Last December, nearly three years after the January 6th insurrection, House Speaker Mike Johnson announced that he would be publicly releasing security footage of the mob that breached the Capitol. That could have been a positive step towards transparency—if Johnson hadn’t hired personnel to blur the faces of those who participated in the insurrection in order to prevent them from being “retaliated against” and “charged by the DOJ.”
Blurring the January 6th tapes is emblematic of the strategy insurrectionist sympathizers and election deniers have taken over the last three years to skirt accountability: distort the truth, divert blame and attempt to rewrite history.
Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy took a similar approach when, in February 2023, he gave then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson exclusive access to the tapes. Carlson used selective excerpts from the tapes to spread the false narrative that the violent insurrections were, in fact, just “sightseers.” The House Republican caucus expressed support for Carlson’s version of events, retweeting a segment of his show with the caption “MUST WATCH.” Other commentators have also repeatedly downplayed the events of January 6th, like Fox News host Jesse Waters who, in August 2023, said that Trump’s attempt to overturn the election and rally his supporters to march to the Capitol was “just politics” or Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh, who likened January 6th to a “picnic” the same month.
Beyond simply downplaying the violence on January 6th, others have followed Carlson’s lead and pushed the conspiracy theory that January 6th was an “inside job,” a bogus theory which was recently touted by Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy and has been spread by sixteen members of Congress and political commentators such as Charlie Kirk and Julie Kelly. Others have insisted that the insurrectionists were part of antifa. Both of these claims have long been debunked, but that doesn’t seem to matter to “Trumpist” media or politicians seeking to deflect blame from Trump.
It is deeply troubling that these lies about the insurrection persist in the media, the halls of Congress and on the debate stage. The leadership of one major political party continues to amplify election deniers and insurrectionists, including members of Congress, political pundits and Republicans’ de facto party leader—former President Trump. But while election deniers and insurrectionists continue to try to rewrite history, actions in the courts and public opinion show that it’s not working.
Courts have ruled that January 6th was an insurrection in two cases brought by CREW, first in New Mexico and most recently in Colorado, where on December 19, 2023, the state Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump is disqualified from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. This historic ruling affirmed that not only did Trump engage in insurrection but that he is therefore ineligible to appear on ballots in the state. The next week, Maine followed suit, barring him from the ballot as well, relying heavily on these two precedents.
And legal liability for January 6th and the Big Lie goes far beyond that:
- Over the last three years, more than 1,200 people have been charged for their conduct on January 6th.
- 25 of the 84 fake electors who cast votes for Trump after the 2020 election have been charged with felonies.
- In December, Rudy Giuliani was ordered to pay $148 million for defaming two election workers by claiming they engaged in fraud and were trying to steal the 2020 election from Trump.
- In August, Fox News was ordered to pay $787.5 million for spreading lies about the Dominion Voting and the 2020 election.
- Trump has also been indicted both federally and in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the election, which holds promise for further accountability this year.
Similar to the courts, public opinion (at least outside of Trump’s base) has not been persuaded by the attempts to downplay January 6th. A recent poll conducted by Navigator Research suggests that most Americans may not be so susceptible to lies about the insurrection: About 67% of Americans recall watching the events of January 6th unfold live on TV and 75% of Americans say they oppose the actions of the rioters that day. Another poll found that a majority of Americans believe that January 6th was an attack on our democracy.
Extreme right-wing media personalities and the political leaders who parrot those media figures are certainly influential, and their lies are both dangerous and concerning. But what they say about January 6th is only one part of the picture. Most Americans are not buying it—and court action in the last three years has reaffirmed that January 6th was an insurrection and that spreading lies about the election and storming the Capitol has consequences. The history books will reflect that.