Walking the talk

For starters, they did ask—many times, starting before his term was even over, so don’t give me that “all they had to do was ask” bull.

The federal government tried and failed repeatedly for more than a year and a half to retrieve classified and sensitive documents from former President Donald J. Trump before resorting to a search of his Mar-a-Lago property this month, according to government documents and statements by Mr. Trump’s lawyers. (emphasis added)

The documents, including an unsealed, redacted version of an affidavit from the Justice Department requesting a warrant to conduct the search, make clear the lengths to which the National Archives and the department went before officials pursued a law enforcement action to recover the material.

The FBI knew that Trump had documents at his home in Florida that he was not supposed to have: he had already given them 15 boxes of official material in January of this year, and the FBI and the National Archives suspected there were more documents in Florida that should be returned to the government and that Trump was obstructing their efforts to retrieve them.  Why they thought that is undoubtedly in the redacted parts of the affidavit, parts we haven’t seen but which the federal magistrate judge did read and consider before approving the search warrant.

the affidavit states that the National Archives spent six months in the latter half of 2021 trying to get more documents. And then the FBI got involved. The Post…reported that all this year, Trump resisted handing much of anything over, to the point where his allies feared he was “essentially daring” the FBI to come after them.

Trump was also warned before he even left the White House that taking any official documents with him, let alone national secrets, was illegal under the Presidential Records Act. And even Trump’s attorneys agreed that the former president needed to give the documents back…

(snip)

Included in the paperwork with the affidavit was a formal notice that the redacted memorandum was being released. In it, the Justice Department writes that the redactions are necessary to protect “a broad range of civilian witnesses.”

“This language suggests that people inside Trump’s former administration, or at Mar-a-Lago, are providing information to the FBI,” [former federal prosecutor Barbara] McQuade said.

The redacted affidavit itself suggests that the investigation includes detailed monitoring of Mar-a-Lago to find out how many boxes of official material were still there and where they were being stored.

To be clear: the classified status of some of these documents is only part of the issue.  The laws make clear that no former president is permitted to take control of these types of records—”mere possession of these documents is a crime under some of the statutes cited in the affidavit, whether or not they are classified.”

Trump filed a legal motion this week, arguing that, as president, he had the right to declassify any classified documents and that his continued possession of the material was based on “executive privilege.” A judge should have no problem dismissing both arguments. First, while a president can declassify documents, there is a process for doing so; at the conclusion of the process, the special classified tabs and markings would be removed. Yet the tabs and markings are still on the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. Second, mere possession, much less declassification, of some documents, such as those marked OCORN, must first be approved by the originating agency. That doesn’t seem to have been done either. Third, a president—certainly an ex-president—has no executive privilege to hold documents that properly belong to the National Archives.

If you think about it, Trump’s argument that he had declassified the classified documents…doesn’t help.

On top of which, the whole “I raised my magic hand and the documents were declassified” argument has a distinctly “what excuse do they have today” air about it.

These actions by the FBI and the Department of Justice are reassuring: federal law enforcement is walking the talk about no one being above the law.  And to those who’ve been clutching their pearls for almost three weeks now at the audacity of the government for having the nerve to search the home of a former president, I think the best and easiest response is to say, we’ve never had any reason to believe that any other former president had ever committed acts that would call for government action like this.  But this guy has.  And if you’re straining to keep up with all the other investigations involving the former guy, here’s some help.

Fundamental dishonesty

It wasn’t a “driveway moment” because I wasn’t in my driveway, I wasn’t sitting in the car listening to the radio to hear the end of a story that had sucked me in.  No, I was still on the road headed home from the grocery store when I heard two words that broke through and provided some clarity of mind, finally, amid the onslaught of distressing rulings from the Supreme Court of the United States.

Just a week ago, the court’s six “conservative” justices ruled that a program in Maine that subsidizes tuition for certain private schools in rural areas of the state cannot exclude religious private schools from the program.  Two days later the same six found that a New York law placing strict limits on carrying guns in public violates the Second Amendment.  And the day after that, those same six members not only found that a Mississippi ban on abortions after just 15 weeks was constitutional, they went the extra step and overturned the nearly 50-year old precedent of their own court that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

The separation of church and state.  The rights to privacy, and to safety, individual liberty, and self-determination.  The targets of this Supreme Court and the “conservative” movement in general couldn’t be clearer.  With each new Republican-appointed justice on the court, and each new ruling by the new majority, they demonstrate their mission to remake America as a paradigm of Christian nationalism.  It seems clear that the decades-long mission to destroy the secular society that has grown up since World War II just can’t be denied, not even when the inconvenience of the facts gets in the way.

It was Nina Totenberg on the radio reporting on the ruling in favor of the high school coach who insisted on holding a prayer circle at midfield after football games, and Justice Neil Gorsuch’s opinion scolded the school district:

“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination. Mr. Kennedy is entitled to summary judgment on his religious exercise and free speech claims,” Gorsuch wrote.

The three dissenters said that account of the facts blinkered reality (emphasis added). Writing for the three liberals, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that Kennedy’s prayer was neither private speech, nor benign. She pointed to the fact that the coach conducted a media blitz leading ultimately to the field being stormed and students being knocked down. And she said “schools face a higher risk of unconstitutionally ‘coerc[ing] … support or participat[ion] in religion or its exercise’ than other government entities.”

