By one account, local and federal law enforcement authorities have arrested at least 441 people and charged them with crimes related to the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the insurrectionist assault that left five dead and dozens, including many police officers, seriously injured.
One of the injured, Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police officer Michael Fanone, who was brutally assaulted by the mob, said this week he has had difficulty watching some Republican elected officials “whitewash” the outrageous episode over the last few weeks.
“I experienced the most brutal, savage hand-to-hand combat of my entire life, let alone my policing career, which spans almost two decades,” Fanone told CNN. “It was nothing that I had ever thought would be a part of my law enforcement career, nor was I prepared to experience.”
One of the latest Northwesterners arrested was a 62-year-old Hillsboro, Ore., man who, among other things, is charged with striking police officers and breaking through barricades. Nearly a dozen residents of Idaho, Washington and Oregon have been charged in what has been described as the most documented crime in American history. Many of the insurrectionist took time out to snap selfies or willingly commented to journalists on camera.
Yet, even with nearly daily reports of more arrests, the unprecedented events of Jan. 6 feel more and more like ancient history rather than a still fresh wound. Part of the reason is our collective short national attention span. But an even more important factor about why this bloody riot is rapidly receding is what officer Fanone identifies — a conservative whitewashing of events that took place in real time on live television during the space of several hours.
The man with the most to gain from erasing history — other than the guy who incited the riot — is, of course, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California. By continuing to downplay the events of Jan. 6, McCarthy is hoping fellow Republicans can use their gerrymandered districts across the country to reclaim control of the House next year. McCarthy, as craven and vacuous a politician as our craven and vacuous age is able to produce, would then almost certainly become speaker of the House.
“After the House chamber was evacuated on Jan. 5, Mr. McCarthy retreated to his Capitol office with a colleague, Rep. Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas,” Mark Leibovich reported recently in the New York Times. “When it became evident the rioters were breaking in, Mr. McCarthy’s security detail insisted he leave.”
But Westerman was left behind, as he confirmed in a recent interview.
Fearing for his own life, while rioters shouted “hang Mike Pence,” Westerman said he grabbed a Civil War sword from a display in McCarthy’s office and then barricaded himself in the minority leader’s private bathroom, waiting out the siege, crouching on the toilet.
To appreciate the extent of the effort by McCarthy and numerous others to diminish and ultimately dismiss Jan. 6, you have to recall in some detail what transpired in the immediate aftermath of the riot and then analyze that information side by side with what is happening now.
While the riot was underway, McCarthy called the instigator at the White House to implore him to call off his mob. We know this because Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., reported that McCarthy told her the substance of the call and that the then-president dismissed the attack, lying about its origins as the work of antifascists.
After McCarthy told the president he was wrong — and the president knew he was wrong because he had spoken to his supporters that very day and then watched them storm the Capitol on live television — the then-president responded: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
A week after the riot, McCarthy told the entire House of Representatives, the American people and the world: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump.”
Fast forward to last Sunday when McCarthy is sitting across the table from Fox News Sunday questioner Chris Wallace.
“I was the first person to contact him when the riot was going on,” McCarthy said in a feeble and fabulist effort to defend the indefensible. “He didn’t see it, but he ended the call ... telling me he’ll put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did. He put a video out later.”
Recalling this timeline is important not only for what it says about the lengths political figures such as McCarthy are willing to go to tell us what we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears didn’t really happen, but also because it’s a reminder that the shape-shifting McCarthy is no outlier as a Republican whitewasher.
With a very few notable exceptions, Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Herrera Beutler and Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois among them, the vast majority of Republican officeholders have quietly and gladly moved on from Jan. 6.
Northwest lawmakers such as Idaho’s Mike Simpson and Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rogers immediately decided they wouldn’t hold the highest figure in the government accountable for his actions leading up to and including Jan. 6. They have said nothing of substance about it since.
Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher remains deeply implicated in the Jan. 6 events due to his very public efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, so his silence about the still unfolding aftermath and efforts to whitewash history makes sense, at least from the standpoint of avoiding having his reprehensible role in encouraging the violence highlighted over and over.
No Northwest Republican has called for the kind of investigation of Jan. 6 that would in more normal, rational times receive bipartisan support. No major Republican figure in Idaho has joined Cheney in saying the riot instigator should have no future in the party. None have acknowledged that the domestic terrorism behind the insurrection has been, as the FBI director said in March, “metastasizing across the country for a long time now, and it’s not going away anytime soon.”
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Liz Cheney said back in January. “Everything that followed was his doing.”
Morally deficient Republicans want us to forget the single greatest threat to democracy in our lifetime. They lack courage — and honesty. It’s up to us to hold them to account just like those who stormed the Capitol to kill, maim and destroy democracy must be held to account.
Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.