Already Distorting the Events of Jan. 6, the G.O.P. Now Aims to Turn Them on Their Head

A new version of the attack amounts to a disinformation campaign aimed at giving cover to the party and intensifying the threats to political accountability.,

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

In the hours and days after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, rattled Republican lawmakers knew exactly who was to blame: Donald J. Trump. Loyal allies began turning on him. Top Republicans vowed to make a full break from his divisive tactics and dishonesties. Some even discussed removing him from office.

By spring, however, after nearly 200 congressional Republicans had voted to clear Mr. Trump during a second impeachment proceeding, the conservative fringes of the party had already begun to rewrite history, describing the Capitol riot as a peaceful protest and comparing the invading mob to a “normal tourist visit,” as one congressman put it.

This past week, amid the emotional testimony of police officers at the first hearing of a House select committee, Republicans completed their journey through the looking-glass, spinning a new counternarrative of that deadly day. No longer content to absolve Mr. Trump, they concocted a version of events in which accused rioters were patriotic political prisoners and Speaker Nancy Pelosi was to blame for the violence.

Their new claims, some voiced from the highest levels of House Republican leadership, amount to a disinformation campaign being promulgated from the steps of the Capitol, aimed at giving cover to their party and intensifying the threats to political accountability.

This rendering of events — together with new evidence that Mr. Trump had counted on allies in Congress to help him use a baseless allegation of corruption to overturn the election — pointed to what some democracy experts see as a dangerous new sign in American politics: Even with Mr. Trump gone from the White House, many Republicans have little intention of abandoning the prevarication that was a hallmark of his presidency.

Rather, as the country struggles with the consequences of Mr. Trump’s assault on the legitimacy of the nation’s elections, leaders of his party — who, unlike the former president, have not lost their political or rhetorical platforms — are signaling their willingness to continue, look past or even expand his assault on the facts for political gain.

The phenomenon is not uniquely American.

“This is happening all over the place — it is so much linked to the democratic backsliding and rising of authoritarian movements,” said Laura Thornton, the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It’s about the same sort of post-truth world. You can just repeat a lie over and over and, because there’s so little trust, people will believe it.”

Behind the Republican embrace of disinformation is a calculus of both ambition and self-preservation. With members of the select committee hinting that they could subpoena Trump aides, allies on Capitol Hill and perhaps Mr. Trump himself, the counterfactual counterattack could pre-emptively undercut an investigation of the riot.

As videos shown during the hearing gave harrowing new reminders of the day’s violence, leading House Republicans claimed that Ms. Pelosi — a target of the mob — had been warned about the violence in advance but failed to prevent it.

From his private club in New Jersey, Mr. Trump suggested that Ms. Pelosi should “investigate herself,” yet again falsely insinuating that antifa and Black Lives Matter — not his followers — caused the destruction on Jan. 6 and that a democratically decided election had been stolen from him.

All the while, in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican, who once led his party in condemning both the riot and Mr. Trump’s role in it, made no visible attempt to stop the flood of fabrications, telling reporters he had not watched the hearing and had little new to say about the most violent attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.

House Republicans’ desire to bury the attack on their own workplace has created a dysfunctional governing atmosphere. Ms. Pelosi has increasingly treated them as a pariah party, unworthy of collaboration or trust, and has expressed deep disdain for Representative Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, whom she called a “moron” this past week.