“This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state,” Sotomayor wrote. “Today’s decision elevates the rights of a school coach who voluntarily accepted public employment, over the rights of students required to attend public schools and who may feel obligated to join in prayer.” In doing so, Sotomayor claims, the court gives “short shrift” to the constitutions ban on state entanglement with religion.

University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock usually files briefs siding with religion advocates. But not in this case. He called Monday’s ruling, “fundamentally dishonest” and pointed to the third sentence of the Gorsuch opinion, which characterizes coach Kennedy’s conduct as “quiet isolated prayers,” stating, “They weren’t quiet and they weren’t isolated. They were leading the students in prayer, and to say that’s okay undermines all the school prayer cases.” By that he means Supreme Court decisions barring teacher- or student-led prayers in public school classrooms, and ceremonies like graduation.

It was like a fire alarm went off inside my head: “fundamentally dishonest.”

Yes—the fundamental dishonesty of these justices, and of the Christian religious extremists who have been fighting the secularization of American society for generations!  They have had a winking understanding with a certain segment of America: anything is permissible—the end justifies the means—when it comes to returning America to be the Christian country we all “know” it should be, including lying under oath in order to gain positions of power.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the video of the confirmation hearings over the years of the “conservative” justices now on the court: is it just a coincidence that when the Senate Judiciary Committees asked these nominees about Roe v. Wade, these individuals had the same answer, in virtually the same words, words meant to leave the impression that they believed in the doctrine of stare decisis in general and specifically for this case?  I think not.

In a concurring opinion on Dobbs, Justice Clarence Thomas says the quiet part out loud about using the wedge they perfected in overturning Roe to take aim at other precedents that guarantee other rights to Americans.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote on Page 119 of the opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, also referring to the rulings that legalized same-sex relationships and marriage equality, respectively.Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous’ … we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

Just coincidence, right, that the other cases on his mind are the ones that guaranteed the rights to same-sex marriage, and same-sex sex, and the use of birth control.  BIRTH CONTROL!?  He wants to return to a time when the use of birth control by married couples in the privacy of their own home could be and was prohibited by states?  Who can even imagine such a thing?

I know who…so do you.  And I don’t take any comfort—at all—in the protestation from the other five “conservative” justices that “[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”  When there is fundamental dishonesty, I have doubts.

Enough

Joe Holley is a writer here in Texas with a background in newspapers and magazines right up to his own books.  He writes the feature column Native Texan in the Houston Chronicle about Texas places and people and history, and today he started off referring to “The Captured,” a history of frontier Texas telling the story of Anglo children captured by Indians in the late 19th century.  He uses it to touch on the harshness of life on the Texas frontier in those days, facing not only the Natives but the constant threat of disease, and outlaws, you name it.  And yet, Holley says,

…it’s only today’s Texas, our Texas, that experiences mass shootings in a suburban high school, in churches, a Walmart, an Army base, the streets of Midland-Odessa, a Luby’s Cafeteria and a small-town elementary school. Our frontier forebears, whatever their own travails, would have been aghast, unbelieving.

I’m wondering, why aren’t all of us today just as aghast and unbelieving?  Sure, with each new horror we mumble some hopefully appropriate words to express shock and disbelief, but are we really so surprised?  I mean, it just keeps happening, over and over again; can we really still be shocked, and really feel the emptiness in the pits of our stomachs that we ought to feel when innocent children are massacred with weapons meant for war on the battlefield?  This time, in Uvalde, it was fourth graders…nine and ten year olds; it was six-and-seven-year olds in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. ten years ago.  The Washington Post chose the almost arbitrary starting point of the Columbine shootings in 1999 and calculates that more than 311,000 American children, at 331 schools, have been exposed to gun violence at school in those years.  All the students in that time, right up through today’s college graduates, have normalized the grotesque concept of the active shooter drill as just a part of life.

Why would a person take a gun to a school and open fire at…some kids, ones they often don’t even know?  Why did I take a magnifying glass to school in the fourth grade and focus sunlight to burn holes in a classmate’s sweater I found hanging on a fence at recess?  Same response to both questions: who knows?  Short of finding that answer, we should be doing something to try to reduce the chances of our schools become killing grounds, and of our own children and those of our friends and neighbors becoming one of those small images in a large collection of class photos that identify the dead.

Holley recalls the 1937 natural gas explosion that killed some 300 students and teachers in New London, Texas, and that the Texas Legislature and then Congress responded to that by requiring the “odorization” of natural gas so future leaks could be detected before they became catastrophes.  What can we, through our elected representatives, do now to make a meaningful change in the normal course of business that will better protect our children’s lives when they simply go to school?

Among the common sense suggestions I’ve read since last week – and not that it hasn’t been suggested before – is that we stop letting children buy these guns legally.  Our laws prohibit those under age 21 from buying alcoholic beverages; why not guns, too?  Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who’s been working on gun restriction legislation since he represented Newtown in the House of Representatives, argues that “most of these killers tend to be 18, 19 years old.” and PolitiFact has rated that claim as Mostly True: “That’s largely accurate when looking at school shootings alone, according to a Washington Post database of school shootings since 1999. The database did include shootings that did not result in a death, and the share of teenagers committing mass shootings overall is smaller.”

