The Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, was a national disgrace, but almost more dispiriting is the way America’s two warring political tribes have responded. Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi seem intent on exploiting that day to retain power, while the Donald Trump wing of the GOP insists it was merely a protest march that got a little carried away.
We say this as a statement of political reality, not as a counsel of despair. Our job is to face the world as it is and try to move it in a better direction. So a year later, what have we learned?
One lesson is that on all the available evidence Jan. 6 was not an “insurrection,” in any meaningful sense of that word. It was not an attempted coup. The Justice Department and the House Select Committee have looked high and low for a conspiracy to overthrow the government, and maybe they will find it. So far they haven’t.
There apparently was a “war room” of motley characters at the Willard hotel and small groups of plotters who wanted to storm the barricades. But they were too disorganized to do much more than incite what became the mob that breached the Capitol.
The Justice Department says some 725 people from nearly all 50 states have been charged in the riot, linked mainly by social media and support for Donald Trump. About 70 defendants have had their cases adjudicated to date, and 31 of those will do time in prison. The rioters aren’t getting off easy.
They also didn’t come close to overturning the election. The Members fled the House chamber during the riot but soon returned to certify the electoral votes. Eight Senators and 139 House Republicans voted against certifying the electoral votes in some states, but that wasn’t close to a majority.