Video

transcript

bars
0:00/40:32
-0:00

transcript

Day of Rage: An In-Depth Look at How a Mob Stormed the Capitol

A six-month Times investigation has synchronized and mapped out thousands of videos and police radio communications from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, providing the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” [cheering] They came from all 50 states out of some sense of patriotic duty … “It’s so much more than just rallying for President Trump. It’s really rallying for our way of life. The American dream, against fake news.” … to protest an election they believed had been stolen. “Stop the steal! Stop the steal!” “We’re here, patriots. We’re in Washington D.C. Capitol building dead in front of us.” Their day of action would be Jan. 6 … “The House comes to order.” … when Congress would count electoral ballots and ratify the 2020 election results. For some, it was just a rally for their president. For others, it was a call to arms. “We have the power in numbers. March on Congress directly after Trump’s speech.” In the weeks beforehand, there were over a million mentions on social media of storming the Capitol. Maps were shared of the building’s layout. There was talk of bringing weapons and ammunition, and discussion over which lawmakers should be targeted first. This anger was based on a lie. “This election was a fraud.” A lie that had grown more frenzied after the election. “President Trump won this election.” “They were flipping votes.” “Steal the election in Philadelphia.” “When you win in a landslide and they –” “Steal the election in Atlanta –” “And it’s rigged –” “Steal the election in Milwaukee –” “It’s not acceptable.” “This is outrageous.” A lie spread by the president and his closest allies. “Let’s call out cheating when we find it.” Some of whom stoked calls for violence. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” “Everyone’s going to remember who actually stands in the breach and fights tomorrow. And who goes running off like a chicken.” “We bleed freedom.” “This will be their Waterloo.” “And we will sacrifice for freedom.” “This will be their destruction.” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” What happened next was chaos. “They broke the glass?” Insurrection. “Take it now!” “Treason! Treason!” Death. Then, there began a campaign to whitewash history, starting at the top. “It was a zero threat. Right from the start, it was zero threat.” And spreading throughout the Republican Party. “Even calling it an insurrection, It wasn’t. By and large, it was peaceful protest.” One lawmaker, who helped barricade the House doors, now suggests there was barely any threat. “If you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” A tourist visit this was not. And the proof is in the footage. As part of a six-month investigation, The New York Times has collected and forensically analyzed thousands of videos, most filmed by the rioters themselves. We obtained internal police radio traffic … … and went to court to unseal police body-cam footage. Our reconstruction shows the Capitol riot for what it was, a violent assault encouraged by the president on a seat of democracy that he vowed to protect. We’ll chart how police leaders failed to heed warnings of an impending attack, putting rank-and-file officers in danger. We’ll track key instigators in the mob taking advantage of weaknesses in the Capitol’s defenses to ignite a wave of violence that engulfed the building. We’ll show, for the first time, the many simultaneous points of attack, and the eight breaches of what appeared to be an impenetrable institution of government. We’ll show how the delay to secure Congress likely cost a rioter her life. And how for some, storming the Capitol was part of the plan, all along. “In fact, tomorrow, I don’t even like to say it because I’ll be arrested.” “Well, let’s not say it. We need to go — I’ll say it.” “All right.” “We need to go in to the Capitol.” “Let’s go!” It’s the morning of Jan. 6, and thousands are filling the National Mall in Washington. Trump will speak here at the Ellipse, a large park near the White House and a half-hour walk to the U.S. Capitol where the election will be certified. Who is actually in this crowd? Most are ordinary citizens who believe Trump’s lie that the election was stolen. “It’s going to be a great day. It’s going to be wild, as Trump says.” But we also see more extreme groups who’ve gained a following during Trump’s presidency. There are followers of the QAnon conspiracy … “Drinking their blood, eating our babies.” … who believe that Trump is facing down a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Q posts often invoked notions of patriotism and predict a coming storm. And ahead of Jan. 6, some supporters call for violence. The Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group, are also here. “We have men already stationed outside D.C. –” Their leader has said the group is ready to follow Trump’s orders and take members of what they call the “Deep State” into custody. They’re organized, staging their military-style equipment neatly on the ground. And later, they put on body armor, talk on radios, and chat with their supporters on a walkie-talkie app called Zello. “We have a good group. We got about 30, 40, of us who are sticking together and sticking to the plan. Y’all, we’re