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Republicans Are Gaslighting The Country About The Capitol Riot

Arthur Delaney and Amanda Terkel
·8-min read
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who cheered on Donald Trump supporters outside the U.S. Capitol before they stormed the building on Jan. 6, is one of many Republicans trying to deflect blame for what happened that day. (Photo: Samuel Corum via Getty Images)
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who cheered on Donald Trump supporters outside the U.S. Capitol before they stormed the building on Jan. 6, is one of many Republicans trying to deflect blame for what happened that day. (Photo: Samuel Corum via Getty Images)

Sure, the attack on the Capitol was bad, but did you hear about the attack on the White House last year?

The supposed siege of the president’s residence is the latest Republican deflection from the events of Jan. 6, when a pro-Donald Trump mob stirred up by Republican lies about voter fraud ransacked the U.S. Capitol.

Some Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have admitted what actually happened.

“They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president,” McConnell said in February. “They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth ― because he was angry he’d lost an election.”

But others are compiling a growing list of distractions, excuses and alternate theories of the day’s events, hoping that as time passes, the public forgets what actually went on. Here are some of the ways Republicans are trying to deflect blame:

The Rioters Were Just A Group Of Random People, Not United By Anything

“I don’t think there was any single reason why people were here,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of rioters who had just marched from a Trump rally in which the president called on them to "stop the steal." (Photo: Pool via Getty Images)
“I don’t think there was any single reason why people were here,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of rioters who had just marched from a Trump rally in which the president called on them to "stop the steal." (Photo: Pool via Getty Images)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said this week that the fact that “these extremist groups are not monolithic” ran counter to the Democratic “narrative” about what happened at the Capitol.

“I’ve heard some of these folks described as white supremacists, domestic terrorists, insurrectionist, rioters, seditionist, anarchist, the list goes on and on,” Cornyn said at a Tuesday hearing with FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Cornyn was upset that Democrats “wanted to create a narrative about white supremacists, but clearly that is part of the problem but it’s not a monolithic group,” he told HuffPost after the hearing. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) had said the rioters “might as well have” been wearing Ku Klux Klan robes.

“I don’t think there was any single reason why people were here,” Cornyn said.

Wray testified that many had militia ties and some were white supremacists, but there’s no doubt they were all Trump supporters trying to overthrow the election. Indeed, they had just marched from a “Stop the Steal” rally featuring Trump, who told them to go to the Capitol and stop lawmakers from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.

“They were here for a variety of reasons,” Cornyn insisted.

Nancy Pelosi Is To Blame

In the telling of some Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn't take seriously the threat of a mob that despised her. (Photo: Kent Nishimura via Getty Images)
In the telling of some Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn't take seriously the threat of a mob that despised her. (Photo: Kent Nishimura via Getty Images)

An increasingly common theme is blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“I think Nancy Pelosi will have a lot of questions to answer about what she knew leading up to the riot on Jan. 6,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Fox News last month.

Four GOP House members also wrote Pelosi a letter, claiming that “many important questions about your responsibility for the security of the Capitol remain unanswered.” And Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said Pelosi was using the riot as an excuse to consolidate her power.

The argument is that Pelosi wanted all this to happen ― or, at the very least, she looked the other way on the potential for violence. In other words, Republicans think she didn’t take seriously a mob of pro-Trump supporters who despised her and, in at least one case, wanted her dead.

The GOP has continued to push the theory that Pelosi stood in the way of police requests for additional assistance, even though then-House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving has repeatedly shot down that suggestion.

It Was Antifa

A mob of unambiguous Trump supporters stands outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Photo: Brent Stirton via Getty Images)
A mob of unambiguous Trump supporters stands outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Photo: Brent Stirton via Getty Images)

The likes of Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) wasted no time blaming the supposedly fearsome anti-fascist group known as “antifa” for the attack, based on a false story that was almost immediately retracted.

But this outrageously untrue claim will not die. Trump’s lawyers even uttered it on the Senate floor during his impeachment trial, when they claimed “a leader of antifa” had been arrested for infiltrating the building.

It may seem ridiculous, but a significant number of Republican voters believe the Capitol attack was an antifa operation, according to several polls. A majority of Republicans said in a January survey they believed it was antifa, as did 58% of Trump voters in a February survey.

It Was Fake Trump Supporters

President Donald Trump speaks at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images)

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) claimed during a Senate hearing last week that the crowd marching toward the Capitol at Trump’s direction was a peaceable bunch, and that the riot had been carried out by “provocateurs” and “fake Trump supporters.”

