When Republicans commit themselves to spreading a lie, they don’t do it halfway. The latest lie that Republicans are going big on—and one that they’re determined to keep alive—is rewriting what happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. Republicans—both the high-level ones selling the lie and the base voters buying it—have a whole bunch of fraudulent ways to claim that we didn’t see hordes of flag-waving Trump supporters forcing their way into the Capitol, injuring and even killing police officers, trying to hunt down Mike Pence and members of Congress.
Maybe all those people carrying Trump flags were “undercover antifa people,” as pillow salesman Mike Lindell put it on Newsmax as the attack was underway. Fox News personality Laura Ingraham echoed that suggestion, saying “I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets, black helmets, brown helmets, black backpacks—the uniforms you saw in some of these crowd shots.” The reality of who’s been charged with crimes, of course, shows how false this is. Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, yes. Enthusiastic Trump supporters who are not members of organized hate groups, yes. Military veterans and former police officers, yes. Antifa and Black Lives Matter, no. (One person who’s been charged has claimed to embrace Black Lives Matter, but Black Lives Matter organizers in his area say he is not allied with them and they don’t trust him; he also has Proud Boys ties.)
Ingraham’s Fox News coworker Tucker Carlson has suggested that it’s unfair to call it an “armed insurrection,” a claim echoed by Sen. Ron Johnson, who told The New York Times, “When I think armed, I think firearms. And yeah, we don’t know. I have no idea. That’s one of the questions I’ve got is, how many firearms were seen, were confiscated? How many shots were fired?”
As we know, police failed to arrest most of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6, allowing them to leave and then tracking them down later. So the question of how many firearms were there is impossible to answer. Police officers on the scene thought the answer was a lot. “I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns—we had been seizing guns all day,” D.C. officer Daniel Hodges told The Washington Post. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”
Seven of the people arrested before and during the attack accounted for a dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, as well as 11 Molotov cocktails. With most people not having been searched, “I’d speculate that there were many, many more firearms that were there that were not uncovered,” a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent told NBC News.
Additionally, firearms are not the only possible arms that can be involved in an armed insurrection. We know that Capitol attackers carried stun guns, brass knuckles, bear spray, and more, as well as wielding flag poles, police barriers, and fire extinguishers as weapons.
Another Republican myth about the Capitol attack—one that Sen. Ron Johnson embraced at length during a Senate hearing—has a mixture of “provocateurs” and “fake Trump supporters” and a few right-wing militants driving the attack, which otherwise was basically a benign gathering. In his new New York Times interview, Johnson appeared to back off of the provocateur angle a little bit. He’d read during the Senate hearing from a first-person account in The Federalist, and he now simultaneously defends the account’s reliability as a source (“It just looks like [the author] had a pretty good background. This is an instructor, focusing on this type of psychological type of warfare and that type of thing. So he seemed to be a knowledgeable observer”) while also acknowledging that “it appears if there was any preplanning by groups, it was white supremacist groups, like the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, that type of thing.”
Just in case they can’t downplay the whole thing as a jolly unarmed gathering of Trump supporters spoiled by a few people—whether those few people be antifa or Oath Keepers—Republicans have another plan: Blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Rep. Jim Jordan is on that case, tweeting “Capitol Police requested National Guard help prior to January 6th. That request was denied by Speaker Pelosi and her Sergeant at Arms.” Except that no one in a position to know how the discussions prior to Jan. 6 went—not Steven Sund, the former U.S. Capitol Police chief; not Paul Irving, the former House sergeant-at-arms; and not Michael Stenger, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms—has said Pelosi was consulted about whether to call on the National Guard. And a video of the moment Pelosi was asked about it, on the afternoon of Jan. 6, shows her immediately saying yes. Jordan is lying, and as with so many things, Jordan is speaking for the House Republican caucus.
The new Republican big lie about the Capitol attack has its foundation in the previous Republican big lie—the one claiming the election was stolen from its rightful winner, Donald Trump. All those Trump supporters who weren’t armed and didn’t overrun the Capitol were just there, they say, because of their very reasonable questions about the election. Those election lies were a major topic at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, the big lie supported by a hundred little lies, about the dozens of court cases Team Trump lost, about voting machines (those lies now the subject of a whole new set of court cases, in this case with voting machine manufacturers suing prominent Republicans for huge amounts of money), about “mysterious late-night ballot dumps” that were in fact normal vote-counting in urban counties. All those lies, coming from Donald Trump himself as well as Republican senators and House members and pundits and lesser Trump family members, then get recycled into the claim that even though the attack on the Capitol didn’t happen like it happened, if it had, it would really have been kind of reasonable because people have “questions” about how the election played out. The “questions” that the lies of prominent Republicans instilled in them.
Republicans are building lies on lies on lies, and each time you try to puncture one lie, they bring up another one to support it. The entire party is a con.