one block away from the Capitol, now. I’m probably going to go silent when I get there because I’m going to be a little busy.” Another group is the Proud Boys. They’re far-right nationalists who flashed white power signs throughout the day. “Check out all this testosterone.” They became a household name when Trump invoked them during a presidential debate. “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” And that’s what they did. They have a history of street violence and will be key instigators of the riot. We’ll return to them soon. Although the rally is billed as a political protest, some make calls to storm the Capitol even before Trump speaks. And later, when Trump does take the stage … “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol.” … some hear his words as a call to action. “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building.” Two hours before this, the Proud Boys were already heading for the Capitol. They’re clearly spoiling for a fight with far-left agitators like antifa, who they believe are in D.C. But there are moments that suggest another motive. “Come on, tighten up.” “Come on, boys. They’re organized, too. Many are marked with orange tape or hats. They’re wearing body armor, carrying baseball bats and using radios. “That’s affirmative. Jesse, this is Tucker” Leading them is Ethan Nordean, who’s been entrusted with so-called war powers. He’s joined by other well-known Proud Boys like Joe Biggs, an organizer from Florida, Dominic Pezzola, a former Marine, and Billy Chrestman. They will be among the first rioters inside the Capitol building. “Proud Boys.” As Trump is speaking, some of his other supporters also head to the Capitol. Chanting: “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!” And the tone is becoming menacing. “And we’re going to storm the [expletive] Capitol. [expletive] you, [expletive].” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Just ahead, officers guarding the building are understaffed and ill-equipped for what’s coming their way. “You going to stop us?” The building is more than two football fields in length. And barricades erected on the east side are defended by just a few dozen officers. The west side, facing Trump’s rally, is even lighter. The fencing has been extended and on the northwest approach, only five officers stand guard. Around five also defend the southwest approach, a few more dot the lawn and about a dozen officers are behind them. Plans to storm the Capitol were made in plain sight, but the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security did not deem those threats as credible. “We will take that building!” “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Capitol Police leaders and Washington’s mayor were warned at least three times of violent threats, but also didn’t take them seriously or circulate that information. And they declined offers of security personnel from federal and other agencies. They could have enlisted several hundred more Capitol police for duty on Jan. 6, but did not. And none of the officers on the barricades have protective gear or crowd-control equipment. As a result, the Capitol is sparsely defended. “Whose House? Our House! Whose House? Our House!” It’s 12:50 p.m. and a large group of Proud Boys is with other protesters right by the Capitol Police line. Joe Biggs is rallying them. When he’s approached by Ryan Samsel, a Trump supporter from Pennsylvania. They chat, we don’t know about what. But a minute later, Samsel is the first to approach the police line. And it’s now that the protest turns violent. “U.S.A.!” Without hesitation, the crowd overpowers the police. Nearby, a second group breaks through on another approach. Others jump fences. And now hundreds of rioters rush forward on several fronts. “D.C. is a [expletive] war zone.” Police retreat to the Capitol building where it’s becoming more threatening. “This is what we came for! Yeah!” A mob mentality begins to take hold. Police are so outnumbered, they’re forced to retreat again to more tightly defend access points to the Capitol. It’s now five minutes into the siege that the Capitol Police chief calls for backup from local law enforcement, known as the Metropolitan Police, and asks other Capitol leaders to mobilize the National Guard. “You took an oath! Does that not mean a damn thing to you, does it?” Metro Police will arrive within 15 minutes. But for reasons we’ll explain later, the National Guard won’t arrive for over four hours. “Back up! Back up!” Meanwhile, more Capitol Police come to reinforce the line. It’s the first time we see officers in riot gear. But most are missing their shields because they had not prepared to unlock the storage area where that equipment is kept. Proud Boys like Billy Chrestman keep rallying the mob. And again, they start brawling with the police. Minutes later, reinforcements from the Metro Police arrive. A high-ranking Metro officer immediately calls for more backup. They struggle to subdue rioters who respond with their own chemical spray. And within 30 minutes, the police already have casualties. [shouting] This first wave of rioters battling police has paved the way across Capitol grounds for others to follow. And after Trump finishes speaking, thousands more now fill the space. Meanwhile, inside the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence have