Today
Fri 17 September 2021

As a commission to investigate the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January is blocked by Republican Senators, CJ Werleman explores the effects of the lasting influence of the controversial former President

Senate Republicans have blocked a bill passed by the House of Representatives to establish a bipartisan commission into the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January, which claimed the lives of police officers and a pro-Donald Trump insurgent. It is a move symbolic of a political party that remains beholden to the former US President – no matter his transgressions or growing irrelevance. 

Similar to the 9/11 Commission, the 6 January Commission would have been tasked with establishing “the facts and causes of the attack” and ways “to prevent future attacks on our democratic institutions”. But, despite the fact many of the pro-Trump terrorists who laid siege on Congress with the intent to harm and kill elected members from both parties, Senate Republicans would rather protect the man who incited the attack than investigate the actions of his would-be assailants.

One can only imagine the outrage that would have emanated from the right had Muslim members of the US Congress voted to block the 9/11 Commission. It is easy to forget that, when four American diplomats and security personnel were killed in the middle of a foreign war zone – Benghazi, Libya – during President Barack Obama’s second term, Congressional Republicans held more than a half-dozen hearings and inquiries, costing US taxpayers $7 million.

Putting party before the interests of the country, what the Republican Party now fears most is that its leaders will be forced to testify under oath about how Donald Trump not only incited the violence but also rebuffed their pleas to call off the attack – thus forever etching into the official record the eternal damnation of the Trump presidency, which they believe will hurt their chances of taking back control of both chambers of Congress in the 2022 mid-term elections.

Sure, much of what we already know about 6 January was revealed during Trump’s second impeachment hearing. But, because Republicans blocked witnesses from testifying, Americans were denied access to knowing exactly what took place and by whom on the days leading up to and including 6 January – leaving many to believe pro-Trump conspiracy theories, including those that falsely contend that the attack was carried out by leftist groups or that the attackers were harmless and well-meaning ‘patriotic tourists’.

The truth about what exactly happened on that day, however, can be found in trial court rooms across the country, as those charged with participating in the violent siege have their day before a jury of their peers, where lawyers for the defendants tell of their clients being misled and deceived by disinformation spread by Trump, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets.

All in all, more than 400 people have been charged on various counts for attempting to overthrow the Government on Trump’s behalf – a small fraction of the tens of millions of Americans or or roughly two-thirds of Trump voters who still believe, without a shred of evidence, that the election was stolen by President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.

“I kind of sound like an idiot now saying it, but my faith was in him [Trump],” defendant Anthony Antonio told the Associated Press, adding that he wasn’t interested in politics before “pandemic boredom” led him to conservative cable news networks and right-wing social media accounts. “I think they did a great job of convincing people.”

His lawyer Joseph Hurley echoed these remarks. “You can catch this disease [belief in conspiracy theories and disinformation],” he said, before arguing that the reason his client was at the US Capitol and threatening Washington DC police officers with “war” was because “he was a dumbass and believed what he heard on Fox News.”

The lawyer representing Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon shaman, blamed “repeated exposure to falsehood and incendiary rhetoric” for overwhelming his client’s ability to “discern reality”, while likening Trump’s ‘Make American Great Again’ (MAGA) movement to a personality cult.

“He is not crazy,” said lawyer Albert Watkins in an interview. “The people who fell in love with (cult leader) Jim Jones and went down to Guyana, they had husbands and wives and lives. And then they drank the Kool-Aid”.

Even Trump’s lawyers are now distancing themselves from the lies and conspiracy theories they told on behalf of the President to sow doubt about the 2020 Presidential Election result, including Sidney Powell, who falsely claimed that the election was stolen using voting machines used to rig ballots for the deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.

“No reasonable person would conclude that the statements [about widespread election fraud] were truly statements of fact,” Powell’s attorneys said in a court filing defending her against a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, taking a peculiar, ‘haha, the joke is on you for believing our lies about the election being stolen’ line of defence. 

None of this, of course, will do anything to change the minds of the millions of American voters who believe the implausible and impossible – because the right-wing media doesn’t hold its own commentators, Donald Trump or the Republican Party to account for amplifying lies and conspiracy theories.

Hostility to the truth is not only the Fox News business model, it is a cornerstone of the modern Republican Party’s electoral strategy.

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