Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. (Courtesy Photo)
By Ben Jealous
The Jan. 6 attack on Congress and the U.S. Capitol was an assault on our democracy. So is the effort by congressional Republicans and their right-wing media allies to keep Americans from learning the truth about the insurrection. They are desperate to protect the people responsible for that deadly attack. We can’t let them.
The U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol held its first hearing on July 27. It was hard to watch, but important for Americans to witness.
Four officers testified, two from the Capitol Police and two from the Washington, D.C. police department. They described the physical attacks they endured and the moments in which they feared for their lives. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn described being surrounded by an angry mob taunting him with the n-word, something he said he had never been called while protecting the Capitol.
The power of the first hearing, and the impact of the officers’ stories, testified to the importance of the select committee created by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi after Republican congressional leaders refused to join in creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection. The leader of the House Republicans, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, even tried to tank the select committee by appointing people who were intent on disrupting its work.
Thank goodness Speaker Pelosi wasn’t going to let that happen. When she refused to play McCarthy’s game, he tried to stop any Republicans from joining the panel.
To their credit, two conservative Republicans, Reps. Lynn Cheney of Wisconsin, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, decided to put country over party. They have refused to be bullied by former President Donald Trump into promoting his lies about the election. They have refused to be intimidated by threats from McCarthy and other Republicans who are downplaying the fact that a violent mob incited by Trump tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to President Joe Biden.
I was disgusted to see right-wing activists and media figures like Charlie Kirk and Laura Ingraham mocking and belittling the police officers who were traumatized by the attack. And I am even more disgusted by the Members of Congress who have betrayed and abandoned the officers who put their lives on the line to protect them. Some Republican members of Congress dismissed the mob that hung a noose and hunted members of Congress as “tourists.” Some Republican members of Congress are calling insurrectionists “political prisoners.”
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonnell testified that such distortions are deeply demoralizing. I believe it is possible that kind of betrayal may have contributed to the suicides of four officers who were defending the Capitol that day.
All the lies that Trump and his team can spew could not stand up to the actual experience of those officers. And that was just the beginning. There are a lot of dark corners that need some light thrown on them.
We need to learn more about what Trump was doing on Jan. 6. We need to know which members of Congress he talked to and what he said. We need to know which members of Congress or congressional staff might have helped insurrectionists plan and carry out the attack.
We need a fuller understanding of how all the different groups promoting Trump’s stolen election lies fueled the rage of his supporters and built the momentum behind the violent mob that swarmed the Capitol.
We also need to get a better handle on some bigger picture questions, like problems of racism and authoritarianism in law enforcement. At least 17 law enforcement officers that we know about took part in the attack on the Capitol. The military needs to get a handle on the existence of white supremacy and other extremist ideologies in the ranks.
We cannot forget just how deadly and dangerous the insurrection was—and is. Former President Trump continues to rile his supporters with the big lie that he won the election and had it stolen from him. Right-wing politicians, media personalities, and pastors spread those lies. Some still say Biden will be removed and Trump returned to power. Some talk openly of civil war.
This is all discouraging. But remember this. As loud, and mean, and violent as Trump’s supporters can be, they are still a minority. They may have the power to intimidate cowardly Republican officials. But they cannot prevent us from learning the truth about Jan. 6.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.
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