“Many of the marchers were families with small children; many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail — traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone,” Johnson said, reading from a delusional piece published in The Federalist, a far-right website. A very few didn’t share the jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority. Some obviously didn’t fit in.”

The FBI director testified this week that there is no evidence of antifa involvement in the attack, and no evidence that there were fake Trump supporters. Some of the pro-Trump rioters charged in the attack have even complained about antifa getting credit.

HuffPost asked Johnson on Thursday whether he himself believed the statements he read aloud during the hearing, since they’d been written by someone else.

“He witnessed it. He wrote down what he witnessed,” Johnson said. “We need to assemble a bunch of eyewitness accounts to determine what all happened from different perspectives, different vantage points.”

HuffPost reporters witnessed the attack on the Capitol from both the inside and outside and saw only Trump supporters.

“They ― they might have been Trump provocateurs, OK?” Johnson said.

The Mob Wasn’t Even That Dangerous

Riot police push back a crowd of Trump supporters after they stormed the Capitol. (Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT via Getty Images)
Riot police push back a crowd of Trump supporters after they stormed the Capitol. (Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT via Getty Images)

Five people died in the Jan. 6 riot, including one police officer. Another 140 officers were injured, suffering cracked ribs, concussions, loss of part of a finger, burns and a mild heart attack. Two officers involved in the response that day later died from suicide. The pro-Trump mob smashed officers with flagpoles, pipes, bats, metal barriers and doors in order to push past them and break into the Capitol.

Yet according to some Republicans, this crowd wasn’t dangerous at all.

“If it was armed, it would have been a bloodbath,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who said Democrats were trying to make it seem like “there’s a bunch of people running around in the woods with Army fatigues on the weekends, and they’re going to take over the country, and that’s just nonsense.”

“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” Johnson said in a radio interview last month.

“I mean ‘armed,’ when you hear ‘armed,’ don’t you think of firearms? Here’s the questions I would have liked to ask. How many firearms were confiscated? How many shots were fired? I’m only aware of one and I’ll defend that law enforcement officer for taking that shot. It was a tragedy, OK? But I think there was only one,” he added.

Authorities actually confiscated a range of weapons from that day, including an assault rifle, a crossbow, Molotov cocktails, stun guns, knives and brass knuckles. Since they weren’t searching attendees for weapons, there likely were far more.

Black Lives Matter Attacked The White House First

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has conjured a phantom attack on the White House that the Secret Service says never happened. (Photo: Tom Williams via Getty Images)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has conjured a phantom attack on the White House that the Secret Service says never happened. (Photo: Tom Williams via Getty Images)

Many Republicans who condemned the violence at the Capitol broadened their condemnation to include violence against police officers in 2020.

But Republicans have begun to suggest a more direct false equivalence, decrying an “attack on the White House” by Black Lives Matters protesters last summer.

“Sixty-seven Secret Service officers were injured during a three-day siege on the White House, which caused then-President Trump to be brought into a secure bunker,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Tuesday.

At a separate hearing on Wednesday, Hawley also brought up “the attack on the White House where 60 Secret Service officers were injured, the president had to be evacuated into a bunker.”

Most people may remember the “siege on the White House” as a protest against police brutality near the White House. (Officers wound up tear-gassing protesters so the president could pose for photos holding a Bible in front of a church that had been damaged.)

The Secret Service said more than 60 officers were injured as protesters threw objects and scuffled with officers, 11 of whom received hospital treatment for non-life-threatening injuries.

But they weren’t trying to storm the White House.

“No individuals crossed the White House Fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in any danger,” the Secret Service said in May.

Trump subsequently said he was only “inspecting” the bunker.

‘Everybody’ Is Responsible

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) thinks "everybody across this country has some responsibility." (Photo: Mark Wilson via Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) thinks "everybody across this country has some responsibility." (Photo: Mark Wilson via Getty Images)

In January, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack. A week later, however, he said he didn’t actually believe Trump had “provoked the mob of his supporters.

And in an interview that aired a day later, McCarthy found a way to both blame Trump for the riot while not really blaming him at all.

“I also think everybody across this country has some responsibility,” he said.

McCarthy later tried to clarify his remarks, insisting he wasn’t necessarily saying everyone in the country was responsible for Trump’s supporters attacking the Capitol, but rather that “it is incumbent upon every person in America to help lower the temperature of our political discourse.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.