Also judged to be Mostly True is the assertion last week by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, that “90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want universal background checks.”  PolitiFact finds that “For years, polls have shown a majority of Americans support gun background checks for all buyers. Some polls show overall support in the ballpark of 90%. Support is lower among Republicans (emphasis added), but polls still indicate majority backing” for a review designed to make sure that guns are not being sold to people who are not permitted under law to possess guns, people who have been “convicted of a serious crime or committed to a mental institution.”

No right guaranteed under the United States Constitution is absolute.  The law recognizes, even when some Americans don’t or won’t, that rights come with some limitations.  Even your right to life is not absolute, not if you are convicted of committing a crime for which the approved punishment is the loss of your life.  Your right to be free of government censorship of your expression of your thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean your speech can endanger the health and safety of others with impunity.  And none of us has an unrestricted right to gun ownership.

Please, let’s get creative.  Adding mercaptan to AR-15s won’t stop school shootings, but expanding background checks and limiting gun ownership by minors will help.  We’ve got to find something else that will make a difference.  We can’t just accept that this is the way things have to be, and there’s nothing we can do.  I don’t want to settle for the situation Holley found himself in as he finished up his phone call with the Uvalde County Judge, Bill Mitchell:

When it came time to hang up, I tried to tell him how sorry I was. My voice broke. So did his. Perhaps for both of us, the faces of those little kids swam into view.

We were two men of a certain age. We’ve seen much over the years. Words failed us.

Lie of the year

No hemming and hawing.  No ifs, ands or buts.  No maybes, or what-ifs, or allegedlies or it’s-been-reporteds.  None are needed, because there is no question of the facts of what happened: we all saw it with our own eyes, as plain as day.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald J. Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, turning the seat of American democracy into the scene of an unforgettable crime.

That’s PolitiFact’s lead on its 2021 Lie of the Year story, in which it lays out—as plainly as I’ve seen—the facts of what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and refutes the lies that Donald Trump and his worshippers have been telling about it.  On this anniversary of the worst attack on our government and our way of life in any of our lifetimes, take a few minutes to be reminded of what happened then, and what the people behind that attack have been doing ever since, as they continue to try to steal our democracy right out from under us.

You can read the full story at the link above, or right here:

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald J. Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, turning the seat of American democracy into the scene of an unforgettable crime.

Inside, lawmakers had been preparing to count the Electoral College votes that would bring Trump’s presidency to a close. Outside, the rioters erected a hanging gallows. They waved “Trump 2020,” “Blue Lives Matter” and Confederate flags. Some were armed.

After marching down Pennsylvania Avenue at Trump’s urging, the rioters had overwhelmed police surrounding the Capitol. They pushed past them, stripped them of their weapons, dragged them to the ground, sprayed them with chemical irritants, beat them, bludgeoned them, or tased them.

Through clouds of smoke, they broke down barricades. They scaled the walls. They shattered windows. Congressional staff took cover in offices and closets, piling furniture against doors as the crowd snaked through the building’s historic hallways. The rioters forced their way into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. They entered the Senate chamber. They reached the dais, where Vice President Mike Pence had sat moments earlier.

Network and cable TV, plus internet sites, broadcast it all live for hours.

Around the nation, people called friends and family as the attack unfolded right before their eyes, expressing a mix of disbelief, horror and fascination:

“Can you believe this?”

Members of Congress, evacuated from their chambers with gas masks in tow, could hardly believe it themselves.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., called into CNN as the attack was happening. “I have not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008,” he said. “I mean, this is America. And this is what’s happening right now. The president needs to call it off. Call it off. It’s over. The election is over.”

On the phone with Fox News that afternoon, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., condemned the attack as “un-American” and “unacceptable.”

“I have been in this Capitol for more than 10 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” McCarthy said.

As the insurrectionists forced their way into the building, they chanted, “Fight for Trump!” and “Hang Mike Pence!”

Pence, as vice president, had the constitutional responsibility of overseeing the typically quiet certification of state election results by Congress. Although Trump urged Pence to reject results from the battleground states that gave Joe Biden his victory, Pence said he would not intervene, enraging the pro-Trump crowd.

As the chaos unfolded, Trump’s media supporters — who would later downplay and deny what happened in various ways — grew concerned and tried to get messages to the president.

Fox News personalities went through his chief of staff Mark Meadows. ​​”Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Laura Ingraham of Fox News wrote. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade sent similar messages to Meadows.

McCarthy, the Republican House leader, was able to reach the president directly to ask him to put a stop to what was going on. McCarthy would later evade questions about the call, but other House members said Trump told him, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”

Around 4 p.m., Trump finally asked his supporters to go home. “This was a fraudulent election. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home, we love you. You’re very special.”

By the night’s end, democracy was still standing. But the manipulation of the narrative was already underway.

In the days that followed, Trump, some of the loudest and most influential members of the Republican Party and vocal partisan media personalities offered a deluge of justifications, excuses and conspiracy theories to reframe the events of Jan. 6 as no big deal.

  • They said Jan. 6 was instigated by undercover left-wing activists who were part of antifa. That was proved false.

