January 6 Was a Mostly Peaceful Protest

It has been nearly three years since the January 6 Capitol protest. For just as long, Americans have been force-fed a story about the fateful events of that day: even before the smoke cleared, and in many ways, it never did, the shambolic episode was labeled a deadly “insurrection.” The incoming administration was handed an invaluable support: they could now label anyone who doubted the legitimacy of their weak and doddering incumbent a suspect American, an “election denier” and a threat to “our democracy.” The narrative spread like a virus through the state-affiliated mass media, and became, arguably, the defining theme of Biden’s presidency.

In the name of defending democracy, Biden’s Justice Department launched the most ambitious law enforcement crackdown in the nation’s history – one targeting, exclusively, opponents of the party in power. It eventually came to target Donald Trump, the top threat to “our democracy” and, incidentally, or not, Joe Biden’s main political opponent. Prosecutor Jack Smith’s indictment of Trump is almost a work of plagiarism: it uses the same bombastic language as the January 6 committee, tells the same worn narrative, and takes the same creative leaps in logic, although Smith is less candid with his charges; he is curiously reluctant to use the word “insurrection.” To spare the trouble of proving his audacious case, Smith opts for the imprecise and verbose “events at the Capitol,” a phrase that appears no less than 15 times in a recent filing.

Which “events” are those, exactly? The truth is more banal than the narrative the American people have been told. If January 6 was an insurrection, it was among the most orderly, and uneventful in modern history. The newly released surveillance videos from Speaker Mike Johnson show hundreds of Trump supporters aimlessly meandering through the halls of the Capitol. Many have their smartphones out, taking videos of themselves or their surroundings. Many are dressed casually and move in a lackadaisical fashion, much like tourists. As they are calmly escorted out of the building, there is no sign that these people have any notion that they have been part of an insurrection. They have no idea what is coming – that they are about to become the targets of a nationwide witch hunt.

January 6 committee ringleaders Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger have accused the right of attempting to sanitize a “coup” with “cherrypicked” video. Neither Cheney nor Kinzinger allege the new videos are fake. The evidence simply does not conform with their maximalist interpretation of what happened, which is represented by a handful of dramatic clips played on an infinite loop on CNN. The suppressed surveillance tape of the famous “Qanon Shaman” comically ambling through the halls leaves a markedly different impression.

It is laughable to see the charge of historical revisionism levied over an event so recent in time, one so shrouded in political animosities and interests that are still active today. It can be no coincidence that those who have pieced together and promoted the prevailing narrative are hostile to new information coming to light.

What is already known publicly is enough to rebut the “insurrection” charge. It is no great secret that most January 6 protesters have not been accused of any violence. They face charges for crimes like trespassing and “obstruction of an official proceeding,” a crime which prior to January 6 had never been used to target political protesters, much less an American president. Nevertheless, they have been treated like terrorists. Some, such as the odd but benign shaman, have suffered greatly in solitary confinement.

The January 6 protesters have always been treated differently, not because of their actions but because of their beliefs. They have been broken down and pressured to recant “The Big Lie.” Smith’s indictment accuses Trump of having created an “an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger” with “disinformation” about voter fraud. What of those who whipped up mass hysteria following the death of George Floyd? To this day, no evidence has surfaced to support the claim that Floyd was the victim of a racially motivated murder, and countervailing evidence of a drug overdose has been dismissed. Still, his death was instantly labeled a modern-day lynching, an act of wanton violence from police hellbent on hunting black men. The massive destruction fueled by this narrative, targeting courthouses, police stations, and even the White House, was not condemned as threatening to the nation’s bedrock institutions; it was dismissed as a distraction from a righteous and “mostly peaceful” struggle.

Since January 6, the government has pursued a campaign of vengeance out of all proportion to the facts and Biden’s very tenuous mandate. There are plenty of reasons for a rational person to doubt the outcome of the 2020 election, given the extremely close margin, the intense emotional investment of Trump’s enemies in defeating him at any cost, and the irregular, if not illegal, manner of the election itself. In any case, it does not matter what the January 6 protesters believed. In a democracy, the government does not decide which grievances the people are permitted to have; it cannot command them to reject “lies” and embrace sanctioned “truths.”

The January 6 protesters have been persecuted for exercising the core civil rights of American citizens. It is hard to imagine a more direct threat to democracy than the criminalization of protest, but that is just what our government has done.

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About Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a Mt. Vernon fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a staff writer and weekly columnist at the Conservative Institute. His writing has also appeared in the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter @matt_boose. ‏

Photo: WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Jacob Chansley, also known as the "QAnon Shaman," screams "Freedom" inside the U.S. Senate chamber after the U.S. Capitol was breached by a mob during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. Pro-Trump protesters illegally entered the U.S. Capitol building following rallies in the nation's capital. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)