The death toll from Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud is murky, ranging from one to seven depending on how you count. Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran shot as she tried to climb through a window near where members of Congress were evacuating during the riot on Jan. 6 is the one indisputable death. Without Trump’s false claims about the election there’s no massive rally on that day in that place, no mob overrunning the building and no one breaking the window where Babbitt died.
Other deaths are less direct. Two people died of natural causes in the midst of the mob; another from what a medical examiner called “amphetamine intoxication.” Three police officers died in the aftermath of the riot, including two who took their own lives. Officer Brian D. Sicknick was thought to have died as a result of injuries sustained during the attack; it was later determined that he died of natural causes.
That, then, is an estimation of the number of people who have died as a result of Trump’s false claims about the election, claims that are now a central point of belief for his party. What is not clear is how many more people might die because of them.
On Monday, the right-wing youth organization Turning Point USA had an event during which founder Charlie Kirk took questions from members of the audience. At one point, a bearded man asked one, as seen in video obtained by Media Matters.
“At this point, we’re living under corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny,” he said. “When do we get to use the guns?”
Members of the audience applauded.
“No, and I’m not — that’s not a joke,” he continued. “I’m not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”
Kirk’s response was not, as you might hope, a strident rejection of the premise. He argued that an embrace of violence was what the left wanted, allowing for the creation of “Patriot Act 2.0.” (The original Patriot Act was not a project of the political left, as some will recall.) When the questioner asked “where the line” was, Kirk didn’t say that there was no line that would warrant the use of gun violence for political purposes, instead suggesting that the next step was for states to reject federalism.
We’ve pointed this out before, but it’s important to reiterate it now. The problem with these false claims of election fraud — these false, nonsensical, debunked, irrational, garbage claims of election fraud — is that people believe them. They believe them because they trust the people making the claims, like Trump or Kirk. They believe them because people who know they’re false think it’s useful to pretend they aren’t. People believe that the 2020 election was stolen because Trump insists that it was because he’s embarrassed it wasn’t. Because Trump’s allies went along with it so he wouldn’t be mad at them and so that they could rationalize new limits on voting.
But if you actually believe this happened, then you’re in the position of that guy in the audience. If you think the election was stolen and that no one is doing anything about it, it’s natural to wonder why more isn’t being done. That was clearly part of what unfolded on Jan. 6 itself: A lot of people who thought the election had been stolen were convinced that being at the Capitol at that time afforded them the chance to do something. They were told the election was stolen and they accepted that, and then Trump told them the time and place where intervention was needed. So they showed up.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) made a similar point on former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s podcast Tuesday.
“The real truth is the communist revolution that the Democrats funded and waged every single day and every single night in American cities all across our country,” she said, misrepresenting last year’s protests centered on the death of George Floyd. “You see, that was an attack on innocent American people, whereas Jan. 6 was just a riot at the Capitol. And if you think about what our Declaration of Independence says, it says to overthrow tyrants.”
Just a riot at the Capitol — and one somehow rationalized by the Declaration of Independence. After all, it’s not like Joe Biden won the election fairly.
This is not the first time that Greene has downplayed the violence on that day or celebrated those who engaged in it. She has repeatedly suggested that those arrested for their roles in the violence were unfairly targeted, at one point referring to them as “prisoners of war.” She is also the legislator who, in a photo of freshmen legislators taken a few days before the riot, wore a face mask reading “stop the steal” — a slogan centered on the false claims of fraud. At another point, her mask read “Trump won.”
Trump didn’t win. Donald Trump lost. Those are words he loathes hearing, so he’s done everything in his power to pretend they aren’t true. And as a result, his supporters injured scores of police officers at the Capitol, and several gave their lives. As a result, frustrated supporters are wondering out loud when they get to murder the people Trump is saying stole the election. As a result, those musings are greeted not with condemnation but applause.
This is not a trajectory on which the death toll doesn’t grow.