On January 6, 2021, a mob of loyalists to former president Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol building after he delivered an incendiary speech that falsely claimed the 2020 election, and its ongoing certification in the Capitol, was fraudulent.
After Senate Republicans blocked a bill to create an independent commission to investigate the attack, the House established a select committee to lead a probe. On July 27, the first congressional hearing to investigate the insurrection took place, wherein four police officers who defended the building recounted the harrowing violence they endured defending lawmakers. Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, one of the seven Democrats on the nine-person committee, revealed for the first time that her and New York Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice were just 40 paces from where police fended off attacks at the West Front.
Republicans boycotted the hearing, opting instead to host a press conference that sought to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the movement to defund the police for the attack. This stunt was part of the GOP strategy to reinforce Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen, and to shift blame for the insurrection away from the insurrectionists. For months prior to the hearing, congressional Republicans have been repeating election fraud lies—147 Republicans voted to overturn the 2020 election results and, at the state level, have passed 30 laws to restrict voting based on invented “fraud.”
On July 29, a group of Republican lawmakers including Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene were barred from a Washington, D.C.-area jail while attempting to visit Jan. 6 rioters. The publicity was meant to falsely recast those charged in the assault as political prisoners, unfairly jailed for “peaceful protest” or a “normal tourist visit.”
Because of the boycott, the only two Republicans left on the House select committee were Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who shared insight on CNN to the GOP’s Big Lie strategy. “Save one or two maybe out here, nobody — and I think it’s very important to repeat — nobody actually believes the election was stolen from Donald Trump, but a lot of them are happy to go out and say it was.”
In the final weeks of his presidency, Trump launched a “personal pressure campaign” against then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to influence the Department of Justice to investigate unsubstantiated claims of fraud in the election. Rosen insisted during the hearing that he did not give in to Trump’s demands. Democrats may aim to subpoena him, Trump, and other government officials to learn more about the events surrounding Jan. 6, aided by a recent decision from the Justice Department that former government officials could not invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying about conversations with Trump or his advisers about the insurrection.
But even with Trump out of office, GOP leaders are willing to expand his assault on the facts for political gain—and they appear to be having some success. A George Washington University poll that surveyed 1,753 registered U.S. voters from June 4 to June 23 found 82% of Republicans agreed that it’s “hard to trust the results of elections when so many people will vote for anyone who offers a handout,” while 15% of Democrats felt the same. Only 28% of Republicans expressed confidence in the security of the 2022 elections, against 76% of Democrats.
As Henry A. Giroux writes for Truthout, “Manufactured ignorance now thrives in a world of interlacing disasters,” and media is helping the Right normalize extremist ideologies. Giroux explains:
“For instance, from his prime-time perch as a television host on Fox News, Tucker Carlson has become the most influential propagandist and most visible voice for white grievance ideology and replacement theory. He has also risen to the top of the mainstream media ecosystem with his politics of white nationalism, his relentless blasting of liberals and leftists, and his support for Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that the election was ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen.’”
Right-wing media regurgitates alarming half-truths intended to compromise Americans’ confidence in democracy while GOP politicians continue to draft laws aimed at voter suppression. Neither those wielding the power to manufacture ignorance, nor the corporations that fund them, will create fairer elections; to sustain democracy, media and government factions seeking to uphold the power of the vote must aggressively educate the public on, and hold insurrectionists accountable for, attacks against fair elections.
Photo by Evelyn Hockstein / The Washington Post via Getty Images