Three years after Jan. 6, Republicans have really gaslit themselves

Three years after the spectacle of rioters storming the Capitol played out on television screens across America, the events of Jan. 6 are now highly open to interpretation depending on one’s partisan lean.

For Democrats, it’s generally clear that a mass of MAGA supporters, provoked by Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election, launched a violent attack on the Capitol in an effort to interrupt certification of the 2020 election and the peaceful transfer of power. That, of course, is what happened, as has been proven by the sweeping Jan. 6 congressional investigation and hundreds of convictions.

Republicans, who have had to gaslight their way to an acceptable narrative, appear to believe some combination of the following fabrications: 1) the Jan. 6 violence was justified because Joe Biden’s victory was illegitimate (i.e. Democrats stole the election); 2) Jan. 6 was mostly a peaceful protest (a narrative driven by right-wing talker Tucker Carlson, among others); and 3) the Jan. 6 violence was organized and instigated by FBI plants.

Since the outset of his 2024 campaign, Trump has openly embraced the MAGA rioters, launching his latest presidential bid in Waco, Texas, a city synonymous with extremist lore. The event kicked off with a variation of the national anthem sung by Jan. 6 convicts—or “hostages,” as Trump prefers to call them. Trump has pledged to pardon some or possibly even all of those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection if he is elected president in November.

“Trump heading into the 2024 election has decided to go all in as being the pro-Jan. 6 candidate,” counterterrorism expert and Jan. 6 investigator Tom Joscelyn told NPR. “He’s gone full steam ahead in praising and in his own way endorsing the Jan. 6 rioters and extremists who attacked the Capitol.”

Yet outside of Democrats and pro-Trump Republicans, many Americans aren’t as settled about what took place on Jan. 6 and why. A sizable swath, in fact, would simply rather move past the Capitol attack as a bygone unpleasantry.

But as President Biden wages his reelection campaign on the threat that Trump and MAGA Republicans pose to American democracy, it’s incumbent on Democrats and pro-democracy voters to relay a clear and direct narrative about what unfolded on Jan. 6 and who was responsible for the worst homegrown attack ever launched on the U.S. seat of government.

To that end, the progressive consortium Navigator Research has assembled a road map for how to discuss the Jan. 6 riot in ways that resonate broadly with voters.

Here are the nonpartisan explanations of the day that resonated with broad segments of the electorate as being most true and most concerning, according to Navigator:

  • More than 2,000 rioters ultimately broke into the Capitol, many of whom vandalized and looted parts of the building (69% true, 72% concerning).

  • Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted by rioters (64% true, 71% concerning).

  • Five people died as a result of the events on Jan. 6, including Capitol police officers (60% true, 75% concerning).

  • More than 1,000 people have been arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 (62% true, 66% concerning).

Navigator polling shows the Republican Party is currently viewed as more prone to political violence than the Democratic Party, but only by 11 points (47% to 36%). And nearly one in five voters remains unsure about which party is more prone to political violence.

With that in mind, Navigator fleshed out how to extend culpability for the Jan. 6 assault to congressional Republicans by raising concerns about their ongoing efforts to promote political violence. The group found that Americans’ top concerns with GOP conduct include that:

  • Congressional Republicans continue to allow the white supremacist factions present at the January 6th attack to play a dominant role in deciding the direction of the Republican Party (71% concerning, including 71% of independents).

  • Congressional Republicans voted against investigating basic facts about what happened at the attack at the Capitol building on January 6th (71% concerning, including 70% of independents).

  • Some Republican members assisted or encouraged the organizers of the attack on January 6th (70% concerning, including 73% of independents).

The 2024 presidential election is shaping up to be a rematch between the pro-democracy forces who elected Biden in 2020 and the pro-Trump forces who sought to overturn the will of the people.

Trump has left no doubt about his allegiance to the people who sought to stage an insurrection on Jan. 6 at his behest and congressional Republicans have left no doubt about their allegiance and submission to Trump as the party’s standard-bearer.

That puts the preservation of democracy, Jan. 6, and the broader matter of right-wing violence directly on the ballot this November. So it’s worth all of us making an effort to have one or two fast facts at the ready when our independent-minded friends and neighbors question the severity of the deadly Jan. 6 riot. Because if Trump wins, he and his allies will rewrite history—and alter the course of American democracy.

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