begun certifying the 2020 presidential election results. Certification will happen on both sides of the building, in the House and the Senate. And this is what the rioters want to stop. An hour into the assault, the mob is battling a police line here, along the west face of the Capitol. But that violence is now going to spread to multiple points of attack, as west side rioters stream around the Capitol and incite the crowd on the east. Here’s what that crowd looks like on the east. “Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the steal!” They’re aware of the siege happening on the west side, and some are emboldened by it. But up until now, they’ve been kept behind the barricades. “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Then this group from the west storms around to the building and pushes right through the barriers. The police here barely put up a fight. And it’s now that protesters, all along the east barricades, surge forward. [cheering] Officers are overwhelmed from several directions, and retreat to guard Capitol entrances. But these rioters believe they’ve been deputized by their president to stop a crime. And now, they start trying to get into the building itself. [shouting] [glass breaking] [pounding on door] The Capitol is now surrounded. Rioters haven’t made it inside yet, but around the time that the mob on the east pushed forward, rioters on the west were making a pivotal move. This scaffolding was erected for the upcoming inauguration of Joe Biden. It covers a staircase that gives direct access to an upper level, and dozens of doors and windows. Three police lines guard that route. But at ground level, officers are so overwhelmed that just a few cover this crucial access point. Several Proud Boys see the weakness. Proud Boys start fighting the police, and with others in the mob, they push through the line. Over several minutes, it’s a brutal fight on these steps. At one point, the rioters are held back. [groaning] But they make a final push up the flight of stairs. [cheering] At the top, they scuffle again with a small group of officers … … who give in after barely a minute. The mob now has direct access to Capitol entrances. “I can’t believe this is reality. We accomplished this [expletive].” And hundreds more protesters below, surge forward. “Let’s go! The siege is ours.” It’s utter mayhem, and it’s about to get worse. This scene is being filmed from countless angles allowing us to piece together, moment by moment, what comes next. Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola uses a police shield he stole to bash in a window. And at 2:13 p.m., the Capitol is breached. Michael Sparks, a Trump supporter from Kentucky, is the first person inside. A police officer seems unsure of what to do and backs off. Sparks is followed by Proud Boys and other far-right extremists, one carrying a Confederate flag, another armed with a baseball bat. When rioters break open the locked doors, hundreds more rush in. [shouting] [glass breaking] This is a critical moment. Officers must now defend the outside and inside of the building, stretching them even further. Simultaneous events now happen that are critical to lawmakers’ safety. Rioters head straight for the Senate, and will be at its doors in two minutes. Above them, the Senate is called into recess. “We’ll pause.” Members will evacuate down these stairs. In this hallway, directly overhead the rioters, Officer Eugene Goodman is sprinting to overtake them. He passes Mitt Romney, who he warns to turn around. Reinforcements are following behind. Goodman overtakes the mob, goes downstairs and intercepts them. He holds them off while backup arrives upstairs. Behind these rioters, and just feet away, is an escape route where the lawmakers and Senate staff are now fleeing. Just one officer stands guard. Keeping his composure, Goodman draws the mob away from that escape route to where reinforcements are waiting. Goodman: “Second floor!” He glances toward the Senate, and realizes the door is unguarded. Goodman shoves the protester again, lures the mob away, and brings them into that line of fellow officers. Again, the rioters here are convinced it’s their duty to defend democracy. “We’re not [expletive] around! Because we are mad!” [shouting] The officers hold them off here, for now. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, a few political leaders are evacuated from the House of Representatives. But despite a lockdown alert, proceedings here will resume. “The House will be in order.” We’ll go there soon. First, we’ll go to the Crypt in the center of the Capitol below the Rotunda. The mob is already at its entrance. If they get through here, they will more easily fan out across the building. Rioters jostle with police here for six minutes, and then flood through. It’s now 2:24 p.m., some 90 minutes after the siege began, and the mob is about to overrun the building. “Stop the steal! Stop the steal!” As this is happening, and as thousands more swell outside, Trump composes a tweet. Not to calm his supporters, but to blame his vice president. He writes: At this very time, Pence and his family are being taken to safety, along with an aide who’s carrying the country’s nuclear launch equipment. “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” At 2:25 p.m., there’s another major breach on the opposite side