The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most Republicans still believe the dangerous falsehood at the heart of Jan. 6

Trump supporters participate in a "Stop the Steal" rally in Phoenix on Nov. 7, 2020. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Reuters released a report last week that might have been overlooked in the holiday season lull. Its reporters collected more than 850 threatening messages left for election workers in 16 states in the wake of the 2020 elections. Two hundred of the messages were categorized by Reuters as “wishing death” on the person receiving the message.

“Watch your back,” one read. “I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, I SEE YOU SLEEPING. BE AFRAID, BE VERRY AFRAID. I hope you die.”

This is a relatively tame example.

I have not said what the trigger for the threats and vituperation was, but you already know. “Virtually all expressed support for former President Donald Trump,” Reuters said of the messages, “or echoed his debunked contention that the election was stolen.”

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That report came out on Thursday. On Friday, the Texas Tribune published an indirectly related update.

“The Texas secretary of state’s office has released the first batch of results from its review into the 2020 general election,” it reported, “finding few issues despite repeated, unsubstantiated claims by GOP leaders casting doubts on the integrity of the electoral system.”

You may not have been aware that Texas was conducting a review of its votes. After all, Trump won the state, and his and his allies’ claims of fraud have been almost entirely centered on states where he lost, as though the “grand conspiracy” of Democratic interference worked flawlessly in states he lost narrowly and didn’t exist in ones where he barely succeeded. But there’s political capital to be earned from repeating Trump’s false claims about fraud, even in red states, so an investigation was launched. And, as usual, it found nothing remarkable.

Over and over. There was that months-long, highly scrutinized audit in one county in Arizona, the one that failed to re-tally the votes cast so they would land in Trump’s favor but instead cobbled together a new set of “questions” (most of which had already been answered). There was the review of Michigan’s votes conducted by a Republican-led committee — which failed to find any evidence of significant fraud in the state’s vote tally. A similar review conducted by a conservative group in Wisconsin came to the same conclusion about that state’s vote. There have been repeated reviews in Georgia, the target of a coordinated effort to overturn the results, as documented by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But the only reasonable conclusion from the effort is that nothing questionable actually happened there.

Sitting on top of all of this was a review conducted by the Associated Press. Its reporters reached out to elections officials in six states that Trump has repeatedly accused of conducting flawed elections. In total, the AP found fewer than 500 votes that might — might! — have been questionably cast (or that were prevented from being cast in the first place). That’s out of 25.6 million votes cast.

It’s impossible to rationally reconcile those reports from the AP and from Reuters. Both measure different parts of the same question: the elections fairly conducted by election officials and the abuse they endured when the results weren’t what Trump wanted. But how could the former result in the latter?

You know the answer to this, too. It’s because Trump repeatedly misrepresented what happened, even before anything happened in many cases. It’s because Trump has been engaged in a pattern of dishonesty that is approaching its second anniversary, his claims about potential fraud in the 2020 election having begun in the spring of that year. As the months have passed, what we’ve learned has all pointed in the same direction that things pointed originally: There was no significant fraud in the 2020 election, much less to the extent that might affect the results in a state and much less to the extent that Trump was somehow denied a rightfully earned victory.

The violent culmination of Trump’s false claims came a year ago Thursday with the attack at the Capitol. In light of that anniversary, The Washington Post partnered with the University of Maryland to evaluate how Americans considered the events of that day. What we learned was disconcerting, although not surprising: Most Republicans still adhere to the untrue idea that the election was stolen by fraud.

To be clear, most Americans reject the idea that the election of Joe Biden was not legitimate or that there’s solid evidence that fraud occurred, both obviously false assertions. But most Republicans hold both of those views or, at least, say they do. Some of this may be performative, saying that Biden wasn’t legitimately elected because, like, Facebook did something or whatever. For many, though, this is simply what they believe: Fraud happened; evidence be damned.

If that didn’t surprise you (which, by now, it shouldn’t have), this might. Asked how much responsibility Trump bears for the attack at the Capitol last year, nearly half of Republicans said he bears no responsibility at all. Nearly three-quarters think that he bears either no or just some blame.

This is an entirely different surreality. To believe that rampant, election-upending fraud occurred is one thing, almost requiring an active decision to ignore scads of readily available evidence. But recognizing that violence occurred at the Capitol at all requires understanding Trump’s culpability. Perhaps you think that his anger was warranted or that the election was stolen, but you cannot deny that Trump encouraged people to believe those things through repeated public statements, and you cannot deny that Trump drew people to Washington on that day.

Many no doubt draw a distinction between setting the conditions for the violence to happen and the trigger that initiated the violence itself. This is the Jersey gangster “I just said it would be a shame if something happened” defense. It also does not explain the near-50-percent who absolve Trump of blame entirely.

On Monday morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that law enforcement agencies are focused on nebulous threats associated with the Jan. 6 anniversary.

“An intelligence assessment said ‘threat actors will try to exploit the upcoming anniversary’ to promote or commit violence, according to a person familiar with it,” the Journal reported. “The document warns that conspiracy theories about election fraud that contributed to the riot ‘continue to resonate among domestic violent extremists and could again inspire some to commit violence.’ ”

In the poll by The Post and U-Md., 4 in 10 Republicans said that violent action against the government is sometimes justified. The danger lingers, as does the lie.