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OpinionColumnistsCathy Young

The indecency of GOP excuses for Jan. 6

Rioters clash with police during the Jan. 6

Rioters clash with police during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Credit: TNS/Lev Radin

On Monday, two new suicides were reported among police officers involved in the response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, bringing the total to four. That came just a week after four Capitol Hill police officers testified before a congressional panel about that day's events, some of them tearing up at the recollection — and many conservatives mocked them, suggesting that they were faking emotion to score political points.

This grim juxtaposition sums up, in a nutshell, the indecency of pro-Donald Trump Republicans’ stance regarding Jan. 6.

By and large, their approach — used by people ranging from random Twitter posters to members of Congress — has been to deny, minimize, justify, or explain away. The excuses and explanations have multiplied, often canceling each other out: It was just a protest that got slightly out of hand, with no real violence. It was a "false flag" operation by antifa, the violent far-left group, impersonating Trump supporters. The vast majority of the Trump supporters were just harmless middle-age tourists who were basically taking a tour of the Capitol and who were actually invited in by Capitol Hill police. Violence by left-wing protesters during the summer of 2020 was just as bad or even worse.

Of course, a simple look at the ample video footage from Jan. 6 shows plenty of violence by the rioters. A total of 140 law enforcement officers suffered injuries. (While Capitol Hill police did open the doors to the rioters in one location, it was likely because they realized they couldn’t hold the crowd back — and plenty of others forced their way in.) Some particularly alarming media reports — for instance, about concrete plans to abduct and assassinate members of Congress — have not been confirmed. But there is little reason to doubt that if the mob had encountered one of the lawmakers they regarded as enemies, that person would not have been physically safe.

The minimizers mock the notion that Jan. 6 was an attempted coup, pointing out that the rioters had no chance of actually seizing power or of preventing Joe Biden’s certification as the election winner. That much is true. But it seems clear that they believed they had a good chance to thwart Biden (or, as they saw it, to "stop the steal"). No less important, it appears that Trump believed his supporters could successfully intimidate Congress into handing him the victory.

When the president of the United States eggs on a mob of his supporters to invade the Capitol and force Congress to reverse the results of an election, and that mob manages to seize the building and force the lawmakers into hiding, that’s an attack on our democracy even if the coup had no chance of succeeding. A congressional probe of such an event is certainly worth conducting.

Trump supporters have a smidgen of a point when they argue that many major media outlets and progressive politicians downplayed or excused the violence and damage from rioting that often erupted during the racial justice protests of 2020, which caused severe economic and social damage in many cities. I, for one, would welcome hearings on that issue as well. But the Jan. 6 insurrection stands apart as a violent assault on the seat of our democracy encouraged by the former president himself.

The fact that so many members of one of our two major parties are excusing this attack just makes it more dangerous.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a contributing editor at Reason magazine, are her own.