More than three years after the January 6th insurrection, Donald Trump is continuing his attempt to rewrite the history of that day and cast blame for the violence on anyone but himself. In more than 175 Truth Social posts since just the beginning of last year, Trump has pushed disinformation about the attack on the Capitol, according to an analysis by CREW. These posts blame entities from the FBI to antifa—but point to one false narrative: January 6th was someone else’s fault and ultimately no big deal anyway. The truth is the very opposite: every decision-making body to substantively consider the question has found that January 6th was an insurrection incited by Donald Trump, including in the Colorado 14th Amendment lawsuit brought by CREW.

Trump’s claims on Truth Social about January 6th are both unfounded and contradictory: that Nancy Pelosi and others were responsible for security failures on January 6th, that the attack on the Capitol was orchestrated by the FBI and other members of the “deep state,” that individuals who attacked the Capitol on January 6th were actually peaceful protesters now being victimized by a partisan justice system, and even that he’s not an insurrectionist—Joe Biden is.

As Trump continues to spread lies about the insurrection and downplay its violence, it’s more important than ever that Congress and others take steps to ensure that such an attack cannot happen again. That begins with setting the record straight about Trump’s role in the January 6th insurrection—but it also means passing reforms to serve as guardrails against presidential abuses of power. Some reforms have already passed, like the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, and others like the Protecting Our Democracy Act (PODA) must be prioritized before Trump or his allies have another chance to violently disrupt the certification of an election, abuse presidential power or otherwise destabilize our democracy.

In July of last year, Trump reposted a meme saying “JANUARY 6 WILL GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS THE DAY THE GOVERNMENT STAGED A RIOT TO COVER UP THE FACT THAT THEY CERTIFIED A FRAUDULENT ELECTION” that included the hashtag “#gitmo,” a reference to Guantanamo Bay. This isn’t the only time Trump has amplified a variation of the radical conspiracy theory that the attack on the Capitol was an inside job led by the “deep state.” The theory has been repeatedly debunked, but this hasn’t kept Trump from posting content on Truth Social that either implies or outright asserts that January 6th was some type of a setup more than 30 times.

The most widely-known version of the far-right’s “fedsurrection” theory centers on the FBI, but Trump has also shared posts suggesting that the D.C. Metro Police, U.S. Capitol Police, and antifa were all involved in a plot to frame Trump and his supporters. On the third anniversary of January 6th, he reshared a post that claimed that “the System manufactured a riot at the Capitol to crush the powerful America First movement, frame President @realDonaldTrump and prevent him from winning again.” The post continues, urging supporters to “[u]se this Entrapment Day to remind yourself of exactly how evil the System is, what it’s capable of – and why we will destroy it.” Trump is not alone; sixteen members of Congress have also entertained this theory, highlighting its dangerous spread.

Consistent with those conspiracy theories, Trump has sought to characterize January 6th defendants—many of whom have said in court that they were summoned by Trump—as the victims, not the perpetrators of the attack. Far from condemning the actions of those who violently attacked the Capitol and supporting the appropriate legal consequences, Trump has instead called the FBI the “Gestapo” and criticized the agency’s “Horrible and Unconstitutional treatment of January 6 PATRIOTS.” In 11 Truth Social posts, Trump has referred to the rioters facing charges as “PRISONERS OF WAR,” “Hostages,” “Captives,” or “Political Prisoners.” 

In line with this characterization, Trump has called for January 6th defendants to be released in 12 Truth Social posts. In March, Trump posted that one of his “first acts as your next President” would be to “[f]ree the January 6 Hostages being wrongfully imprisoned[.]” This would include more than 130 rioters who have been charged with using weapons or causing serious injury to a law enforcement officer and at least a dozen members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy.

Another claim that Trump has repeatedly pushed is that he took all necessary steps to secure the Capitol ahead of January 6th, and that law enforcement lost control because anti-Trump politicians turned down his support. Trump has directed these accusations at then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and especially then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. In January, Trump posted that “Pelosi was in charge of Security at the Capitol, and she rejected my offer of 10,000 Soldiers or National Guard Troops prior to January 6th. Had she accepted, January 6th would not have existed!”

