Happily for Clyde, his colleague Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) came along Friday to reset the bar for dishonestly downplaying the events of that day, which resulted in multiple people dying and scores of law enforcement offers being injured.
“I just want the president to understand,” he said: “There have been things worse than people without any firearms coming into a building.”
The context for his remarks was the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — both incidents in which, yes, thousands died and that, yes, manifested a significant threat to the United States. Compared with enemy aircraft bombing a naval fleet, or airplanes hitting skyscrapers, yes, the attack on the Capitol lacked a certain level of violence. But that does not mean that the attack on the Capitol wasn’t an attack on democracy or that the attack on the Capitol wasn’t dangerous.
Imagine that burglars smashed a window of your house while you were asleep, came inside, and took family heirlooms and expensive laptop computers. A friend of yours who is a cop shows up to take the report.
“Well,” she tells you, “this is still better than when your parents were killed in that car accident or when you were falsely arrested for embezzlement. You’ve gone through worse than having some uninvited guests.”
Gohmert’s approach here is so clumsy and obvious that we could make a parlor game out of his reducing the events of Jan. 6 to their most anodyne components. Let’s call it the Gohmert Game. You take a major historical tragedy — say, the sinking of the Titanic — and describe it accurately in a way that makes it seem like no big deal: “Hundreds of people continued their trip to the United States on another cruise liner.”
The Black Death: “No longer was Europe faced with a labor surplus.”
The Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco: “Who could complain about freeing up extensive stretches of valuable bayside real estate?”
When you’re out at the bars tonight, feel free to play this game with your friends.
The most important part of Gohmert’s comments was the contextualization: There have been worse things. The entire stated point is to downplay what occurred Jan. 6. That he has to include the “without guns” qualifier to tacitly acknowledge that plenty of those who broke into the Capitol did a lot of bodily and material damage reinforces that point. Gohmert wants us to think this was all no big deal.
Why? It’s clearly in part because of how closely the events of Jan. 6 are tied to President Donald Trump and the political harm that might follow from having the head of your party foment an insurrection. By casting the rioters as an at-times overenthusiastic group of patriots, the entire thing is scrubbed of its most problematic elements.
For Gohmert, though, there’s a more immediate concern. In the weeks before the riot, he was an active and vocal supporter of Trump’s false claims about the election being stolen. Gohmert elevated even the most ludicrous theories, such as the utterly ridiculous idea that vote totals had been funneled through Germany and then manipulated for some reason. Gohmert was there for that whole period, clapping along to every beat.
He also filed a last-minute lawsuit aimed at somehow forcing Vice President Mike Pence to block the finalization of Joe Biden’s victory. When a federal judge rejected the idea for a thousand obvious reasons, Gohmert was incensed.
He appeared on Newsmax to discuss the ruling.
“Bottom line is, the court is saying: ‘We’re not going to touch this. You have no remedy,’" he said — “basically, in effect, the ruling would be that you got to go the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM.”
The “violent as antifa and BLM” line is a reference to right-wing rhetoric that often casts the Black Lives Matter movement as inherently violent and that identifies antifa — a loose-knit group of activists that opposes what it views as fascist actors — as a near-existential threat to the country. Both BLM and antifa were elevated by Trump and other Republicans as the 2020 election approached for having prompted violent riots across the United States, though later research made clear that such violence was the exception, not the norm.
Gohmert’s point, though, was that his legal loss left only violence as an outlet for blocking the election. He said that Jan. 2.
In other words, it’s useful for Gohmert personally to downplay what happened Jan. 6 because he obviously contributed to the national conversation that energized it. He is probably saying that worse things have happened because it’s so trivial to link him directly to this particular bad thing. It’s a bit as though your friend the police officer had told the burglar which window to break without waking you up.
Gohmert really shouldn’t worry, though. I mean, Benedict Arnold sold out his country to the British in the Revolutionary War. Joe McCarthy led a years-long effort to uproot communists that destroyed numerous lives and poisoned the national conversation.
I just want Gohmert to understand: There have been things worse than people standing at a lectern talking about buildings.