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Followers of former President Donald Trump have found one conspiracy theory they don’t like: That some Republican members of Congress may have had deeper roles in plans and events that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
One reason they don’t like it is that — unlike the bizarre theories of QAnon, the baseless notions of rampant voter fraud and suspicions about COVID vaccines — the concern that members of Congress may have had a hand in efforts to overturn the election appears to be backed by evidence.
Rolling Stone reported on Sunday that two organizers of the Jan. 6 protests have told congressional investigators that “multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent.”
Rolling Stone said the organizers, speaking anonymously, named seven Republican members of Congress who joined, either directly or through their staffers, in the effort to overturn the election. Republican North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn was among those named.
Cawthorn spokesman Luke Ball dismissed the report on Monday, saying, “These anonymous accusations are complete garbage. Neither the congressman nor his staff had advance knowledge of what transpired at the Capitol on January 6th or participated in any alleged ‘planning process.’ ”
That Cawthorn was named is hardly a surprise. He spoke at the Jan. 6 rally near the White House where he said, “The Democrats, with all the fraud they have done in this election, the Republicans, hiding and not fighting, they are trying to silence your voice.”
Since then, Cawthorn has suggested that another contested election may require taking up arms. “When tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes your duty,” he told a Republican group.
Cawthorn’s remarks are not the only embarrassment for North Carolina. The Rolling Stone report also suggests deep involvement in the Jan. 6 events by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a former Republican congressman who preceded Cawthorn in North Carolina’s 11th District. And then there is the shameless behavior of Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation, who opposed formation of the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 events.
Republican links to the Capitol attack are not limited to Republicans in Washington. ProPublica reported last week that at least two Republican members of the North Carolina General Assembly are members of the Oath Keepers, a militant group whose members were among the instigators of the Jan. 6 violence. Meanwhile, WRAL reported that Gaston County Republican Donnie Loftis — the Republicans’ choice to replace the late state Rep. Dana Bumgardner — joined the “Stop the Steal Rally” outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. He was close enough that he “got gassed three times,” according to what WRAL said is a since-deleted Loftis Facebook post.
Anyone who truly cares about democracy knows it is threatened by the authoritarian instincts of Trump and his followers, and by Republicans who are too timid to stand against that threat. Elected officials like Cawthorn are not simply zealots or cranks. They are the start of what could become an anti-democratic wave that would have a white and wealthy minority preside over the nation against the popular will.
The Rolling Stone report adds new urgency to the work of the House select committee investigating who and what drove the events of Jan. 6, and what must be done to end the smoldering danger to our democracy.
Even one of the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally now realizes that urgency. They told Rolling Stone: “The reason I’m talking to the committee and the reason it’s so important is that — despite Republicans refusing to participate … this commission’s all we got as far as being able to uncover the truth about what happened at the Capitol that day. It’s clear that a lot of bad actors set out to cause chaos.”
Now the committee must uncover who those bad actors are — and how many of them are from North Carolina.