of the building, the east side. Rioters have been battling a handful of officers at these doors for almost half an hour. The tide turns when rioters who came through the Crypt, reach these doors and pull them open. Then an active-duty Marine Corps officer, Christopher Warnagiris, keeps that door open for the mob to flood in. Just as elsewhere, this crowd is a mix of die-hard Trump supporters, but also more organized groups like the Oath Keepers, who move in formation here toward that east side entrance. The Oath Keepers and their supporters continue to update each other on the Zello chat app. The group enters the Capitol together. Proud Boys are near them, including Joe Biggs, the organizer we saw earlier. He’s entering the building for a second time. The Oath Keepers fill the Rotunda along with hundreds of other rioters. “Took over the Capitol. Overran the Capitol.” “We’re in the [expletive] Capitol, bro.” Now the police inside the building are completely outnumbered and call for backup. “It’s our House!” “Whose House?” “Our House!” Throughout the Capitol, staffers have barricaded doors to keep the mob out. In Nancy Pelosi’s chambers, staffers rush inside a conference room and lock two doors behind them. Just 12 minutes later, rioters outside head straight for her offices. “Nancy! Nancy!” And pile in. Huddled together under a table, Pelosi’s staff record what’s happening. One rioter tries to break into that same room. Inside, staffers are silent as they record him pounding. [loud banging] He gets through the first door, but the second door keeps him out. It’s a scene that, again, shows just how compromised the U.S. government has become. “I think I like my new dining room.” By 2:30 p.m., the Senate evacuation is well underway. But even though a lockdown was called over 15 minutes ago, the House is still in session. “Do not accept Arizona’s electors as certified.” Representative Jim McGovern is chairing. He told us he wanted to finish hearing objections to the election results by Paul Gosar. House staff and security gave McGovern the all-clear to continue. It’s a delay that likely cost someone their life. Suddenly, staff are now pointing at the chamber’s doors. Just outside, a mob of 100 or more is baying to get into them. These rioters pay little heed to the thin line of police. “They’re going. Yeah, I would just stop — bro.” And in moments, are pushing against the doors into the House. “Stop the steal!” On the other side, Capitol Police erect a barricade and draw their guns. “You’re a traitor.” On the floor, lawmakers are evacuated to the rear of the chamber, where in a few minutes a rioter will be shot and killed. Part of the mob outside now peels off in that direction to find a different way in. Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran and QAnon supporter, is among the first to arrive at the rear of the House. “Open the door.” They see the lawmakers escaping. That lobby might have been clear had the House been evacuated sooner. But the rioters now become incensed. Zachary Alam, a Trump supporter from Pennsylvania, punches in the glass panels with his bare fists. [pounding on door] “Open the door.” Police are stretched extremely thin. Just three officers and a security staffer stand guard. None are wearing riot gear, and they keep their weapons holstered. “It’s going to get worse.” “Open the door.” When a team of heavily armed police now arrives, the three officers step aside. “Go! Let’s go! Get this.” This creates a crucial gap that allows rioters to smash in the glass. A warning — what happens next is graphic. It’s 2:44 p.m., and behind the door, a police officer draws his handgun. Babbitt vaults into the window and the officer shoots her once. [gunshot] “Oh! Oh!” It’s a fatal wound through the upper chest. Inside the chamber, the floor is clear, but lawmakers in the balcony are sheltering in place. [gunshot] “The [expletive]?” “Take your pins off.” “Pins off.” They now remove the breast pins that identify them as members of Congress. A group of rioters who almost made it to the balcony are held at gunpoint as it’s finally evacuated. Now Trump supporters have achieved their goal, stopping the election certification. And while the House is evacuated, at the other side of the building, the Senate is occupied. “Treason! Treason! Treason!” On the Senate floor, they leaf through lawmakers’ files. “There’s got to be something in here we can [expletive] use against these scumbags.” Mug for photos. “Jesus Christ –” Pray. “We invoke Your name. Amen!” “Amen!” And leave a message for Mike Pence. “It’s only a matter of time. Justice is coming.” As rioters inside have been rampaging throughout the Capitol, the crowd outside has grown. And that first battle has continued raging. [horn blowing] For almost two hours, officers face off with rioters who say they support the police … … but assault them, anyway. We’re going to show what happened here because it demonstrates, yet again, how failures by Capitol Police leaders to prepare put the safety of these officers at risk. “Leave him alone! Leave him alone!” Capitol Police had been ordered to withhold some of their stronger weapons. But as soon as Robert Glover, a Metro Police inspector arrives, he calls for his munitions team to help. When the building is breached, Glover knows he needs to retreat and seeks advice from Capitol