Capitol riot, was “harassing peaceful patriots across the country without accurate answers.”
Except even those who entered the Capitol after those who broke glass and overran police were quite possibly doing so illegally. It is a crime to “knowingly enter or remain in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so,” including “with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”
When versions of these theories began to rear their heads in February, I wrote about “the emerging hoax-ification of the Capitol riot.” As the situation in Charlottesville showed us, the passage of time leads to increasingly convenient recollections, at best, and increasingly plausible lies, at worst.
But Wednesday’s efforts by some Republicans clearly trended in the latter direction. They understandably don’t like the narrative that this has been laid at the feet of the former president they support, but that allegation is hardly without evidence. And claiming that those involved in the Capitol riot were, in any significant measure, non-Trump supporters or even Trump supporters who were just peacefully protesting or didn’t believe they were acting on his orders is belied by basically all of the evidence.
The motivation to oust Cheney is readily apparent: Republicans have a good shot at retaking both chambers of Congress in 2022, despite all the shenanigans of Trump’s presidency. Power is right there for the taking. Why allow a rift on Trump’s role in the future of the party?
But that’s a naked political strategy rather than one that addresses real, conspiratorial problems within the GOP ranks — problems that Trump seemed to devote himself to exacerbating. What Wednesday’s events showed us is that Republicans can try to paper over all of that and hope it goes away, but doing so comes with a cost — perhaps not necessarily for the party, but certainly for an honest accounting of what just happened with our democracy.
And that cost was almost immediately reinforced, thanks to those who were emboldened by the excommunication of a colleague who had the temerity to call it like it was.