  • They said the rioters hadn’t used force and one Republican congressman likened the events to “a normal tourist visit.” Video proved that wrong.

  • They claimed the attack on the Capitol had nothing to do with race, even though white supremacists and far-right militia groups were among the most active participants, and many rioters wore racist t-shirts.

  • They suggested the whole affair was staged by the government, a false flag operation. Others suggested it was entirely a peaceful protest. All of that was wrong.

  • They said that the rioters were political prisoners and shouldn’t face serious charges. A host of federal judges and courts have held otherwise.

The political shapeshifting was striking. McCarthy at first said that “the president bears responsibility” for the riot. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “failed insurrection,” said that “the mob was fed lies,” and argued that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the event of that day.”

But soon they tolerated bizarre claims from lawmakers in their ranks, such as that those arrested for rioting were treated worse than prisoners at Gitmo and that federal agents may have been instigators.

The two Republican leaders disparaged bipartisan efforts to investigate Jan. 6. “There is no new fact about that day that we need the Democrats’ extraneous ‘commission’ to uncover,” McConnell said in a statement.

Even Pence, whose life was in danger, downplayed the unprecedented attack as just “one day in January.”

PolitiFact had many options to choose from for our Lie of the Year: claims that the 2020 election was stolen, claims that the COVID vaccine didn’t work, and this one, lies about the Capitol insurrection.

We picked these lies for two reasons. First, the attack was historically important; a federal judge called it “the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812.” While some members of Congress lodged protests when the Electoral College count was close, as in 2000, or when individual states had close margins, like Ohio in 2004, never before had Americans overtaken the Capitol to hold up electoral proceedings and threaten lawmakers. In fact, “the peaceful transfer of power” has long been a hallmark phrase in describing, with pride, the American experience.

Second, the events of Jan. 6 were widely broadcast on that day and many days afterward, allowing the public to see for itself exactly what happened. The body of evidence includes direct video documentation and many eyewitness accounts. So efforts to downplay and deny what happened are an attempt to brazenly recast reality itself.

“It’s meant to sow doubt and make us unable to react in the ways we need to react to what is actually a threat to democracy,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor and expert in misinformation at the University of Washington.

Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance is the 2021 Lie of the Year.

Change the evidence: Jan. 6 was a peaceful “tourist visit” 

Soon after Jan. 6, people trying to dismiss the day’s importance plucked out isolated images to portray the throng as peaceful people simply walking through the Capitol.

Lou Dobbs, a former Fox Business Network host, dismissed the idea that it was a “full-on riot with armed looters going through the building.” Dobbs said on that very day it wasn’t what he saw.

“As I watched, at least, on a number of occasions, looking at the Statuary Hall, the protesters who had invaded the Capitol were walking between the rope lines. It was really a remarkable scene.”

Months later, U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., focused on the same images.

“Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures,” Clyde said during a May committee hearing. “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

Clyde’s words belied his own actions that day. A Roll Call photographer shared an image of Clyde helping barricade the House chamber door as rioters disrupted Congress. PolitiFact rated his statement about a “normal tourist visit” as Pants on Fire.

Trump said the protesters were downright affectionate.

“It was zero threat, right from the start, it was zero threat,” Trump told Ingraham in March. “Look, they went in, they shouldn’t have done it. Some of them went in, and they are hugging and kissing the police and the guards.”

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell didn’t think so. Gonell told Congress he thought he was going to die as he sought to protect the Capitol. Gonell said officers were “punched, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants, and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers by a violent mob” and at one point he felt himself losing oxygen as he was crushed by the rioters.

“I’m still recovering from those ‘hugs and kisses’ that day that (Trump) claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us that day,” Gonell said. “If that was hugs and kisses, then we should all go to his house and do the same thing to him. To me, it’s insulting. It’s demoralizing.”

The rioters caused $1.5 million in property damages. They smashed glass windows and door panels, broke furniture, ruined artwork and ripped historic lanterns from the ground. They stole a laptop in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, documents from the Senate chamber, escape hoods from police officers’ bags and a Capitol Police vest. Some rioters snatched up items from officials’ offices as if they wanted souvenirs — including a bottle of wine and a Fox News football.

A federal judge ridiculed Clyde’s characterization during a defendant’s sentencing hearing in June.

“I’m especially troubled by the accounts of some members of Congress that Jan. 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol,” said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Reagan appointee. “I don’t know what planet these people are on.”

Excuse it: It wasn’t that big a deal

Despite evidence showing that dozens of rioters were armed with real and makeshift weapons as they tried to overturn the election, claims that Jan. 6 was “not an insurrection” hardened into a popular talking point.

On her show in February, Ingraham said that the events of Jan. 6 paled in comparison with history’s other insurrections. In June, Fox Business Network host Maria Bartiromo said that calling Jan. 6 an armed insurrection is one of the nation’s “biggest lies.”

Those hosts and others zeroed in on the people who wore costumes into the Capitol.

“Come on, guys. Buffalo head guy was poised to take over the U.S. government?” Ingraham said in July, referring to Jacob Anthony Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” who wore a horned fur cap. “Are you kidding me?”

