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Republicans know January 6 is a political loser. So they’re trying to rewrite history

From left: Rep Majorie Taylor Greene, former president Donald Trump and  Rep Scott Perry  (Anadolu Agency/Getty)
From left: Rep Majorie Taylor Greene, former president Donald Trump and Rep Scott Perry (Anadolu Agency/Getty)

On Tuesday, House Speaker Mike Johnson defended his decision to release more than 40,000 hours of footage from the January 6 riot.

“We want transparency, we should demand that the American people do,” he said. But Mr Johnson said the faces of some of the people who participated in the riot would be blurred for fear of retribution from the US Department of Justice.

“We don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ and to have other, you know, concerns and problems,” he said.

For nearly two years, Republicans have been unsure how to deal with the question of January 6. In the initial aftermath of the riot when supporters of former president Donald Trump breached the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election results, then-House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said that “the president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters.”

But in the subsequent months, Mr McCarthy and House Republican leadership did everything they could to block investigations into the violence and precipitating events. They opposed the creation of a bipartisan commission to explore what happened on the day and leading up to the riot. When the House created a select committee, Mr McCarthy nominated Reps Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Jim Banks (R-IN), two hard-right allies of Mr Trump, and when then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi denied their placement on the panel, he pulled all of his remaining members.

Now, nearly three years since the violence, Republicans are seeking to rewrite the narratives around January 6 to frame it either as a normal peaceful protest in part of the American tradition or as a set-up by federal law enforcement. It also comes as the de facto leader of the party, Mr Trump, has said if he is re-elected, he would pardon inmates, even as he faces a federal investigation for his role in the riot and efforts to overturn the election.

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January 2021 (AP)
Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January 2021 (AP)

In the end, the House select committee was composed only of people critical of Mr Trump – seven Democrats and two Trump-critical Republicans in now-former representatives Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney. Republicans pledged to release their own report but it landed mostly with a thud before the January 6 committee released its final report only days before Republicans took the majority in the House of Representatives.

While polling after the first eight hearings showed that most Americans remained unchanged in their view of the violence, with many who believe Mr Trump acted unethically but most maintaining their opinion, surveys also showed half of Americans saw the riot at the Capitol as a threat to democracy that should be remembered, as a Quinnipiac survey from last year showed.

Throughout the January 6 select committee hearings, lawmakers delivered evidence showing not only did Mr Trump know he lost the election, but he continued to act to overturn the results. In the final NBC News poll before the midterm election, voters ranked threats to democracy as the top issue, even ahead of the economy.

Similarly, Rep Pete Aguilar (D-CA) revealed during one of the hearings how Mr Trump’s attempts to pressure then-vice president Mike Pence led to threats on his life.

Mr Aguilar, now the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told The Independent that Mr Johnson releasing the footage is not an attempt to rewrite history.

President Donald Trump arrives at the
President Donald Trump arrives at the "Stop The Steal" Rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

“It's an attempt for him to follow his base,” he said. “This is a campaign promise that he made was to release these tapes no matter whether it's dangerous or not. He's put members security, the press security. He's put all of us behind fulfilling a campaign campaign pledge to the most extreme members in his conference.”

In turn, many hardline conservatives demanded that Mr McCarthy release footage of the January 6 riots, and Mr McCarthy seemed to agree with their sentiments.

“We watched the politicisation of this,” Mr McCarthy said in a press conference. “I think the American public should actually see all what happened instead of a report that's written for political basis.”

Later, Mr McCarthy released some footage to Fox News host Tucker Carlson. But Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) criticised Mr McCarthy for not releasing the full footage.

But last month, on the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday, Mr Johnson, who led the legal effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election results to favor Mr Trump, released 40,000 hours of footage.

“This decision will provide millions of Americans, criminal defendants, public interest organizations, and the media an ability to see for themselves what happened that day, rather than having to rely upon the interpretation of a small group of government officials,” he said in a statement last month.

Rep Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who served as chairman of the select committee, told The Independent he did not oppose the release of the video because the events of that day are already out there.

Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., left. (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., left. (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“It’s fine, we already released [it],” he said. “I don't know what his motives are, but the tapes are available to anyone.”

The 40,000 hours worth of footage is almost impossible for one person to sift through in athe couple of weeks since its release. At the same time, Republicans seem to hope to show that the riot was not as hostile. Indeed some footage, such as one video showing rioters entering from the Western Stairs part of the Capitol features rioters fumbling around, seeming to show that they were not as aggressive as Democrats would like to believe.

But the video preceding it shows the rioters clashing with police officers who were unable to push back the rioters. Other pieces of footage show rioters breaking through windows to come into the Capitol.

Nonetheless, Republican members of the House have praised Mr Johnson for his release of the footage. Since then, Republicans have insisted that the whole story has not been told about January 6 and see the release of the footage as an opportunity to change the narrative.

House GOP members have either said that the people arrested breaking into the Capitol are innocent political prisoners victimized by an overzealous Department of Justice or they say that the “whole story” needs to be told without saying what exactly that story is or what side needs to be revealed while others see the release of the footage as a chance to exact revenge on what they consider an unfair select committee.

“I think the next steps are for the public to take a, take a look at them and they can form their opinions on what really happened there in totality because I think they've been given a one sided narrative for a couple of years now,” Rep Scott Perry (R-PA), a chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told The Independent.

Former President Donald Trump is greeted by Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., as he arrives at Atlantic Aviation CHS in North Charleston, S.C., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2023 (AP)
Former President Donald Trump is greeted by Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., as he arrives at Atlantic Aviation CHS in North Charleston, S.C., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2023 (AP)

In August of 2022, Mr Perry said the FBI had seized his phone the day after it executed a search warrant at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. In May of that year, the select committee said that Mr Perry “was directly involved with efforts to corrupt the Department of Justice and install Jeffrey Clark as acting Attorney General.”

But when asked what sides he wanted to show, Mr Perry evaded.

“The truth is that it's not a one-sided deal,” he said. When asked what sides he wanted Americans to know, he said “I want them to know all sides.”

Similarly, Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has said there should be a select committee investigating everyone from Ms Pelosi to US Capitol Police to witnesses for the January 6 committee she said lied to the FBI to the Justice Department to Washington Metro Police. Ms Greene has also been one of the biggest supporters of January 6 defendants, having led a group of Republican members to visit a prison in Washington, DC where rioters are being held.

“We need to know exactly what they were doing because people walked in through open doors into the Capitol, and now the Department of Justice has been going after them and prosecuting them and it's nearly where we come in upon three years,” she told The Independent.

But Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a former member of the January 6 committee who served as the lead impeachment manager for Mr Trump’s second trial for his fomenting of the riot, told The Independent that releasing the video could compromise safety.

“First of all, it's scandalous from a security perspective, yeah. Not to put this in the control of the Capitol Police to decide what a compromised security posture and what doesn't,” he said. “ But all of this is to put it in the hands of right wing, revisionist liars, who want to search through the tens of thousands of hours of footage, not for the truth, but for any minor detail that could somehow corroborate their conspiracy fantasy theories.”

But Mr Raskin said the footage would not exonerate the rioters or anyone who incited violence.

“They believe that if they can find a picture of three insurrectionists walking down a hallway, not beating someone up that that somehow contradicts the footage we've all seen and it just doesn't work like that,” he said. “I mean, you could find a picture of a 9/11 hijacker munching peanuts on the airplane 45 minutes before their plane crashed into you know the World Trade Center, but it doesn't hold to the actual coherence of the factual history.”