The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Marjorie Taylor Greene says Jan. 6 riot was in line with the Declaration of Independence

‘If you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants,’ Greene said. If past is prologue, we shouldn’t be surprised if this catches on.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) greets supporters during a Trump rally last month in Georgia. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The GOP’s attempt to rewrite the history of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has come full circle.

Initially, pretty much everyone agreed it was very bad to violently try to overturn an American election. Then some Republicans said that it wasn’t an insurrection at all — and that most of the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol were something akin to overzealous, persecuted tourists exercising their constitutional rights.

Now, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has offered a rather novel take on all of this: Yes, maybe it was indeed a riot seeking a violent re-installation of Donald Trump as president, but that’s what America was founded upon.

We probably shouldn’t undersell how insidious this could be, especially if past is prologue.

During an appearance on conservative outlet Real America’s Voice, Greene repeated a frequent GOP talking point that the real focus of congressional investigators should be violence at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. But while doing so, she essentially suggested the Capitol riot comported with our Founding Fathers’ vision.

The racial-justice protest violence “was an attack on innocent American people, whereas January 6th was just a riot at the Capitol,” she said. “And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.”

Greene added: “So there’s a clear difference between January 6th and the Marxist-communist revolution that antifa, BLM, Democrat ground troops waged on the American people in 2020.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the notion that violence perpetrated at racial-justice protests deserves more attention. (The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has dealt with this.) The real point here is that, almost as an aside, a Republican member of Congress talks about the Capitol riot as if it’s just how things work — something even our founders implicitly provided for in our earliest founding document.

There is no question the founders saw a place for violent efforts to combat and rid themselves of tyrants as a last resort. But they also had some, well, legitimate reasons — lots of them. The Declaration of Independence lays out 27 grievances, including King George III inflicting things such as taxes and standing armies upon them without allowing them representation. The document also notes that the colonies had repeatedly and peacefully sought a redress of the grievances, with no luck.

Therein lie two rather important differences. None of the grievances laid out in the declaration included fantastic and baseless claims of widespread voter fraud. And unlike back then, the false grievance that motivated the Capitol riot did indeed get a proper hearing — in courts, in public opinion and in a Congress in which representatives of those who disagreed with the result had a vote to try to change this alleged wrong.

Breaking all of this down lends it more credence than it deserves. But while it’s easy to dismiss Greene’s comments as the rantings of one of the GOP’s most extreme members, also consider how much such members have been leading indicators of where the conservative movement (and many members) would ultimately land.

For months after Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by a police officer during the riot — and even though video of it emerged almost instantly — few on the right raised concerns about it. Then Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), who is perhaps the one congressman who outflanks Greene on the GOP fringe, began talking about it like it was a murder. Today, even relatively standard-issue Republicans have echoed the claims. Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.), who when he was chosen by the GOP for the Jan. 6 committee this summer was thought to have been a rather acceptable pick for Democrats, is now also calling it a “murder.”

The effort to rehabilitate the other people who stormed the Capitol has followed a similar progression. During a House hearing in May, far-right Republicans such as Gosar and Reps. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.), Pat Fallon (R-Tex.) and Jody Hice (R-Ga.) tried all manner of ways to downplay the riot. They compared it to a “normal tourist visit” and suggested the people involved were simply misguided misfits or even, in Gosar’s estimation, mostly “peaceful patriots.” This is around the time when the idea that those prosecuted for unlawfully entering the Capitol were being persecuted began to catch on. Today, it’s an article of faith in much of the GOP.

Ditto the effort to recast the riot as not being an “insurrection.” It clearly was, by definition. Even Trump’s impeachment defense acknowledged that basic fact back in February. But since then, even some of the most high-ranking Republicans have suggested that label doesn’t really apply.

The point is that these things have a tendency to catch on. They do so because GOP leaders are reluctant to rebuke those in their midst who might hold a view that only a passionate minority of the party base holds. They do so because acknowledging the reality of Jan. 6 can’t help but legitimize Congress’s investigation of it, which Republicans don’t want for transparently political reasons.

And suggesting the Capitol riot was in line with our founders’ vision for the country dovetails neatly with all of the above — especially the effort to excuse or downplay the actions of the Capitol rioters. The problem, of course, is that when you tell people that such things are okay or patriotic, you kind of encourage them to do it again.

It’s also worth emphasizing that, after the Capitol riot, the likes of Greene explained that their pre-riot comparisons of Jan. 6 to 1776 weren’t literal calls to arms. That’s a little more difficult to accept now.