Some commentators insisted that because no person has been charged with insurrection, the riot couldn’t be considered one. They objected to fatality counts from the riot, noting that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick’s death the day after fighting with rioters was determined to be from natural causes after suffering two strokes.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson repeatedly denied that Jan. 6 had anything to do with race, falsely claiming that white supremacists bore no responsibility for what happened.

“You know what that was, and you also know what it wasn’t,” Carlson said in January on his Fox News program. “It was not an act of racism. It was not an insurrection.”

Several people with known ties to white supremacist groups were involved, including people now facing conspiracy charges. Symbols of white supremacy and anti-Semitism were prominently on display: a hanging gallows; Confederate flags; racist “Pepe the frog” imagery; a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt.

Carlson, Bartiromo and others also described a supposed lack of firearms among the rioters. Radio host Buck Sexton wrote in July that “the most ominous weapon that any of the Jan. 6 organizers seemed to have was QAnon Shaman’s spear, with flag attached.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., minimized the attack by arguing in February that it couldn’t be considered an armed insurrection. We rated that Pants on Fire! 

Court documents make clear that many of the people who breached the Capitol that day were armed. As the assault on the Capitol unfolded, Ryan Nichols, a former Marine who carried a crowbar with him, stood on the ledge of a broken Capitol window. “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” he shouted into a bullhorn.

The rioters brandished bats, crutches, flagpoles, skateboards, hockey sticks, knives, zip ties, chemical sprays, a fire extinguisher and other makeshift weapons, court documents show. They stole and wielded police batons and riot shields. Several had guns on them or stashed nearby.

At least 190 people had been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding police officers, including over 60 who were charged with using a weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, the Justice Department said in October. More than 65 people have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon.

The Coup D’etat Project at the University of Illinois’ Cline Center for Advanced Social Research determined shortly after the attack that the storming of the Capitol qualified as an attempted coup.

Several of the weapons charges were filed against members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other far-right militia groups who wore combat gear and used military-style tactics in the crowd.

Michael Fanone, 40, was one of roughly 140 law enforcement officers injured while defending the Capitol on Jan. 6. Testifying on Capitol Hill in July alongside other officers, he described getting dragged into the crowd, stripped of his badge, beaten, tased and threatened with chants to “kill him with his own gun.” He said he fell unconscious, suffered a heart attack, and was later diagnosed with a concussion, a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

His testimony did little to chasten the media’s Jan. 6 deniers.

As Fanone spoke, conservative commentator Julie Kelly tweeted that he was a “crisis actor.” Newsmax host Greg Kelly speculated that protesters may have mistaken Fanone as affiliated with antifa, a loosely organized coalition of left-wing anti-fascist activists that has counter-protested and clashed with white supremacists in recent years.

On Fox News, Ingraham mocked Fanone with a sarcastic award for “best performance in an action role.”

Throw everything at the wall: Jan. 6 conspiracy theories

Many of the same right-wing voices who went to great lengths to excuse or minimize the attack also teetered between wild conspiracy theories that sought to entirely rewrite what happened.

They suggested that the violence was the work of antifa, a familiar right-wing specter. And when that was proven false, a number of them, led most conspicuously by Carlson, blamed the FBI.

There was no documented trace of antifa at the Capitol, nor was there ever compelling evidence that the FBI or any other government agency instigated the attack. Eleven months later, with more than 700 people facing charges related to the day’s events, there still isn’t.

But talk about antifa and a “false flag” began to take off on anonymous online forums a little after noon EST on Jan. 6, according to PolitiFact’s day-after analysis.

Shortly after the rioters forced their way past Capitol barricades, posts in pro-Trump Facebook groups were already claiming that antifa was behind what was happening. The idea spread on Twitter and Parler, a social media platform popular with conservatives, then to right-wing radio and TV. Several lawmakers endorsed it.

“I believe that this was agitators strategically placed inside of this group — you can call them antifa, you can call them people paid by the Democratic machine — but to make the Trump campaign, the Trump movement, look bad, and to make this look like it was a violent outrage,” said Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., as he phoned into Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk’s radio show a little after 3 p.m.

“This has all the hallmarks of Antifa provocation,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted at 5:04 p.m. He had posted a photo of the pro-Trump crowd at the rally hours before. 

Between 5 and 6 p.m., antifa was mentioned nearly 156,000 times across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online outlets, according to an analysis from Zignal Labs Inc., a media intelligence firm.

The rumor was part of multiple reports on Newsmax, local news stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, and websites like the Gateway Pundit. By evening, it was mentioned on the House floor and each of Fox News’ three biggest primetime programs — including the shows hosted by Ingraham and Hannity, both of whom sent texts on Jan. 6 urging Meadows to tell Trump to call off the rioters.

Blaming antifa for domestic unrest is a well-worn talking point, said Starbird, the misinformation expert, so people were “already primed to believe that things are being caused by antifa.”

But the pro-Trump rioters made clear they didn’t want give up the credit. They proudly touted their attack, live-streaming themselves from the Capitol, posing for pictures with statues, interviewing with nearby reporters and boasting about their escapades on social media.

“It was not Antifa at the Capitol,” one rioter tweeted. “It was freedom loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic.”

