Jan. 6 Was Deplorable. It Was Not a Coup

When several hundred extremists mobbed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, they engaged in a deplorably un-American act of criminality. It was an embarrassing day for the nation, and a dangerous one for the many innocent people and officials engulfed in the mayhem.

Here’s what Jan. 6 wasn’t:

It wasn’t the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” Nor did it veer anywhere near the vicinity of being as dangerous as 9/11. Nor was it a “coup” or an “insurrection” — not in any way we commonly understand those words. It wasn’t a “putsch.” Nor did it, as the chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, claimed, come “dangerously close to succeeding” in upending “American democracy.” That’s all a myth. It was a riot.

Or, as Christopher Caldwell more forgivingly called it in The New York Times, perhaps “a political protest that got out of control.”

And, contra House Republican Adam Kinzinger’s overwrought contention on the first day of the Jan. 6 select committee, there’s no evidence that “self-governance” was threatened by the rioters. Only two sets of people gain anything from pretending that these rioters had anything approaching the wherewithal to overthrow the United States government: Democrats and the extremists.

Kinzinger is, of course, correct when he notes that rioters were “rejecting the rule of law.”

There’s a lot of that going on these days. He’d have more credibility on the matter if he, and others who talk about Jan. 6 as if it were a modern-day Gettysburg, showed any genuine concern about the wide-ranging leftist political violence of 2020, which cost billions in damage and numerous lives. But Kinzinger rejects even the notion that BLM/antifa riots should be considered in the same terms, saying “some have concocted a counternarrative” — which is actually a textbook example of a false dilemma, as both narratives can comfortably coexist.

A lot of genuine anger is caused by the media’s and Washington’s demanding that we play by two sets of rules. In May 2020, Secret Service agents, for instance, had to stick then-President Donald Trump into a bunker for hours as hundreds of protesters began overwhelming police, some throwing rocks and bottles and trying to break down police barricades. Good thing law enforcement was prepared for that one, I guess. Let’s also not forget the attempted firebombing of a federal building in Portland, Oregon, (and other cities) and the killing of five police officers by a self-professed BLM activist in 2016. Cops are being attacked around the country right now. Do we get to blame all progressives for fueling the anger that motivates those extremists to act out?

Kinzinger will tell you there is an important “difference” between “a crime — even grave crimes — and a coup.” Right. Which is why it’s important to stress there was no coup on Jan. 6. The protesters had no plan. There isn’t any evidence that Trump, who used grossly irresponsible rhetoric that day, was scheming — or knew how to scheme or knew anyone who knew how to scheme — a coup d’etat. Not even Gen. Mark Milley, who was allegedly nervous about such a possibility, makes that claim. The Electoral College had already been counted. Then-Vice President Mike Pence had already spurned Trump’s request to reject the results. No court was going to overturn an election or stand with the cretins wandering around vandalizing Congress.

It would be one thing if the commission were principally concerned with figuring out how protesters breached security. But the central purpose of the commission — whether Republicans cooperate or not — is to create the impression that the GOP is in the midst of attempting to overturning “democracy.” They want to use Jan. 6 to push their unconstitutional efforts to nationalize elections. And they definitely want to use it to make Trump the central topic of the 2022 midterms.

These days, anyone who fails to adopt Kinzinger’s hyperbolic tone and obsess over Jan. 6 is accused of “minimizing” the event or being in league with the insurrectionists. For the past five years, we have been engulfed in political hysteria. Sure, a number of conservatives have tried to whitewash the ugliness of that day. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s contention that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “bears responsibility, as Speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6” is weak tea. That fact, however, doesn’t make the claim that the American republic faced an existential threat on Jan. 6 any less preposterous.


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David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of the book "First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History With the Gun."