Adam Kinzinger didn't want to serve on the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
A former Republican congressman, Kinzinger knew that serving on the committee would make him a target within the GOP.
“I knew what it would cost," Kinzinger told the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club Thursday. "I knew what the sacrifice would be… I knew what the impact would be on my family, but I also knew that I could not say no. I couldn't not do it at this moment.”
Serving on the committee made Kinzinger one of the most prominent political figures in the country, admired by those who believe his actions took courage and a villain to many on the right, who saw his move as lending credibility to an investigation they viewed as biased.
Kinzinger described his approach as putting "country first, defending democracy." That's the title of the speech he gave Thursday at Michael's On East. It's what he's urging every American to do at a moment he views as extremely perilous for the country.
Kinzinger believes American democracy is teetering, and violence is a real possibility.
“When democracy fails, or when democracy falls apart, you’re apt to get violence because people feel unheard… I’m worried we’re getting to that point today,” Kinzinger told the packed room.
Americans must transcend party affiliation and other political differences to protect democracy, Kinzinger said.
“If you truly believe democracy’s in peril… you have to temporarily put those differences aside and stand up to defend the system," he said.
An outspoken critic of former Trump and his unfounded claims about 2020 election fraud, Kinzinger said it's clear who is to blame for Jan. 6 "and that this is, I'm sorry, the former president of the United States."
“When you can convince a significant amount of the country that an election was stolen despite all evidence... and you take away that faith people have in the election system what happens?" Kinzinger asked. "Well, you start to get people that feel very disaffected, and you start to get people that feel very left out and you start to get violence."
An Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kinzinger was one of just two Republicans to serve on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. The other was former Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
Former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formed the Jan. 6 committee in June of 2021 and it held its final hearing last December.
"I thought we were going to fail; I thought the committee wouldn't do a good job because no committee has ever convinced the American people of anything," Kinzinger said. "But the evidence was powerful enough that I thought we did a strong and solid job."
Serving on the committee came with costs for the two GOP members, though.
Kinzinger and Cheney became the focus of Trump's ire. The former president repeatedly attacked the two Republican committee members, as did many of Trump's followers.
“I never sought to be a controversial figure," Kinzinger said. "I am one now."
Trump helped defeat Cheney when she sought re-election. Kinzinger decided not to seek a seventh term and retired from the House.
Yet Kinzinger said he remains a Republican and may run for office again one day, even as he questions the GOP's direction.
“I don’t think the Republican Party, my party, knows its identity anymore," he said.
Despite the evidence revealed by the Jan. 6 committee, polls show Trump remains a strong favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination again. Kinzinger acknowledged in an interview after his speech that the former president is "in the catbird seat" and will be difficult to defeat.
"I think the Republican Party probably has to burn through this a little more," he said. "There's going to be a moment when I think they recognize they're not going to win the next generation. You're going to start losing elections."
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Jan. 6 committee member Adam Kinzinger speaks at Sarasota Tiger Bay