Last weekend at the urging of a friend, I watched a new HBO documentary called “Four Hours at the Capitol.” It’s about the January 6th attack, and frankly I wasn’t expecting to see much footage that I hadn’t already seen on news programs and in the New York Times’ “Day of Rage” video (which did a great job chronicling much of the action on the ground).
My expectations were quickly exceeded, however, as there was actually quite a bit of new, brutal video — some of it taken by rioters. Frankly, the imagery got my blood boiling all over again.
Scenes included some “Proud Boys” slamming a guardrail into a female police officer and knocking her head-first onto cement steps, the bloody savagery of what became known as “the battle for the tunnel,” terrified congressional staffers scrambling to hide from the coming mob, the deranged lunacy of brainwashed rioters (including Ashli Babbitt), and a closer (and rawer) look at the hell that Officer Michael Fanone went though.
Conservative writer George Will took some heat a few months back when he said, “I would like to see January 6th burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11 because it was that scale of a shock to the system.”
His big mistake, of course, was likening the Capitol attack to one of the most consequential events in world history — a day that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocent people and drew us into a decades-long conflicts in the Middle East.
Almost nothing compares to that.
But he was right in that January 6th is a day that Americans should never forget. It marks a deadly attack on our democracy and constitution, provoked by a sitting president’s months-long effort to steal an election. And we as Americans should have a vested interest in making sure it doesn’t happen again.
Unfortunately, that interest is hard to find within large swaths of the political right, including those who still identify as constitutional conservatives.
Among the Washington establishment, come-to-Jesus moments of sobriety that arose from that day have since relapsed back into partisan drunkenness. Nearly every GOP leader who initially condemned President Trump’s role in the attack has since downplayed (or even outright dismissed) what happened. Heck, they’ve even gone on the sharp offensive against their Republican colleagues whose voices they previously echoed.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has led this effort. After originally assigning blame to Trump, and calling for a January 6th commission, he looked at base polling, quickly folded like a cheap suit, and decided that people like Liz Cheney were the real problem. He has since not only worked against all efforts to hold the former president accountable, but also against the formation of a congressional committee to investigate the events of that day… including the balanced, bipartisan committee that he himself had ordered to be negotiated.
Of course, the political brilliance in rejecting a truly bipartisan committee — especially in our era of microscopic attention spans — was that is cued up Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create a politically lopsided one that Republicans and right-wing pundits could then delegitimize for being… well, politically lopsided.
The effort has been somewhat successful —to the point where top-rated Fox News hosts are even stunningly comfortable mocking the testimony of police officers who were beaten that day, while polls show that Republican voters are actually more inclined to blame President Biden for January 6th than they are Donald Trump. Yes, President Biden.
Last week, all but nine House Republicans (at the direction of GOP leadership) voted against a contempt referral for Steve Bannon’s ignoring of a congressional subpoena to testify before the select committee — a position for which there is no legitimate defense beyond pure, self-serving, political ass-covering.
As Congresswoman Nancy Mace (one of the nine Republicans who voted to hold Bannon in contempt) said, “Congress has certain powers, and they are an important check on the other branches of government. Congress must have the ability to provide broad oversight, conduct investigations and make use of its subpoena power, just as we have throughout our nation’s history.”
Mace reminded her colleagues and constituents that Republicans used that same power to investigate Benghazi, and compel then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify before Congress. She also noted that the Benghazi committee was created in the exact same way as the January 6th committee.
“…we didn’t let a single person just walk away from our process,” she added.
Yet, all but eight of her Republican colleagues voted to do just that when it came to Steve Bannon, a former Trump strategist.
Bannon had a role in organizing the January 6th event, and he’d had multiple conversations with Trump about the event, in its lead-up. On January 5th, a day before the attack, Bannon even seemed to have a good idea of what was about to happen when he talked on his podcast about a “revolution,” and how “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
In other words, he’s a person worth questioning under oath.
Two weeks after the attack, in one of his final acts as president, Trump pardoned Bannon of criminal charges relating to a fundraising scam involving the border wall — a scam that most people reading this had probably forgotten about.
Going into the 2022 elections, Republican leaders are hoping that same forgetfulness will extend to January 6th, as ongoing reminders of the attack could make a very likely Republican take-over in the House a bit more complicated.
The problem here won’t be the Republican base, of course. As A.B. Stoddard of Real Clear Politics writes, they’ve mostly already moved on, having largely accepted an alternate, trivialized retelling of that day:
“Things have changed since the assault on the Capitol that may have led to the deaths of nine people and injured 140 police officers. For Republicans, there is now political danger in acknowledging the harms of that day. Not only has the event been shrugged off on the right, but a coverup is underway. Trump has successfully rebranded the insurrection as a ‘protest’ and has labeled the Nov. 3 election last year ‘the insurrection.’ Polls show Trump’s approval has rebounded and GOP voters now increasingly view Jan. 6 as no big deal and the fault of the Democrats and President Biden. That more than 600 rioters have been charged in the attack, largely citing Trump as the inspiration for their participation, is — to Republicans — just another meaningless ‘alternative fact.’”
But those are the political considerations, and it’s the politics that continue to stand in the way of a serious institutional accounting of that day. Beyond the threats against our democracy, there are multiple people who would assuredly be alive right now if not for the dishonest, irresponsible, and perverse efforts of individuals (not just Trump) whose actions leading up to that day, and on that day, still aren’t fully known.
In other words, it’s worth it to get this right. I believed the same thing when I advocated for the Benghazi committees and investigations. And one can recognize the importance of getting this right, while also recognizing (as I have and will continue to in my writing) our current president’s many screw-ups and ridiculous servility to the progressive left. These are separate issues.
For the sake of the country, we should remember the seriousness of January 6th, demand institutional answers for that day, learn from those answers, seek accountability, and then let it become just part of our history.
Sean Coleman is back in John A. Daly’s upcoming thriller novel, “Restitution.” Click here to pre-order.