The clouds of teargas hadn’t even cleared the battle-scarred hallways of the United States Capitol Complex before Republicans, led by House Minority “Leader” Kevin McCarthy, set about writing an alternate history of the insurrection their president and party had gleefully incited.
An organized conservative disinformation campaign turned violent rioters into peaceful “tourists.” Republican lawmakers refused to even speak to D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone and other officers seriously wounded by the Trumpist mob. McCarthy, in an effort to delay and derail any government effort to uncover the truth, argued that any Jan. 6 Commission should also investigate last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Even the folks at Fox News slammed that half-baked idea.
On Tuesday, the bipartisan Jan. 6 Select Committee impaneled by Speaker Nancy Pelosi began their critical fact-finding after rejecting the dead weight of McCarthy’s self-selected obstructionists. For Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of only two Republicans on the commission, McCarthy’s BLM comparison was simply too much to bear.
“Some have concocted a counter-narrative to discredit this process on the grounds that we didn’t launch a similar investigation into the urban riots and looting last summer,” Kinzinger said during an emotional opening statement. “There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law, between a crime—even grave crimes—and a coup.”
Kinzinger’s moral clarity will disappoint his Republican colleagues, many of whom now see tying protests and riots in Portland and other cities to the Capitol insurrection as their last means of minimizing their own complicity in a direct attack on American government.
When far-right lawmakers like McCarthy, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, and others compare January 6 to “BLM riots,” they’re hoping to excite two thoughts in their listeners’ minds: first that these two events are equivalent and then that Democrats didn’t think it was a national emergency when ‘their side’ did it.
No one denies that the United States faced widespread and often deeply troubling protests during the summer of 2020. Between May and August, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project recorded over 10,500 distinct demonstrations touching nearly every major community in America. But what is critical to add—and what Republicans hope to obscure by comparing these protests to the Capitol riot—is that fully 93 percent of last summer’s demonstrations were peaceful acts of protected speech. The January 6 insurrection was decidedly not.
Faced with largely peaceful protests, the GOP fear machine jumped into overdrive. Borrowing from left-wing organizer and conservative bogeyman Saul Alinsky, Republicans quickly publicized individual, isolated instances of violence as being representative of the entire Black Lives Matter movement. It was under that collective delusion that Trump encouraged a massively expensive, all-out police response that briefly turned Washington, D.C. into Fallujah.
This polarize-and-publicize approach helped solidify the image of BLM as violent and anti-American in conservative minds, even as it divorced Republicans from reality. In one particularly ridiculous instance, the Trump administration used a single instance of looting in Manhattan to declare all of New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction.”
The American people would need to drop all sense of nuance, context, and proportion to believe that myth—and that’s exactly what the GOP is hoping will happen.
Among the Republicans whining that the Jan, 6 rioters have been treated unfairly is Senator Rand Paul, who joined Gohmert’s unhinged calls for the Capitol insurrectionists to be released from jail. Paul, who has repeatedly and incorrectly claimed the Capitol mob was “non-violent,” is also a vocal supporter of McCarthy’s ‘BLM Commission’ publicity stunt.
Republicans are no strangers to the power of false equivalencies, but their latest effort to avoid accountability finally pushed Kinzinger to an emotional breaking point. Kinzinger has seen the difference between protest and insurrection up close.
“I was called on to serve during the summer riots as an Air National Guardsman. I condemned those riots and the destruction of property that resulted,” Kinzinger said. “But not once did I ever feel that the future of self-government was threatened like I did on January 6th.”
When Kinzinger condemns opportunistic GOP attempts to compare BLM to the violent January 6 insurrectionists who shattered U.S. Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell’s foot with a stolen speaker, he is also hoping to head off a wave of performative “BLM Commissions” that Republican leaders hope to establish in red state legislatures across the country. Imagine a Jan. 6 Commission where every member is Jim Jordan. That’s a good idea of the fireworks Republicans would hope to generate from an all-GOP “investigation” into Black Americans’ political activism.
The GOP’s desperate attempt to change the subject has shifted wildly before finally settling on BLM as a reliable villain. Back in May, Republicans wanted to launch a similar “investigation” into antifa’s role in the Capitol attack (it had none). Then de facto GOP spokesman Tucker Carlson accused the FBI of masterminding the attack. Turning their fire on Black Americans may be all Republicans have left after facing a stinging round of denunciations from the Capitol police officers they have publicly abandoned.
Sergeant Gonell called the January 6 insurrection a “treasonous act,” and expressed frustration that Republican lawmakers lined up to support officers when they were putting down BLM protests in Washington, D.C. last summer, but disappeared when the perpetrators of violence were fellow Republicans. “It was not antifa, it was not Black Lives Matter, it was not the FBI,” he said of the Capitol insurrectionists. “All of them were saying, ‘Trump sent us!’”
Kinzinger and the only other Republican on the commission, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, both seem acutely aware that the GOP’s war on reality is already causing a seriously corrosive effect on our institutions of self-government. Cheney, no friend of the Black Lives Matter movement, nevertheless refused to join McCarthy and the Trumpists in their efforts to turn this investigation into yet another means to criminalize Black Americans.
Kinzinger and Cheney have demonstrated admirable patriotism in not only seeking the truth about the January 6 insurrection but in rejecting the multiple GOP attempts to dodge blame by smearing Black Lives Matter and leftist organizations. Their commitment to the truth is reassuring, but Congress will need more than Cheney and Kinzinger if it intends to prevent the GOP from wreaking havoc on the very idea of facts and truth.