The Russiagate scandal, for lack of a better term, revealed to the general public the seamless compact between the Democratic Party, major news organizations, and powerful government agencies.
Partisan operatives—be they ruthless DNC lawyers, paid spin masters, or former British spies—easily accessed the country’s influential decision makers to seed storylines targeting their political foes. Narratives were shaped with all the right terms, then dutifully recited by congressional leaders and media mouthpieces. Those on the other side taking incoming fire barely had a chance to see what was coming, let alone to respond with equal force.
Later, when the facts finally came out and the bad actors both behind the scenes and in front of the cameras were revealed as shameless frauds, no one was held accountable. And a sizable chunk of Americans continues to believe all the falsehoods because disowning them would vindicate people they unreasonably despise.
Which is why the overwhelming majority of Democrats still think Donald Trump was in cahoots with the Kremlin to steal the 2016 election.
The manufactured deception about the events of January 6 quickly is approaching Russiagate levels. The formula is familiar: Find a catchy phrase—in this case it’s “insurrection” instead of “collusion”—then fertilize the information ecosystem with the term and watch it grow like a weed.
Get political leaders including former presidents and top lawmakers of both parties to use the description, giving it immediate legitimacy. Issue dire warnings about the “threat to democracy” and “rule of law.” Identify the villain—Donald Trump, of course—and make solemn pledges to hunt down every perpetrator until justice is done.
Sympathy-inducing optics are helpful but not always necessary.
Critical cogs in this sort of performative outrage are government authorities who use their offices to convince the public the whole thing is on the square. This is precisely what happened with the now discredited trope that five people died as a result of the chaos on January 6. A brief report issued Wednesday by the office of the D.C. medical examiner confirmed only one person, Ashli Babbitt, was killed that day.
Two men suffered heart attacks and one woman died of an overdose. None was tied to the protest.
The cause and manner of Officer Brian Sicknick’s death, the office said, is “pending.” A spokeswoman told me earlier this week the case was “complex.” Two men were charged last month with using bear spray against the officer but there is no evidence the chemical had anything to do with his untimely death.
But the phony account of what happened to Brian Sicknick and the others wasn’t the result of an honest mistake; it was a vital anecdote intended to stoke fury about the “insurrection” and depict Trump supporters not just as deplorables but cop killers. And the people involved in setting the tone right at the start knew exactly what they were doing.
Just hours after Brian Sicknick died, his agency issued a press release. “Officer Sicknick was responding to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol and was injured while physically engaging with protesters,” the U.S. Capitol Police claimed January 7. “He returned to his division office and collapsed. He was taken to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. The death of Officer Sicknick will be investigated by the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, the USCP, and our federal partners.”
That misleading statement was accepted without question by every news outlet and reported as fact. The New York Times, as I’ve covered, upped the ante by claiming Sicknick was killed by a blow from a fire extinguisher.
But Sicknick’s death wasn’t the only fatality falsely attributed to the “pro-Trump mob.” D.C. Metro police had announced earlier in the day that four others died as a result of the violence.
Thus another toxic lie was born.
It’s impossible to count how many impressions of “five people killed” pollute government documents, news websites, social media, and the brains of tens of millions of Americans. The line is a permanent chapter in the folklore of January 6—and it’s untrue. Just like the notion the protest was an “armed insurrection” and the people involved are guilty of “sedition,” the January 6 body count is one more myth.
There will be no retractions, however, and no apologies. Last weekend, following the killing of a Capitol police officer by a Nation of Islam follower, news and opinion sites reupped the lie about Sicknick, some even laughably sticking to the completely debunked fire extinguisher attack.
The public can expect the same here. Everyone invested in the original version will ignore the evidence and keep repeating the lie that five people died at the hands of bloodthirsty Trump loyalists. Facts simply do not matter.
In some ways, the crusade to criminalize January 6 is far worse than Russiagate. Regular Americans exercising their First Amendment rights are being treated as political prisoners, held hostage by their own government, denied due process. Hyperpartisan Biden appointees in charge of the most potent government tools are aiming those weapons at the Right as a whole, threatening to create no-fly lists and warning Americans half their countrymen are wannabe domestic terrorists.
Team Mueller undoubtedly marvels at what the Biden Justice Department is getting away with.
January 6, we’ve been told, is like Pearl Harbor and the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11. The hyperbolic rhetoric is as divisive as it is totally untrue—not to mention a disgrace to the memory of the people murdered in those attacks—but no one cares.
Enemy of the people.
There’s one more similarity between Russiagate and the “insurrection.” Both act as cover for real scandals, in this case, voter fraud in swing states that helped Joe Biden win the White House, in the case of Russiagate, as cover for the illegal activity of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (possibly even including Obama Administration officials). Anyone who dares still to raise concerns about how the 2020 election was handled is a de facto insurrectionist.
A handful of federal judges, thankfully, are beginning to question the government’s evidence and tactics. The abusive investigation is slowly starting to get coverage; some defendants are fighting back against the most outlandish charges.
But it will be a long time, if ever, before the truth about what happened—and didn’t happen—on January 6, 2021 is fully and fairly explained.