The evidence didn’t seem to matter. Within months, another conspiracy theory developed, claiming that Jan. 6 was an inside job — a false flag operation orchestrated by the FBI.

This one took off thanks to a little-known, right-leaning website called Revolver News, run by Darren Beattie, a former Trump White House speechwriter who was fired in 2018 after appearing on a panel with a white nationalist.

The website’s unproven theory focused on charging documents and the fact that the FBI had used informants and undercover operatives to foil an extremist plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

A cursory look showed the theory was rife with holes, inaccuracies and circumstantial speculation. PolitiFact rated the claim that federal agents directly incited people as False.

But the next day after the Revolver News article appeared, Carlson told his millions of viewers that “the FBI was organizing the riots of Jan. 6.” Beattie came on as a guest.

InfoWars founder Alex Jones said later that he had provided feedback to Revolver News on the article, and that he had helped get it into Carlson’s hands.

Carlson followed up with op-eds and segments promoting the FBI false flag theory. Daily Wire host Candace Owens tweeted that it was “common sense.” House Reps. Marjorie Taylor  Greene, R-Ga., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. tweeted out clips of Carlson’s interview with Beattie.

In a House floor speech, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, cited the Revolver News article and said he saw Carlson’s segment on it. “This is like Putin kind of activity,” said Gohmert.

Months later, Carlson featured Beattie as a star player in “Patriot Purge,” a three-episode series about Jan. 6 that pushed the FBI and antifa conspiracy theories further.

According to Carlson’s documentary, the FBI had a dystopian end goal. The show warned, falsely, that Jan. 6 was not only a false flag, but a pretext to justify a “purge” of Trump voters — a “new war on terror” that would turn the national security apparatus inward and strip millions of their rights.

The show turned the Jan. 6 perpetrators into victims. They weren’t attacking democracy; they were victims of the deep state. The tactic allowed Trump supporters to “fight the sort of cognitive dissonance of who you think your side is, and what you think you’re about,” Starbird said.

Dismiss it: Further investigation isn’t necessary

The loudest deniers of what happened on Jan. 6 weren’t shouting into a void. As Carlson and others pushed their false narratives about antifa and the FBI, Republican lawmakers responded to the attack with another form of downplay: silence.

Months after the siege, even those who initially condemned the attack decided that the day was no longer worth talking about. Americans had learned enough about what happened, they said. There would be no need to probe further. Outrage was unnecessary. It was time to move on.

McCarthy and McConnell, both outspoken in the wake of the attack, corralled their members to shoot down a bipartisan bill that would have formed an independent commission in the mold of the body that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I think we have a pretty good idea what happened (on Jan. 6); I was here,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in late May. “And this is unlike the 9/11 Commission in that respect.”

“The Jan. 6 commission would have ultimately been one party investigating the other,” Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said in June.

The bill was sponsored by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y. McConnell said it was slanted because the chair, appointed by the Democrats, would have hired the staff. McCarthy called it “duplicative.”

The bill passed the House in May with support from 35 Republicans, who defied McCarthy’s recommendation to vote against it. The 175 Republicans who opposed the commission included some who had at first spoken out against the rioters, including Gallagher, the Wisconsin representative who told Trump to “call it off” on CNN. About a week later, the Senate’s Republicans killed the bill.

“It isn’t designed to produce a serious inquiry,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted. “It’s designed to be used as (a) partisan political weapon.”

When the House responded with a measure to form its own select committee, all but two Republicans in the House voted against it. Few stood up to defend their vote during a floor debate. More than two dozen skipped the debate entirely, opting instead to spend the day with Trump at the border.

“We need to spend our time finding solutions and helping Americans, not creating partisan commissions to do work that has already been done competently by the U.S. Senate and by law enforcement,” said Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., on the House floor.

The committee that ultimately formed includes just two Republicans, both outliers in their own party. McCarthy withdrew all five of his recommendations after Pelosi rejected two of them.

“We will run our own investigation,” McCarthy vowed in July.

But he never did.

“There’s nothing I have that can add to that day,” McCarthy told a local TV station during an interview in September. Pressed about his own phone call with Trump on Jan. 6, he added: “I have nothing to hide, but I have nothing to add.”

It was a stunning about-face for Republicans who have otherwise said they support the police and law-and-order measures.

Despite the claims of partisanship, the goal of the Jan. 6 rioters was to stop a legitimate election process by force, noted Tom Nichols, a former Republican who writes about democracy and politics.

“I have never seen a situation where elected officials’ lives were in danger, and they downplayed what happened,” Nichols said. “Those protesters did not differentiate between Republicans and Democrats — they were going to hang Mike Pence.”

What lies about Jan. 6 tells us about American democracy

Nearly a year later, there is zero evidence to say that Jan. 6 was an antifa operation, a tourist visit, a false flag, or an uneventful day to forget.

The falsehoods were not without isolated criticism on the right. Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera criticized the “outrageous and uncorroborated” claims in Carlson’s documentary series. The two co-founders of The Dispatch, both Fox News contributors for years, resigned in November from the network over the series. Chris Wallace, the network’s premier journalist, recently left the network; NPR reported that Wallace had expressed concerns to network leadership about the Carlson documentary.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who rejected Trump’s false election fraud claims and voted to impeach him over what happened on Jan. 6, is one of two Republicans to serve on the House select committee, and used her standing to blast the “false flag” conspiracy theory.

