Heather Cox Richardson from Letter from an American

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June 8, 2022

Heather Cox RichardsonJun 9

Today, the Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio complained to reporters that there have been “two standards” in the way we have seen the vandalism at some of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and the January 6 insurrection. “We have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re going to make that a major deal.”

This is a common charge on the right, but it is a myth. An AP study showed that more than 120 defendants have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial for rioting, arson, and conspiracy for the 2020 protests, and that they are from all over the political spectrum, with many of them far-right extremists who traveled across state lines to the protests. And the January 6 attack was hardly victimless: 5 people died at the Capitol riot or just after it, more than 100 law enforcement officers were injured, and the rioters did more than $1.5 million in damage to the Capitol.

What happened on January 6th was not a “dust-up.” It was an attempt to overturn our democracy and install as president someone who had lost the popular vote and the Electoral College, upending the Constitution that is the law of our land.

As a report from the Brookings Institution put it: “President Joe Biden legitimately won a fair and secure 2020 presidential election—and Donald Trump lost. This historical fact has been uncontroverted by any evidence since at least November 7, 2020, when major news outlets projected Biden’s victory. But Trump never conceded. Instead, both before and after Election Day, he tried to delegitimize the election results by disseminating a series of far-fetched and evidence-free claims of fraud. Meanwhile, with a ring of close confidants, Trump conceived and implemented unprecedented schemes to—in his own words—“overturn” the election outcome. Among the results of this “Big Lie” campaign were the terrible events of January 6, 2021—an inflection point in what we now understand was nothing less than an attempted coup.”

Part of the crisis in which we find ourselves today is that many people don’t understand what is at stake in the hearings, in part because commentators have turned the attempt of Trump and his supporters to overturn our democracy into a mud-wrestling fight between Democrats and Republicans rather than showing it as an existential fight for rule of law. Today in his Presswatchers publication, Dan Froomkin explored how U.S. news organizations have failed to communicate to readers that we are on a knife edge between democracy and authoritarianism.

Froomkin notes that journalists have framed the January 6 hearings as a test for the Democrats or as a waste of time because they will not change anyone’s mind or perhaps because no one cares. He begged journalists not to downplay the hearings and present them as a horse race, but to frame the events of January 6 in the larger context of Republican attempts to overturn our democracy.

Tomorrow night, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol will hold its first hearing to explain to the American people what happened at the end of the Trump administration. The hearings will be broadcast on C-SPANABCCBSCNNMSNBCNBCPBS, and the Fox Business Channel and streamed on the YouTube channel of the House Select Committee on June 9, 13, 15, 16, 21, and 23.

We have some idea of what the hearings will entail.

According to committee member Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the hearings will establish that the attack was the result of “concerted planning and premeditated activity.” The hearings will show who was behind the January 6th attack on the Capitol, ultimately connecting the attack to Trump and his closest aides. Raskin told the Washington Post that “we are going to tell the story of a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election and block the transfer of power.”

As the Brookings report put it: “Trump attempted to retain power by any means necessary.” He prepared to argue that the election was stolen long before it took place on November 3, 2020. Trump’s stories about voter fraud shifted and were inconsistent, and he “was repeatedly told by trusted advisors, experts, and courts that there was no fraud.”

Committee members have said there will be new evidence produced at the hearings, and new information has been dropping all week.

We learned that Trump expressed great interest in the Insurrection Act, which enables the president to call out the military to put down an “insurrection” or a “rebellion.” Court filings say that members of the Oath Keepers expected Trump to invoke the act to enable them to fight against those counting the electoral votes for Joe Biden.

We also learned that Trump badgered his Secret Service detail to permit him to walk with his supporters to the Capitol building after his speech at the Ellipse on January 6.

We have learned that Republican officials in at least 11 places in Michigan breached local election systems to try to prove that the 2020 election was stolen, and that the citizen initiative petition to limit voting rights in order to combat “fraud” had about 20,000 fraudulent signatures on it. In addition, there were allegations that petition circulators had lied to voters to get them to sign the petition, a practice that is legal in Michigan despite the attempts of Democratic lawmakers to prohibit it.

And, crucially, we learned that the Trump campaign told the fake electors in Georgia to operate in “complete secrecy.” The apparent plan of the Trump plotters was to get fake electors to present an uncertified slate of electoral votes that gave their state to Trump, rather than to Biden as voters had chosen. But, as a Trump official wrote in an email: “I must ask for your complete discretion in this process. Your duties are imperative to ensure the end result—a win in Georgia for President Trump—but will be hampered unless we have complete secrecy and discretion.” The official asked the electors to avoid the media and to lie to security guards about why they were at the statehouse. This email suggests the plotters knew they were acting illegally.

But perhaps the biggest sign that the hearings will turn heads is how hard Trump Republicans are trying to distance themselves from it, or to create a distraction.

Significantly, a piece in the New York Times by Peter Baker, published today, distanced Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump from the debacle of the Big Lie that Trump had won the 2020 election. “No matter how vociferously Mr. Trump claimed otherwise, neither Mr. Kushner nor Ivanka Trump believed then or later that the election had been stolen…. While the president spent the hours and days after the polls closed complaining about imagined fraud in battleground states and plotting a strategy to hold on to power, his daughter and son-in-law were already washing their hands of the Trump presidency,” the story reads.

If the former president’s daughter and son-in-law, both key White House advisors, are now trying to distance themselves from the events of January 6, perhaps the panic in the party more generally was best demonstrated today when the Republican National Committee responded to news of a man looking to harm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It sent out an email with the subject heading: “The Democrat SCOTUS Assassin.”

In his comment today about January 6, for which he later apologized, Del Rio claimed he just wanted to “apply the same standard,” and “to be reasonable with each other” and to “have a discussion.” The open-mindedness he calls for is a perfect approach to this month’s hearings.

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