The Right Is Still Deeply Confused About What They Want The January 6 Narrative To Be

January 6

For an entire year, the Right has struggled to come together on a spin of the January 6 insurrection in which they come out as the good guys or in which the Left comes out at least somewhat worse than they do. They've sort of half-assed their way through two primary spins, both of which deeply conflict with one another and also literally everything we know about what happened.

1. It was antifa. Everyone there who was doing anything bad? Antifa! Or undercover Feds! Probably both! Any Trump supporters there just "wandered in," assuming they had been invited, probably. They were more like tourists!

2. All of the people who have been arrested and charged with crimes related to January 6 are beautiful patriots/political prisoners who did nothing wrong and in fact had every right to be there and do what they did.

Republicans who want to stay in office and rightwing pundits who want to keep their jobs tend to not be real big on Sister Souljah moment-ing (possibly because it does not actually work) and usually prefer to present a narrative of "We're great, you're the ones who suck." Alas, it is very hard to spin "Several thousand people invading the Capitol and causing possibly $30 million worth of damage in order to prevent a free and fair election from being certified, in hopes that Congress would just let Donald Trump be president for another four years" to one's favor.

But that doesn't mean they're not going to try. And they're certainly trying today.


Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro gets pedantic with it, claiming that it is bad and unfair to call what happened on January 6 an insurrection, and that calling it that is the same thing as calling negligent homicide or manslaughter murder. Why? Because he doesn't personally believe it fits the Merriam-Webster definition of the term.

The events of Jan. 6 also fail to meet the dictionary definition of insurrection, which Merriam-Webster defines as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” A usage note adds that the term implies “an armed uprising that quickly fails or succeeds.” A closely related term, “insurgency,” is “a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as a belligerency.”

Other near synonyms include “rebellion,” “revolution,” “uprising,” “revolt” and “mutiny.” All require two elements, neither of which was present in the Jan. 6 breach—the organized use of violent force and the aim of replacing one government or political system with another.

To be clear, the Capitol rioters were doing all of those things. They were using violent force and were in fact there to replace one government with another. Their plan was to stop the election from being certified, through force, in order to replace the incoming Biden administration with four more years of Trump. There were guns, there were knives, there were explosives and other things that could be used as weapons, and 140 Capitol police officers were injured in the ensuing violence. This would be why several of the rioters faced weapons charges.

Despite the many pictures available of people with weapons, Shapiro claims they were unarmed and that, because they thought they were protecting the US constitutional system, it doesn't count as trying to overthrow the US constitutional system.

The demonstrators who unlawfully entered the Capitol during the Electoral College count were unarmed and had no intention of overthrowing the U.S. constitutional system or engaging in a conspiracy “against the United States, or to defraud the United States.” On the contrary, many of them believed—however erroneously—that the U.S. constitutional system was in jeopardy from voter fraud, and they desperately lashed out in a dangerous, reckless hysteria to protect that system.

Pretty sure that doesn't count! Generally speaking, most people who try to overthrow their governments do not imagine they are doing so for bad reasons. They tend to think they are the good guys — and sometimes they are. In this case they were not.

The media’s mischaracterization of these events created a moral panic that unfairly stigmatized Trump supporters across the nation as white supremacists conspiring to overthrow the U.S. government, resulting in the unnecessary mobilization of armed U.S. troops in Washington.

Those who violated the law inside the U.S. Capitol should be prosecuted and, if convicted, sentenced accordingly. But dramatizing a riot as an organized, racist, armed insurrection is false reporting and dangerous political gaslighting.

Except it's really not. And those who participated in the riots were not unfairly stigmatized, they were fairly stigmatized. And if 52 percent of Republicans believe that those who were there were "protecting democracy," then they are also being fairly stigmatized. We know it was organized, and that several participants have been indicted on conspiracy charges. We know there were self-identified Nazis and white supremacists there, because they took pictures and posted them on Telegram. These are facts.

And the "unnecessary mobilization of armed U.S. troops in Washington"? They had just tried to hang the vice president.

I am all for specificity, and I even agree with Shapiro on his point that "[t]he misuse of words, especially involving criminal accusations, can easily result in overreaching enforcement of the law." I believe that to be a true statement, which does not happen to apply in this case, because it literally was an insurrection. That's not hyperbole, that's fact.

Over at The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway claims that all the people invading the Capitol wanted was "free and fair elections they could trust, elections that 'well-funded cabals of powerful people' weren’t able to rig" and that the "hysteria" surrounding January 6 is a way for Democrats to avoid being held accountable for rigging the 2020 election by making it too easy for people to vote and kicking "effective conservative voices" off of social media just for making violent threats or being super racist.

Also at The Federalist, John Daniel Davidson argues that Democrats have failed to learn the real lesson of January 6, and that is that protesting police brutality is bad.

Instead of admitting that their tacit support for the BLM riots might have opened the door for the Capitol riot, Democrats and the media decided to lump all Republicans in with the Jan. 6 rioters. They are now conflating rather mundane GOP-led state election reforms with the so-called “insurrection,” as if duly elected lawmakers making laws are no different than mobs storming past police barriers.

Well, that's because their "mundane" election reforms make it super hard for people to vote, or to have their votes counted, and in some cases allow Republican legislatures to simply decide who won their state for themselves.

Davidson was perhaps more confused about what his own point was than we are, arguing that what happened on January 6 was bad, and that political violence is always bad, while still maintaining the rightwing line that people have the right to overthrow the government if they don't like it.

The problem is, political violence is incompatible with a constitutional republic like ours. It cannot be tolerated. The Washington Post came out with a poll recently showing 34 percent of Americans now believe that violence against the government can be justified under certain circumstances, a sharp increase from earlier polls that asked the same question.

It should be 100 percent. Americans schooled in the Declaration of Independence should know about the right of revolution: that a free people have the right — a duty, even — to revolt against a tyrannical regime and establish a new political order, waging a war of revolution if need be. Under conditions of tyranny, of course violence against the government is justified. But that’s probably not what those 34 percent meant.

Short of revolution, political violence in a free society should be absolutely forbidden. When it arises, it should be crushed by overwhelming force. That’s what should have happened on Jan. 6, and also what should have happened in cities across the country in the months leading up to it.

As the definition of "tyranny" tends to vary from person to person, that differentiation doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Nearly all people who engage in political violence, right or wrong, believe they are standing up against tyranny. Those who were at the Capitol on January 6 believed that was exactly what they were doing. But those who push the "We have the Second Amendment so we can overthrow the government in case of tyranny" have never quite been able to square that with the fact that it is illegal to assassinate the president. They just want their guns and they want to feel like patriots for having them and for opposing gun control laws, instead of feeling like selfish assholes who are the reason we can't have nice things (like fewer school shootings).

There's a reason there's no unified rightwing theory of what happened on January 6, and that is because none of their theories are strong enough to survive any serious scrutiny. By throwing a whole bunch of crap up against the wall to see what sticks, they turn the narrative into a game of whack-a-mole, where every time an excuse is successfully refuted, they come up with another one. Because they goal isn't even to push their version of the truth, so much as it is to muddy the whole concept of what "the truth" actually is.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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