“It’s un-American to be spreading those kinds of lies, and they are lies,” Cheney said.

But the repetition of the Jan. 6 falsehoods demonstrates that a political movement can coalesce around obvious lies — and that, despite the facts, it can be difficult to stand against.

“This is our new world — denial of what your eyes are actually seeing,” said Laura Thornton, director and senior fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

“The effort to rewrite history in the service of political power goals is not unheard of in America or anywhere else,” said Theda Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist who has studied the Tea Party and anti-Trump resistance. “What is brazen is the history they want to rewrite includes pictures of what actually happened.”

“Because Jan. 6 was not successful, now they have to rewrite history and in some cases they were doing that in 24 hours, saying you didn’t see what you saw,” added Phillipe Copeland, clinical assistant professor at Boston University School of Social Work.

So far, the consequences for what happened before, during and after Jan. 6 have been limited to rioters like the “QAnon Shaman” who were charged or sentenced for storming the Capitol.

Political leaders and pundits, on the other hand, are going about business as usual. Trump, acquitted in the Senate for a second time, may run again in 2024. McCarthy is angling to take back the speakership. Carlson remains one of the most-watched cable news hosts on TV.

Meanwhile, Cheney was cast out of the mainstream of the Republican Party when the House removed her in May from her leadership position after her impeachment vote. Similar moves against Republicans who criticized Trump have taken place across the country.

It’s a sign that elections could remain a contested space for years to come, as Republican grievances about the outcome of the 2020 election fuel the rewriting of election laws around the country. And it’s a sign that Jan. 6 downplay and denial could be hardening into yet another litmus test for Republicans. Primaries in 2022 are shaping up to be contests where pro-Trump loyalists challenge anyone who dissents.

“We are in an extremely dangerous place,” said Thornton. “An attack on your Capitol where people are threatening to murder the vice president is bad enough, but when you have a political party — one of two in our country — that are downplaying or diverting or misrepresenting, it’s extremely upsetting. I don’t know how we come back from that.”

Know your enemy

On Friday morning, after a night of insomnia fueled by worries about raising children in a collapsing society, I opened my eyes, started reading about efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to seize control of the state’s elections, then paused to let my tachycardiac heartbeat subside. Marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror. If this were simply my problem, I’d write about it in a journal instead of in The New York Times. But political despair is an issue for the entire Democratic Party.

It’s predictable that, with Donald Trump out of the White House, Democrats would pull back from constant, frenetic political engagement. But there’s a withdrawal happening right now — from news consumption, activism and, in some places, voting — that seems less a product of relief than of avoidance. Part of this is simply burnout and lingering trauma from Covid. But I suspect that part of it is about growing hopelessness born of a sense that dislodging Trump has bought American democracy only a brief reprieve.

One redeeming feature of Trump’s presidency, in retrospect, was that it was possible to look forward to the date when Americans could finish it. Covid, too, once seemed like something we’d be able to largely put behind us when we got vaccinated. Sure, Trumpism, like the virus, would linger, but it was easy to imagine a much better world after the election, the inauguration and the wide availability of shots.

Now we’re past all that, and American life is still comprehensively awful. Dystopia no longer has an expiration date.

Last week in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg worried about the future of our American democracy.  Like thousands/millions of others, I share her concern, and so should you.

The problem isn’t just that polls show that, at least right now, voters want to hand over Congress to a party that largely treats the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes.

(snip)

What’s terrifying is that even if Democrats win back public confidence, they can win more votes than Republicans and still lose. Gerrymandering alone is enough to tip the balance in the House.

(snip)

Meanwhile, Republicans are purging local officials who protected the integrity of the 2020 election, replacing them with apparatchiks. It will be hard for Republicans to steal the 2024 election outright, since they don’t control the current administration, but they can throw it into the sort of chaos that will cause widespread civil unrest. And if they win, it’s hard to imagine them ever consenting to the peaceful transfer of power again.

(snip)

I look at the future and I see rule without recourse by people who either approve of terrorizing liberals or welcome those who do. Such an outcome isn’t inevitable; unforeseen events can reshape political coalitions. Something could happen to forestall the catastrophe bearing down on us.

Here’s a hopeful sign: two long-time contributors to Fox News giving a thorough and public explanation of why they just can’t take it any more.

…there are still responsible conservatives [at Fox News] providing valuable opinion and analysis. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.

A case in point: Patriot Purge, a three-part series hosted by Tucker Carlson.

The special—which ran on Fox’s subscription streaming service earlier this month and was promoted on Fox News—is presented in the style of an exposé, a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. In reality, it is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions. And its message is clear: The U.S. government is targeting patriotic Americans in the same manner —and with the same tools—that it used to target al Qaeda.

(snip)

This is not happening. And we think it’s dangerous to pretend it is. If a person with such a platform shares such misinformation loud enough and long enough, there are Americans who will believe—and act upon—it.

This isn’t theoretical. This is what actually happened on January 6, 2021.

Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service. In this sense, the release of Patriot Purge wasn’t an isolated incident, it was merely the most egregious example of a longstanding trend. Patriot Purge creates an alternative history of January 6, contradicted not just by common sense, not just by the testimony and on-the-record statements of many participants, but by the reporting of the news division of Fox News itself.

There are still many real conservatives who recognize that the Orange Emperor has no clothes, and who have not drunk the toxic brew that has let so many Republicans (and others) show true feelings they have always keep secret, until now.  Jennifer Rubin is one.

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, Never Trumpers (now largely ex-Republicans) warned that he would corrupt the party in every way imaginable. His misogyny would morph in the party’s toxic masculinity and degradation of women, they cautioned. His infatuation with brutality and violence (boasting he would kill terrorists’ families, exhorting his supporters to slug protesters) would metastasize to the party as a whole. Boy, did those predictions pan out.

You only have to look at the vicious imagery showing the murder of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deployed by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), the verbal attack on her from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) last year — and Republicans’ defense of both — to understand that their refusal to dump Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light was merely the prelude to an era of normalizing violence (especially against women), culminating in the Jan. 6 violent insurrection, which many Republicans, including Trump, tried to paint as nonviolent.

Threats and portrayals of violence against women have turned into a badge of honor for a party in which traditional notions about gender (back to the 1950s!) have become a key predictor of Republican support. Casting men (even a Supreme Court nominee) as victims of aggressive, “nasty” or unhinged women accusing them of wrongdoing has become standard fare in the Trump party.

Rubin cites Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, who is willing to lay the blame for the violence we’re seeing now at the core of Republican party voters: White evangelicals.

Today, for an alarming number of white conservative Christians, the mark of Christian faithfulness is not a love that inspires them to lay down their lives for their friends, but a defensiveness that lures them to take the lives of their fellow citizens.

The anti-democratic and white supremacist core of this worldview snaps into focus as soon as we ask just one question: What is the “America” they are saving? This question is at the heart of the MAGA ideology that has now fully overtaken one of our two major political parties.

That second “A,” for “again,” is the hermeneutical key that unlocks the obfuscation.  This nostalgia for a White Christian America has become the weapon of choice in the culture wars. In that vision of the country, white law and order reign, and with refreshments and pats on the back, white vigilantes are informally deputized as partners. And Black people protesting in the streets or even shopping in the local CVS are seen as suspect for not playing their properly deferential roles or staying in their assigned subservient places.

If Trump has done anything for us, he has peeled back a thin veneer of patriotic- and Christian-sounding words to reveal the core claim underneath it all: That God intended America to be a white Christian nation. That claim has literally generated—for those among the chosen— a license to kill anyone who threatens that norm and the confidence that those actions will not only be free of negative consequences, but be rewarded both here on earth and in heaven.

“Christian nationalism” is the threat.  Let’s start by defining the terms, thanks to Paul D. Miller at Christianity Today.

There are many definitions of nationalism and an active debate about how best to define it. I reviewed the standard academic literature on nationalism and found several recurring themes. Most scholars agree that nationalism starts with the belief that humanity is divisible into mutually distinct, internally coherent cultural groups defined by shared traits like language, religion, ethnicity, or culture. From there, scholars say, nationalists believe that these groups should each have their own governments; that governments should promote and protect a nation’s cultural identity; and that sovereign national groups provide meaning and purpose for human beings.

What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. Scholars like Samuel Huntington have made a similar argument: that America is defined by its “Anglo-Protestant” past and that we will lose our identity and our freedom if we do not preserve our cultural inheritance.

Christian nationalists do not reject the First Amendment and do not advocate for theocracy, but they do believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square. The term “Christian nationalism,” is relatively new, and its advocates generally do not use it of themselves, but it accurately describes American nationalists who believe American identity is inextricable from Christianity.

What is the problem with nationalism?

Humanity is not easily divisible into mutually distinct cultural units. Cultures overlap and their borders are fuzzy. Since cultural units are fuzzy, they make a poor fit as the foundation for political order. Cultural identities are fluid and hard to draw boundaries around, but political boundaries are hard and semipermanent. Attempting to found political legitimacy on cultural likeness means political order will constantly be in danger of being felt as illegitimate by some group or other. Cultural pluralism is essentially inevitable in every nation.

Is that really a problem, or just an abstract worry?

It is a serious problem. When nationalists go about constructing their nation, they have to define who is, and who is not, part of the nation. But there are always dissidents and minorities who do not or cannot conform to the nationalists’ preferred cultural template. In the absence of moral authority, nationalists can only establish themselves by force. Scholars are almost unanimous that nationalist governments tend to become authoritarian and oppressive in practice. For example, in past generations, to the extent that the United States had a quasi-established official religion of Protestantism, it did not respect true religious freedom. Worse, the United States and many individual states used Christianity as a prop to support slavery and segregation.

There is much more here you should read.  Know your enemy, while there is still time to win the fight.

This is not about all Christians, or even all Christian evangelicals.  But those who think “freedom of religion” means everyone is free to practice their particular strain of Christian faith in their houses of worship and through the imposition of their religious beliefs in secular law, those who harbor a “nostalgia for White Christian America,” and who have been succeeding politically at achieving their goals since at least the days of the Moral Majority, those are the political enemies we need to get serious about defeating.  Right now, political despair be damned.