In that instance, he was referring not to the riot that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but to a loud crowd of protesters that gathered outside the White House during last year’s Republican convention. At that point, there was no violence, though some attendees at the event, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), were accosted by the crowd.
In his new book, Meadows reportedly takes a different approach to the far more serious and destructive protest that unfolded earlier this year. According to the Guardian, Meadows complains that the focus following the day was not on the Trump supporters who showed up “without hate in their hearts or any bad intentions” but instead on “the actions of a handful of fanatics across town.”
No one focuses on how good the food on the Titanic was either.
This little two-step — don’t conflate the peaceful rally at the White House with the attack at the Capitol! — is by now as familiar as it is often ironic. Meadows, like other Trump allies, was quick to equate peaceful Black Lives Matter protests last year with vandalism or violence that occasionally ensued. Those occasions in which violence occurred were not just a focus of the preceding peaceful protests but often used to describe all such protests, even ones at which no vandalism had occurred. (People “all over the country” were “worried that their communities are no longer safe because of Democrat activism,” Meadows said in that same Fox interview in August 2020.)
But Meadows does something else here. He tries not only to redirect attention to the rally at the White House but also tries to downplay the scale of the violence itself. So far, nearly 700 people have been arrested for their alleged roles in the riot, a handful only for some Brobdingnagian hands. That doesn’t include those currently sought by federal law enforcement or the thousands of others who were at the Capitol as the riot unfolded. Many of those who were at the White House later went to the Capitol, blurring an already blurry line.
Meadows’s comments also try to cast those who were involved in the violence that day as outliers, weirdos who took things too far. Unfortunately, that is becoming a less-popular position within his party.
The pollster YouGov has asked Americans about the riot at the Capitol several times over the course of the year. When it asked in January as part of a poll conducted for the Economist, 80 percent of respondents said that they somewhat or strongly disapproved of the Capitol being overtaken. When they asked again in September, that figure had fallen sharply: At that point, only about 6 in 10 viewed the events with disapproval.
That’s almost entirely because of a softening of opposition from Republicans. In January, three-quarters of Republicans viewed the actions with disapproval. In September, fewer than half did. What’s more, 3 in 10 viewed the takeover with at least some approval.
Of course, the broader context is that Meadows’s former boss was engaged in a largely successful months-long effort to mislead his supporters about the results of the 2020 election. In Monmouth University polling released last month, nearly three-quarters of Republicans said that they believed that President Biden was only elected due to voter fraud, an obviously false belief that is almost entirely a function of Trump’s dishonest rhetoric.
But if you incorrectly believe that the election was stolen, it’s understandable that you might not see the violence on Jan. 6 as “fanaticism.” When Monmouth asked if respondents thought the anger that led to the riot was justified, most Republicans said that to some extent it was.
Trump has spent nearly two years making false claims about the election, both in planting the seeds for his fraud claims and then in nurturing them. His dishonesty stoked that anger and his calls for action brought people to Washington. The unanswered question, one that one hopes remains unanswered, is how many more people might have been willing to engage in similar violence on that day had they been in Washington.
Both motive and opportunity were needed and only a few thousand people had the opportunity. Many seized it. Polling suggests that the motive — that “fanaticism” — is much more widely held.