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‘Normal tourist visit’: Republicans recast deadly Jan. 6 attack by pro-Trump mob

House Republicans at times defended the Jan. 6 Capitol mob with false statements and said the attacks were not an insurrection during a May 12 hearing. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

A previous version of this story incorrectly said an officer had his eye gouged out during the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol. The story has been corrected to reflect that the officer said his eye was gouged during the attack and another officer later lost an eye.

Several House Republicans on Wednesday tried to recast and downplay the events of Jan. 6, comparing the mob that breached the Capitol to tourists, railing against law enforcement for seeking to arrest them and questioning how anyone could be sure the rioters were supporters of President Donald Trump.

The Republicans’ distortions about the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812 defy the well-documented reality of what occurred that day — 140 police officers were injured, some bludgeoned with flagpoles and baseball bats, with one officer’s eye gouged, another later losing an eye; rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” and erected a gallows on the Capitol grounds; and members of the House and the Senate were rushed to safety in secure locations for several hours. The attack resulted in five dead.

The comments by a handful of House Republicans came during a congressional hearing with former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, former acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III, focused understanding the security lapses that allowed the Jan. 6 attack to happen.

A handful of Republicans used their time to defend the actions of those who stormed past security barricades and broke into the Capitol with the intent of stopping the affirmation of Joe Biden’s election victory. Trump repeatedly and falsely has claimed widespread fraud resulted in a rigged election.

Shortly before the hearing got underway, House Republicans voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) from caucus leadership, after she broke with the party in repeatedly denouncing Trump for his false election claims.

Rep. Andrew S. Clyde (R-Ga.) downplayed the events of Jan. 6 as “acts of vandalism” and suggested it was a “boldfaced lie” to call what happened that day an “insurrection.”

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos, pictures,” Clyde said. “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

41 minutes of fear: A video timeline from inside the Capitol siege

Once inside, rioters attempted to break into the House chamber, punching and busting glass, resulting in the death of Ashli Babbitt, whom police shot when she attempted to climb through a shattered glass door. Others went in search of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), chanting, “Where’s Nancy” while pounding on the doors of her office as her terrified staffers huddled in an interior room.

The comments from several of the Republicans echoed Trump’s alternative reality of what occurred on Jan. 6. In an interview with Fox News in March, Trump said that the attack posed “zero threat” and that his supporters “went in — they shouldn’t have done it — some of them went in, and they’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know? They had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in and they walked out.”

A few Republicans chastised the FBI for seeking to identify and arrest everyone who breached the Capitol that day. Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) accused the Justice Department of “harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”

“Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters,” Gosar said. “The FBI is fishing through homes of veterans and citizens with no criminal records and restricting the liberties of individuals that have never been accused of a crime.”

In a line of questioning with Rosen, who repeatedly told the congressman that he could not comment on specific cases and pending investigations, Gosar asked Rosen whether Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died hours after defending the Capitol, was killed by the rioters.

“Officer Sicknick was there acting in the line of duty and went into harm’s way, and I think, as others have said, he acted as one of many heroes that day,” Rosen said.

Early reporting said Sicknick died of a head injury, but a D.C. medical examiner said last month that the officer had suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters during the Jan. 6 insurrection. It is unclear to what extent if any the events of that day may have contributed to his death.

Alternatively, Gosar said Babbitt had been “executed.” Babbitt defied police warnings not to attempt to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, which connects to the House floor. The officer who fatally shot her was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

How the rioters who stormed the Capitol came dangerously close to Pence

Another Republican suggested the rioters, who marched to the Capitol from the “Stop the Steal” rally after Trump encouraged them to go there and “fight like hell,” may not have been Trump supporters.

“I don’t know who did they poll to say that they were Trump supporters,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), adding that the attack was premeditated and so could not have been incited by Trump.

Some rioters draped themselves in Trump flags. Many wore Trump’s signature red Make America Great Again gear. Many of their social media accounts were filled with baseless pro-Trump claims about the 2020 election.

The House impeached Trump on a charge of “incitement of insurrection.” He was acquitted by the Senate, though 57 lawmakers found him guilty.