One year ago, a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election of Joseph Biden as president.
It remains a low point in our nation’s history, a day that should remind every citizen that our democratic republic could falter if we do not fight for it. In real time, we saw angry men and women storm the Capitol, members of Congress being rushed to safety, a delay in certifying the presidential election and police officers pummeled as they tried to stem the rabble.
A year later, much remains unanswered about the assault.
Because of the work of the bipartisan congressional Jan. 6 commission, we do know the former president and his top supporters had a plan to keep him in office despite his loss at the ballot box. The Jan. 6 mob was theater, noise, designed to create a cover for a plot to stop the peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to the next.
The plot was this: Call into question legitimate election results, refuse to concede, stop the certification of votes, persuade Republican-led state legislatures to overturn the count and send new electors to choose a different winner.
The goal was simple: Keep Donald Trump in power no matter the cost.
A year later, the American people still haven’t quite processed how close the country came to abandoning its democratic tradition. There was no peaceful transfer of power, a norm so accepted we had come to take it for granted. More appalling, a sizable minority of the country believes the violence was justified because Biden won through cheating — a lie so pernicious it is unclear it can be erased in the minds of some citizens.
A University of Massachusetts at Amherst poll taken in December found 71 percent of Republicans view the Biden victory as illegitimate and defend the violence of Jan. 6.
Key to these voters’ skepticism is the continuing refusal of elected Republican officials to endorse the results of the last election. By their words and actions, GOP leaders have undermined faith in the electoral process.
That was something Trump pushed in the hours after the November 2020 election and continues to this day. He has claimed fraud, filed lawsuits, threatened state election officials and otherwise meddled to ensure his followers would not accept Biden’s election. He pressured Vice President Mike Pence to overturn certification of the election. Pence, despite wanting to please Trump, managed to refuse the pressure and perform his constitutional duty.
While the Jan. 6 commission continues its work, the Department of Justice also is investigating, looking at more than the rioters of Jan. 6. Investigators want to hold accountable the masterminds of this seditious event.
Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke Wednesday in advance of the one-year anniversary, promising that, “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”
To the critics who complain that the Justice Department case has not moved fast enough, consider the numbers. More than 700 arrests have been made, 14,000 hours of video collected, more than 160 people already have pleaded guilty — and hundreds more cases are making their way through the system.
Of course, it is not just the rioters who must face consequences for the activities on Jan. 6. The Justice Department must show it can bring the masterminds behind the riots to answer for their crimes — if Garland cannot do that, he will be judged a failure.
The riot, after all, was the end result of manipulation from the highest leaders in the land. That includes Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump spoke at an incendiary rally at the White House Ellipse, promising to meet his supporters at the Capitol. He never showed up, but they did, attempting to stop the certification of the presidential election through violence.
A year later, the American people still await answers to the many questions about that day. More than that, they need their own resolve and fortitude to ensure this 245-plus-year experiment in government of the people, by the people and for the people, will not perish. The rioters lost on Jan. 6, 2021. Now the people of the United States must ensure that loss is enduring.