Immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, all corners of the political spectrum repudiated the mob of President Trump’s supporters. Yet within days, prominent Republicans, party officials, conservative media voices and rank-and-file voters began making a rhetorical shift to try to downplay the group’s violent actions.
In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Trump era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like Antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.
The shift is revealing about how conspiracy theories, deflection and political incentives play off one another in Mr. Trump’s G.O.P. For a brief time, Republican officials seemed perhaps open to grappling with what their party’s leader had wrought — violence in the name of their Electoral College fight. But any window of reflection now seems to be closing as Republicans try to pass blame and to compare last summer’s lawlessness, which was condemned by Democrats, to an attack on Congress, which was inspired by Mr. Trump.
“The violence at the Capitol was shameful,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, tweeted at 6:55 a.m. the morning after the attack. “Our movement values respect for law and order and for the police.” But now, in a new video titled “What Really Happened on January 6th?” Mr. Giuliani is among those who are back to emphasizing conspiracy theories.
“The riot was preplanned,” said Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City. “This was an attempt to slander Trump.” He added, “The evidence is coming out.”
For months, Republicans have used last summer’s protests as a political catchall, highlighting isolated instances of property destruction and calls to defund the police to motivate their base in November. The tactic proved somewhat effective on Election Day: Democrats lost ground in the House of Representatives, with Republican challengers hammering a message of liberal lawlessness. About nine of every 10 voters said the protests had been a factor in their voting, according to estimates from A.P. VoteCast, a large voter survey conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. Nearly half of those respondents backed Mr. Trump, with some saying they worried that the unrest could disrupt their communities.
Republicans are now using the looting to try to explain away the Capitol attack. The result, for some Republican voters, ranges from doubt to conspiratorial thinking.
Suzanne Doherty, 67, who traveled from Michigan to be in Washington on Jan. 6 to support Mr. Trump, came away feeling confused and depressed over the invasion of the Capitol and not trusting the images of the mob.
“I heard that on Antifa websites, people were invited to go to the rally and dress up like Trump supporters, but I’m not sure what to believe anymore,” she said. “There were people there only to wreak havoc. All I know is that there was a whole gamut of people there, but the rioters were not us. Maybe they were Antifa. Maybe they were B.L.M. Maybe they were extreme right militants.”
The conjecture that the mob was infiltrated by Black Lives Matter and Antifa has been metastasizing from the dark corners of the pro-Trump internet to the floors of Congress and the Republican base, even as law enforcement officials say there is no evidence to support it. Law enforcement officials are now flagging threats of violence and rioting leading up to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration.
That has not stopped Republican lawmakers and some of their constituents from pushing these narratives to defend Mr. Trump. .
Interviews with voters this week in Kenosha, the southeast Wisconsin city that was roiled by a high-profile police shooting last summer, captured the yawning split along ideological and racial lines. Democrats pointed to the differences in motivation between the Capitol mob and the mass protests of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was not seeking to overturn an election or being incited by the president. Republicans saw the Capitol attack as the work of outsiders or as justified by the summer’s isolated incidents of looting and property destruction.
“I think the goal was to try to put some final nails in the coffin of Donald Trump,” said Dale Rovik, a 59-year-old who supports Mr. Trump and is a native of Kenosha. “I think it’s pretty clear that they did that to make him look bad and to accuse him and, of course, to try and impeach him again. That certainly is pretty clear to me.”
Joe Pillizzi, a 67-year-old retired salesman in Kenosha who supports Mr. Trump, said he believed last summer’s looting and rioting had “put a seed” in the minds of the mob that attacked the Capitol.
“If the Black Lives Matter didn’t do what they did, I don’t think the Capitol attack would have happened,” he said.
Democrats have also seized on a point of conservative hypocrisy. For all the talk of supporting “law and order,” this month’s attacks pitted a violent mob against Capitol Hill law enforcement personnel, and a police officer was killed.
Dominique Pritchett, a 36-year-old mental health therapist in Kenosha who supports Black Lives Matter, said the events of the summer were being portrayed inaccurately by the right, while the Capitol rioters were treated far more softly by the police than peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters were.
“No, the protests did not turn violent; the looting and rioting started,” she said. “No violence is acceptable; I think we all can agree to that.” Referring to the Capitol rioters, she said: “They are tearing up one of the most protected and prestigious places in the United States because No. 45 lost. Someone lost an election, versus Black and brown people getting gunned down and killed every day.”
The misinformation on the right reflects the mood of Mr. Trump’s most ardent base, the collection of elected officials in deep-red America who have consistently rationalized his behavior in crises. But other signs indicate that some Republicans are exasperated by Mr. Trump and his actions in a way not seen since he entered office.
A new Pew Research poll released Friday showed the president’s disapproval rating dropping sharply among Republicans since he inspired the mob violence, cratering to an all-time low of 60 percent, more than 14 percentage points lower than his previous nadir. Among Americans at large, Mr. Trump’s approval rating was 29 percent, a low since he took office in 2017, and he had a 68 percent disapproval rating — his highest recorded number.
In the House, 10 Republicans voted to impeach Mr. Trump for a second time, making it the most bipartisan effort of any impeachment effort in the country’s history. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has signaled a desire to rid the party of Mr. Trump. And in recent days in Washington, some Republicans spoke out about the misinformation that had spread through the ranks of the party’s base and its elected officials.
Representative Peter Meijer, a Republican freshman who voted to impeach Mr. Trump, said in an interview with “The Daily,” The New York Times audio podcast, that the prevalence of false information among the base had created “two worlds” among congressional Republicans — one that is based in reality and another grounded in conspiracy.
“The world that said this was actually a landslide victory for Donald Trump, but it was all stolen away and changed and votes were flipped and Dominion voting systems,” Mr. Meijer said, describing what he called a “fever swamp of conspiracy theories.
Capitol Riot Fallout
From Riot to Impeachment
The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and the ongoing fallout:
- As this video shows, poor planning and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the riot.
- A two hour period was crucial to turning the rally into the riot.
- Several Trump administration officials, including cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, announced that they were stepping down as a result of the riot.
- Federal prosecutors have charged more than 70 people, including some who appeared in viral photos and videos of the riot. Officials expect to eventually charge hundreds of others.
- The House voted to impeach the president on charges of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.
Source: Read Full Article