There are dark dates in American history that we as a nation will never forget. The Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Nov. 22, 1963, the day an assassin’s bullet killed President John F. Kennedy. Sept. 11, 2001.
Jan. 6, 2021, the day violent insurrectionists — egged on by a sitting president — swarmed the nation’s Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 elections, surely belongs on that black list.
Yet a year after a mob desecrated the U.S. Capitol building and threatened the lives of elected officials, staffers and police, there are still plenty of Americans — including influential political leaders — who continue to downplay the event and long to see it pushed into a corner where it will die, unexamined. Such gaslighting cannot succeed.
One of the most oft-repeated — and ludicrous — descriptions of the attack came from Andrew Clyde, a Republican congressman from Georgia, who compared it to “a normal tourist visit.” Such a statement would be laughable if America wasn’t watching the attacks play out in real time on TV.
False narratives have continued to flourish in the year since the insurrection, promulgated by those involved in the attacks, conservative politicians, right-wing media sites and Donald Trump himself, who tweeted his love for the rioters and continues to falsely claim that the 2020 election was fraudulently stolen from him, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Don’t believe the lies.
“They’re trying to whitewash history,” said U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, who was in the Capitol during the insurrection.
“I was rushed to a secure room with the rest of my colleagues not because of a foreign terrorist attack but because of a domestic coup attempt spurred on by the president,” said Moulton, a former Marine captain who served four tours of duty in Iraq. “This is something I never imagined would happen in the United States.”
U.S. Rep Lori Trahan was at the Capitol last Jan. 6, huddling with staff members in her barricaded office, watching rioters burst through steel fences, break windows and pry open doors to enter the building.
“It’s still hard for me to relive it,” Trahan, a Westford Democrat, told Statehouse reporter Christian Wade. “It’s difficult to think about how deeply under threat our democracy was that day.”
Five people died, including a Capitol police officer. Insurrectionists swarmed through the building, some carrying zip-ties used to bind hands and feet, some vandalizing the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, others searching for Vice President Mike Pence, who they perceived as a traitor for not signing on to the scheme to invalidate Joe Biden’s presidential win. A rioter walked through the halls of Congress carrying the Confederate flag. In all, the people’s building suffered some $1.5 million in damage.
The damage to democracy, however, is incalculable, in that it makes violence seem like a solution when the facts don’t support your case.
“The legacy of the Capitol riots is that violence, or the threat of violence, has now become the norm for this kind of political strategy,” Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert and former Homeland Security official under former President Barack Obama, told Wade. “That’s something we haven’t seen since the Civil War.”
More than 725 people have been charged in connection with the attack. A Jan. 6 investigative committee of lawmakers has been working for months gathering evidence that will be presented in public hearings this year. Left virtually untouched thus far, however, have been those who fomented it.
“You had this influencer class of right-wing propagandists, working together to get out disinformation about the election,” said Luke O’Brien, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “Meanwhile, you’ve got a whole contingent of elected officials in Congress and elsewhere who were amplifying this disinformation and putting a stamp of authority on it.”
He told Wade that gave a “green light” to extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.
“By themselves they don’t have the numbers to overthrow our democracy,” O’Brien said. “They needed to activate a mob, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Without a full accounting of what happened that day — which includes prosecution of all involved, be they a “lowly” rioter or a high-ranking elected official — there is a great risk of a repeat.
“Some Republicans have already called for violence if they don’t see results they want in next year’s elections,” Trahan said. “This is not episodic violence. It can happen again. And that’s why getting to the truth of what happened is so important.”