Why America Isn’t Getting the Jan. 6 Investigation It Needs

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Politics|Why America Isn’t Getting the Jan. 6 Investigation It Needs

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/24/us/politics/capitol-riot-investigation.html

News analysis

Reaching any kind of national consensus about what happened that day now feels like as much of a fantasy as any false-flag conspiracy theory.

From left, Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan and Jim Banks listened as Representative Kelly Armstrong spoke during a news conference this week.
Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Lisa Lerer

July 24, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Unlike some of my colleagues, I wasn’t in the Capitol on Jan. 6, huddling in the hallways as a violent mob rampaged through the building.

Instead, like many of you, I was transfixed by the horrifying images on my television. In the days and months that followed, more disturbing footage would come out — videos of beatings and rioting, photographs of broken glass and blood. Since then, 20 people have pleaded guilty to charges related to their involvement in that deadly day.

What happened on Jan. 6 is no mystery; we all saw it on our screens. And yet more than six months later, we don’t all see it the same way.

“It was the media that went out and pushed this whole narrative about ‘this was an insurrection’ and ‘this was just way too out of hand’ and ‘these are not patriots,’” said Maura, who spoke in a recent focus group of Trump supporters from Arizona. Calling it a largely “peaceful” day, she said: “Nothing could be further from the truth. It was just a bunch of people who were overexuberant.”

“One hundred percent orchestrated by antifa and the left; one hundred percent,” said Annette, another Trump supporter. “There were a lot of people who went down for the right reasons, but not the ones who caused the riots. Not the ones who caused violence.”

Jeff saw an even more nefarious plot: “It goes a lot deeper than antifa,” he said. “I think it goes to George Soros and all the people in government that are bought and part of the deep state. They were trying to set up a false-flag event.”

“I don’t even really think about it much,” Kurt said. “It wasn’t an insurrection. Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 was a protest.”

I agreed to identify these Trump supporters in Arizona by only their first names so I could listen in to the focus group. It was moderated by Sarah Longwell for the Republican Accountability Project, which conducted voter interviews throughout the Trump administration.

Polling shows that these attitudes are widely shared throughout the Republican Party. Less than four in 10 people who voted for Donald J. Trump in 2020 said they strongly disapproved of the actions taken by people who forced their way into the Capitol, compared with 60 percent of all Americans, according to new polling released this past week by CBS News. Narrow majorities of Trump voters said they would describe the attack as an example of “patriotism” or “defending freedom.” A larger share of Americans called it an effort to overthrow the government, an attempt to overturn the election or an insurrection.

Some of this sentiment reflects how conservative media has covered — or, perhaps, not covered — the siege. The events of Jan. 6 have been mentioned about four times as often on CNN and MSNBC as on Fox News, according to an analysis of television news clips. And it certainly reflects how dominant partisanship has become in our politics.

But these beliefs also show how difficult it will be for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to persuade large parts of the country that her select committee is conducting a truthful and nonpartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 riot. Republicans in Congress can opt out of participating in a bipartisan investigation into one of the most shocking events in the history of American politics with little fear of backlash from their base. In fact, many of their voters don’t want to hear much about the Jan. 6 attack at all.

Others are clearly looking for their leaders to defend rioters’ actions that day. That’s partly why Ms. Pelosi rejected two of Representative Kevin McCarthy’s picks for the committee, prompting Mr. McCarthy, the minority leader, to pull all of his Republican nominations from the panel.

Those two selections, Representatives Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, had openly expressed hostility to the mission of the committee and trafficked in revisionist history about the siege, and they may be material witnesses to the events leading up to that day.

Would keeping Mr. Jordan and Mr. Banks on the committee have helped build credibility for the effort among Republican voters? That seems unlikely, given that both had already broadcast their intention to undermine the effort.

Ms. Pelosi can still argue that her panel is bipartisan. It will include Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, and reports suggest that she could add Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, also a Republican. Both lawmakers are reviled by their party’s base for attacking Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the election and are unlikely to be seen as credible messengers by many Republicans.

Mr. McCarthy, meanwhile, has vowed to conduct his own investigation.

So after months of negotiation, the end result is likely to be two panels, one led by Democrats and the other by Republicans. It’s a situation that encapsulates our divided political moment: Whatever the process, the testimony or the findings, the results of either committee are unlikely to be trusted by voters from the opposing party. And reaching any kind of national consensus about what happened on that awful day feels like as much of a fantasy as any false-flag conspiracy theory.

A deeply fractured America may be getting the investigations into the Jan. 6 attack that it deserves. But they’re certainly not the ones the country needs.

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We’ll try to answer it. Have a comment? We’re all ears. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.


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