Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently downplayed the January 6th attack on the Capitol saying it was “not an insurrection,” rather a protest that “ended up devolving” and claimed that the media “spun up” the idea that the attack was a “plan to somehow overthrow the government.” DeSantis is not alone in attempting to diminish the events of that day. He is just one of many Republicans seeking to similarly rewrite the history of January 6th. 

But January 6th was an insurrection, and the evidence is clear: more than 1,000 people have been charged for federal crimes by the Department of Justice including 10 convictions for seditious conspiracy, and Donald Trump himself was recently indicted for multiple January 6th related charges, including conspiracy against rights and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. Beyond those criminal charges, expert reports submitted to the January 6th House Select Committee also resoundingly counter DeSantis’s claims, identifying the January 6th attack as an insurrection. 

These reports were submitted by professors and experts from think tanks and anti-hate groups like the Anti-Defamation League and NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund. The reports informed the January 6th Committee’s report and the committee’s ultimate finding that the violence on January 6th was not spontaneous: Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to adopt his election fraud narrative, and on January 6th, Trump directed his followers to become insurrectionists and “fight like hell” at the Capitol. 

There is a consensus among experts that January 6th was an insurrection. Here is how experts described the attack:

Janai Nelson, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, said, “No other act of mass violence in modern history has threatened the existence of our Republican form of government more than the insurrection that occurred at the United States Capital.” She added that the insurrectionists had a clear motive “to effectuate a violent coup, deny the will of the majority of voters, and upend the functioning of our increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy.”

In statement for States United Democracy Center, former Republican elected officials including Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey, Steve Bullock, former Governor of Montana, Trey Grayson, former Secretary of State of Kentucky and Frankie Sue Del Papa, former Secretary of State of Nevada wrote: “the attack that occurred on January 6, 2021, was not an isolated event involving random protestors. Rather, it was the logical next step in a continuing anti-democracy movement, instigated and fomented by various people, including former President Donald Trump, which was put into motion years earlier.” The former Republican officials added: “It is also notable that many of the same individuals who were involved in anti-democracy efforts before the 2020 presidential election and in the run-up to and during the January 6 insurrection are now leading these efforts to change the rules of elections.”

“No other act of mass violence in modern history has threatened the existence of our Republican form of government more than the insurrection that occurred at the United States Capital.”

Wendy Weiser, Vice President for Democracy at the Brennan Center for Justice, blamed Trump’s Big Lie for January 6th: “the insurrection’s motivating theory was that the 2020 presidential election was ‘stolen’ from former President Donald Trump. This ‘Big Lie’ relies on disproven and racially-charged allegations of widespread voter fraud, ballot irregularities, and conspiracies to otherwise ‘rig’ the election.”

Emory University professor Carol Anderson wrote of how “the very demographic changes that so frightened the insurrectionists” fueled beliefs in election fraud because “by casting suspicion on Black and other minority voters…the Big Lie was years in the making and ready for Donald Trump to seize upon it to an audience that had been primed to not only hear it but believe it.”

University of Chicago Law School professors Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg also acknowledged the damage Trump did by spreading the Big Lie on social media and in the press: “The lie is the refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election and the call to ‘decertify’ the presidential election because of (non-existent) fraud. False claims about the election are now so commonly shared by political leaders that a lawyer for Oath Keepers militia founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, charged with seditious conspiracy for his role in the January 6 insurrection, argued that Rhodes’ views on the legitimacy of the election should not be held against him.” Rhodes was one of the insurrectionists who believed the election fraud claims, eventually helping lead the Oath Keepers’ involvement in the attack on the Capitol.

Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and visiting professor at Georgetown Law Mary McCord added that extremist groups “The Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and Proud Boys began planning their military-style operations in earnest, making clear their intent to be armed and prepared for insurrection.”

The Anti-Defamation League called January 6th and the events leading up to that day “an inflection point for extremism in America” because it was “extremist groups and ideologies that helped fuel the insurrection.”

Jared Holt, a resident fellow at Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, wrote the election fraud narrative was essentially a unifying force for radicals: “In the year leading up to the Capitol insurrection, extremist groups and likeminded, but otherwise unaffiliated Trump supporters worked in sync to pursue overlapping ideological goals. This synergy peaked following the November 2020 US presidential election with the rise of the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement to prevent President-Elect Joe Biden from taking office…” January 6th clearly provided a unifying moment for a broad swath of extremists and radicals, who would not have come to the Capitol without the urging of Donald Trump. 

Texas A&M professor Jennifer Mercieca, an expert in American political rhetoric, commented on Trump’s responsibility for the attack on the Capitol, noting, “When President Trump used conspiracy and war rhetoric against his own government and urged the Ellipse crowd to march towards the Capitol and ‘fight like hell,’ his words transformed the speech occasion from a legitimate political protest rally into an antidemocratic violent insurrection.” She elaborated that “[b]ecause Trump used war rhetoric against the peaceful transition of power,” he was acting against the government, which is why she “believe[s] the attack on the Capitol should be labeled an ‘insurrection’ or a ‘self-coup.’”

Finally, as Heidi Beirich and Wendy Via, co-founders of The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said, “There is no question that Trump bears much of the blame for the January 6 insurrection.”

Ron DeSantis’s refusal to acknowledge January 6th as an insurrection and downplay the events of that day has dangerous implications, especially as many Republicans are trying to discount what happened and defend Trump. A violent effort fueled by the desire to keep someone who lost an election in office is nothing less than an effort to overthrow the government. As DeSantis and others downplay the events of January 6th, they ignore criminal charges brought by the Department of Justice, the January 6th Committee and the consensus of experts cited in the committee report.