leaders. [shouting] When Capitol don’t respond, he asks four times. “Push! Push! Push! Push!” Then, the police lose the line. “We the people, we are the storm!” Rioters knock an officer over, throw a fire extinguisher. “U.S.A.!” Glover issues a 10-33, the call of last resort. Crazed rioters hound the police even as they retreat to the upper level. Police now begin to guard this doorway, an iconic centerpiece of presidential inaugurations. But for another two hours, the same pattern will repeat. Rioters fill the terrace. Instigators trigger a frenzy. And tragically, someone will die. A brutal fight erupts in the doorway. The mob heaves in a coordinated scrum. [screaming] “Help!” When police finally push them out, they face even worse violence. They are tased, gassed and robbed of their equipment. They’re beaten with a crutch, a hockey stick and even an American flag. At least four officers are pulled into the crowd. One dragged by his own helmet, face down. And again, the frenzy turns fatal. Rosanne Boyland, a Trump supporter who has been swept up by QAnon conspiracies, is moving toward the door. But amid the scrum, she collapses and is lying unconscious beneath the mob. [crowd chants] “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” As the crowd sarcastically chants a Black Lives Matter slogan, Boyland’s friend, Justin Winchell, tries to pull her to safety. He screams for help. But instead, fellow rioters trample over Boyland and charge at the police again. Boyland will be pronounced dead at a local hospital in the evening. By the end of the day, rioters have breached and entered the building in at least eight locations. There’s the first breach, which we’ve seen, when rioters smashed through two windows and a door. Beside that, a rioter with a crowbar smashes in a second door, and then opens it to hundreds of people. Others smash a window next to the Inauguration door and climb inside. “Patriots, we need people to stand up for our country and our Constitution.” At this entrance, police stand aside and allow rioters to stream in, unchallenged. On the north side of the building, police in riot gear yield and let the crowd in. Another three breaches are on the east side, two by the central doors into the Rotunda, and this southeast door leading to the House chamber. It’s the arrival of more Metropolitan Police and other agencies that finally turns the tide. When those officers enter the Rotunda, they clear it in just 20 minutes. As the mob is pushed back through the east doors, their rage turns to Mike Pence, who Trump attacked earlier. Metro officers also stop other rioters from entering on the west side, where the mob first broke in. But here, too, we see a crowd empowered by the belief that they’re carrying out some patriotic duty. Over the course of the day, 150 police officers are injured. After 4 p.m., Metro and Capitol Police regain control of the upper levels. The final parts of the interior are cleared by other law enforcement, including federal agencies. Tear gas and flash bangs disperse the crowd on the Inauguration terrace. The Virginia State Police and Arlington County Police help to reclaim that area. Then rioters are swiftly pushed off Capitol grounds by a reinforced police line. Only now, more than three hours after Capitol police first called them, do National Guard soldiers arrive. “You can just do and turn down, right now.” Troops were staging just 20 minutes away. But a recent procedural change meant the highest level of the Pentagon had to approve deployment. And Pentagon officials delayed the decision, partially in fear of bad optics, even as the Capitol was being overrun. As calm returns, the president tweets again. He repeats that the election had been stripped away, calls his supporters great patriots, and says: The aftermath of Jan. 6 has been as divisive as the lie that launched it. Even as one arm of government has indicted hundreds of rioters, Republican lawmakers continue efforts to normalize what happened with a mix of denials and conspiracy theories. “Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters.” “I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break a law. And so I wasn’t concerned.” They include Paul Gosar, who’d been at the Trump rally. “The D.O.J. is harassing peaceful patriots across the country.” And Andrew Clyde, who we saw earlier, standing just a few feet from rioters. “There was no insurrection. And to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bald-faced lie.” Republican leaders have blocked an independent investigation that could have brought new details to light. “I’ve made the decision to oppose the House Democrats’ slanted and unbalanced proposal for another commission to study the events of January the 6th.” And in May, a top Republican was ousted from the party’s leadership after blaming Trump for inspiring the riot. “And I think that the party is in a place that we’ve got to bring it back from.” None of what happened on Jan. 6 would have been possible without a huge mass of ordinary people who were proud of what they achieved. “We made it!” “Yeah! We stopped the vote!” Millions around the country still believe the violence was not only justified, but necessary. And the forces that brought them there have not gone away. “Yeah, the patriots are coming back, y’all. Hopefully, y’all will be on our side when that happens.”