In some instances, his claims have gone so far as to suggest that congressional leadership delayed the response to the attack on purpose, to hurt Trump politically. On March 13, 2023, Trump ReTruthed a post claiming “Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi rejected *multiple* requests for additional cops and Nat’l Guard troops[.] It was a setup & they’ve been caught.” Trump added “So true, a total Scam. They were in charge of Security!” When Trump had the chance to prove this claim in Colorado district court in November during CREW’s lawsuit, the court found that the “testimony regarding Trump authorizing 10,000-20,000 National Guardsmen [was] not only illogical…but completely devoid of any evidence in the record.”

In the wake of the 2020 election, Trump’s relentless spreading of the Big Lie fueled the Capitol attack. Now, his ongoing efforts to rewrite that history with disinformation pose a renewed threat to American democracy—and make clear that he would not necessarily shy away from inciting similar attacks in the future.

What should be done?

Preventing another attack like January 6th begins with standing up against Trump and his allies’ lies about what happened on that day. Congress, the courts and government agencies must continue to set the record straight and prevent a future president from abusing the power of the Oval Office by trying to overturn a free and fair election like Trump did by seeding the Big Lie, pushing the Department of Justice to claim there were voting irregularities when there were none, and inciting the insurrection. 

Set the record straight

First off, Congress deserves credit for devoting real resources to the January 6th Select Committee, which conducted an extensive investigation, held hearings, presented the facts of the insurrection clearly and persuasively and helped galvanize the Department of Justice to bring criminal charges against Trump. 

In addition to the DOJ’s criminal prosecution of Trump and other January 6th defendants, civil lawsuits can also help publicize the truth. CREW’s 14th Amendment case and cases in other states like Illinois and Maine provided sworn testimony that directly contradicts Trump’s claims on Truth Social and resulted in those decision-making bodies finding that January 6th was an insurrection incited by Donald Trump.

As these facts make clear, any efforts by members of Congress to clear Trump’s name of incitement of insurrection, like one proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, should be rejected as an extension of Trump’s bad faith efforts to escape accountability.

Finally, the Department of Homeland Security, DOJ and other law enforcement agencies should make public whatever records they can showing what actually happened on and around January 6th.

Prevent future abuses

Congress should act to enforce Donald Trump’s disqualification from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. In March, in CREW’s lawsuit, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to clear Trump of the finding that he incited insurrection, and it chose not to. Instead it simply ruled that states do not have the power to enforce Section 3 against federal candidates and officeholders unless Congress allows it. Last Congress, Congressman Jamie Raskin and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz introduced legislation to create a pathway for Congress to enforce Section 3. Now they are reportedly working now on a revised bill, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. With this bill and others as a starting point, the ball is now in Congress’s court to enforce the Constitution.

It is also crucial that Trump’s federal election cases be allowed to proceed so that he faces criminal accountability for his role in the insurrection. Trump has been charged with four crimes related to January 6th and the Big Lie by the DOJ, but the case is currently held up as the Supreme Court determines whether he has legal immunity for actions taken as president. The Court must follow the Constitution and refuse to grant Trump blanket presidential immunity, which would provide a green light for presidents to act with impunity and would further destabilize our democracy.

Congress should provide guardrails against future presidential abuses of power. To accomplish this, Congress should pass the Protect Our Democracy Act (PODA) which would curb abuses of power by presidents of both parties and strengthen Congress’s ability to fulfill its constitutional role as a check on executive branch overreach. PODA passed in the House on a bipartisan basis in December 2021, but most of the bill was never taken up by the Senate. 

Although PODA would reform a president’s ability to exploit emergency powers for their personal gain, one area it would not reform—and that needs attention—is the Insurrection Act. As it stands, the Insurrection Act is ripe for abuse, and could be used by the president to deploy the military domestically against real or perceived enemies. During his first term in office, Trump reportedly considered invoking the Insurrection Act twice, once during the Black Lives Matter protests and again as part of his efforts to stay in office after losing the 2020 election. Now his allies claim they would invoke the Act on his first day in office. Proposed reforms to the Act include defining insurrection, limiting the president’s authority to deploy the military and requiring consultations with governors and oversight by Congress.

January 6th was a wake up call that our democracy is in dire need of protection. Trump’s efforts to downplay the events of the day only underscore the threat that such an attack could happen again, unless we keep publicizing the truth of the insurrection and put reforms in place to prevent abuses of presidential power.

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