A six-month Times investigation has synchronized and mapped out thousands of videos and police radio communications from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, providing the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why.

“Anytime you mention his name, you’re not getting an answer from me,” she told reporters. “Don’t waste my time.”

Almost as soon as the police retook control on Jan. 6, hard-core defenders of Mr. Trump in Congress began recasting the gruesome scenes of violence that left five people dead.

Mr. McCarthy, the California Republican, responded differently at first: He angrily demanded that Mr. Trump stop the rioters, according to an account he gave fellow Republicans at the time. A week later, as the House moved to impeach Mr. Trump, Mr. McCarthy said that “the president bears responsibility” for the “attack on Congress by mob rioters” and called for a fact-finding commission.

But in the months since, that early resolve has given way to an out-and-out intent to bury the attack. Mr. McCarthy, who is trying to win back the majority in 2022, moved quickly to patch things up with Mr. Trump, gave latitude to far-right members of his caucus and worked furiously to block the creation of an independent 9/11-style commission.

This past week, just before the officers began to deliver anguished testimony about the brutality they had endured, Mr. McCarthy repeatedly laid blame not with Mr. Trump, the rioters or those who had fueled doubts about the election outcome, but with Ms. Pelosi, one of the invading mob’s chief targets.

“If there is a responsibility for this Capitol, on this side, it rests with the speaker,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Image

Officers who defended the Capitol, like Harry Dunn, delivered emotional testimony at the first hearing of a House select committee this past week.Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the recently selected House conference chairwoman, went even further, saying Ms. Pelosi “bears responsibility” as speaker “for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6” and deriding her as “an authoritarian who has broken the people’s house.”

Ms. Pelosi is not responsible for the security of Congress; that job falls to the Capitol Police, a force that the speaker only indirectly influences. Republicans have made no similar attempt to blame Mr. McConnell, who shared control of the Capitol at the time.

Outside the Justice Department, meanwhile, a group of conservative lawmakers gathered to accuse prosecutors of mistreating the more than 500 people accused in the Jan. 6 riot.

Encouraged by Mr. Trump, they also echoed far-right portrayals of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot trying to break into the House chamber, as a patriotic martyr whose killing by the police was premeditated.

As if to show how anti-democratic episodes are ping-ponging around the globe, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in June seized on Ms. Babbitt’s killing — calling it an “assassination” — to deflect questions about his own country’s jailing of political prisoners.

Some senior Republicans insist that warnings of a whitewash are overwrought.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to be successful erasing what happened,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “Everybody saw it with their own eyes and the nation saw it on television.”

Image

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has increasingly treated House Republicans as a pariah party, unworthy of collaboration or trust.Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

For Mr. Cornyn and other lawmakers, continuing to talk about the attack is clearly an electoral loser at a time when they are trying to retake majorities in Congress and avoid Mr. Trump’s ire.

Most Republican lawmakers instead simply try to say nothing at all, declining even to recount the day’s events, let alone rebuke members of their party for spreading falsehoods or muddying the waters.

Asked how he would describe the riot, in which a hostile crowd demanded the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, his brother, Representative Greg Pence of Indiana, responded curtly, “I don’t describe it.”

Yet the silence of party stalwarts, including nearly all of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Mr. Trump for his role in the attack and the Republican senators who voted to convict him, has created an information void that hard-right allies of Mr. Trump have readily filled. And they have found receptive audiences in a media environment replete with echo chambers and amplifying algorithms.

In a July poll by CBS News, narrow majorities of Trump voters said they would describe the attack as an example of “patriotism” or “defending freedom.”

That silence follows a familiar pattern: Rather than refute false allegations about a stolen election and rampant voter fraud, many leading Republicans have simply tolerated extremist misinformation.

Perhaps no one’s silence has been more significant than that of Mr. McConnell, who criticized Mr. Trump and his party in the immediate aftermath of the attack, denouncing it as a “failed insurrection” fueled by the former president’s lies.

Image

A group of conservative members of Congress called a hasty news conference outside the Justice Department to accuse prosecutors of treating the arrested rioters unfairly.Credit…Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Since Mr. Trump’s impeachment acquittal by the Senate in February, when Mr. McConnell declared him “practically and morally responsible,” the minority leader has all but refused to discuss Jan. 6.

The quiet acquiescence of party leaders has effectively left Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois as the only two Republicans still willing to speak out against a majority of their party.

“Clearly there were security failings at the Capitol, but there was a mob that tried to prevent us from carrying out our constitutional duty,” Ms. Cheney said in an interview. “It’s very hard for me to understand why any member of Congress of either party would want to whitewash that.”

Ms. Cheney has already paid a price: Republicans ousted her this spring from their No. 3 leadership position, replacing her with Ms. Stefanik.

Now, House hard-liners want to expel her and Mr. Kinzinger from the Republican conference altogether, portraying them as “snitches” and “spies” in league with Democrats.

The message is clear: Adherence to facts cannot overcome adherence to the party line.

Leave a Reply