“Our democracy was inches from ruin. Our system of government was stretched to the breaking point. Members and staff were terrorized. Police officers fought hand to hand for hours. People lost their lives … Either you’re on the side of helping us figure out why, or you’re trying to stop us from getting those answers. You can parade out whatever argument you want, but really, that’s all there is to it. In real life, there aren’t a lot of bright-line moments. This is one of them.” — U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol
A year ago on Jan. 6, Americans watched in horror and revulsion as a savage mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, intent upon overturning a fair and free election through violence or even murder, if necessary.
The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has interviewed more than 300 witnesses and reviewed tens of thousands of documents. The Department of Justice has charged more than 700 defendants with alleged crimes ranging from entering restricted Capitol grounds to conspiracy against the United States.
Yet the attack on American democracy continues, unabated.
The ongoing assault relies less on brute violence — though the threat is ever-present — and more on subversion. But the motivation, the fuel, and the ultimate goal remain as stark and repugnant as they were revealed to be on that dark day one year ago.
The motivation is furious resentment of the historic Black and brown voter turnout that contributed to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. The fuel is the “Big Lie” — the ugly myth that the election was “stolen.” And the goal is not only to disenfranchise Black and brown Americans with repressive voting laws, not only to dilute their influence with manipulative racial gerrymandering, but to ignore the results of elections entirely.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, enemies of pressured election officials to “find” more votes for the losing candidate, to throw out votes for the winning candidate, and to publicize baseless claims of voter fraud. They filed lawsuit after lawsuit seeking to invalidate votes in counties with large Black and brown populations.
And when those election officials resisted their pressure and judges dismissed their false claims, they launched a campaign to replace those officials and judges.
“For more than a year now, with tacit and explicit support from their party’s national leaders, state Republican operatives have been building an apparatus of election theft,” journalist Barton Gellman wrote in The Atlantic. “Elected officials in Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other states have studied Donald Trump’s crusade to overturn the 2020 election. They have noted the points of failure and have taken concrete steps to avoid failure next time. Some of them have rewritten statutes to seize partisan control of decisions about which ballots to count and which to discard, which results to certify and which to reject. They are driving out or stripping power from election officials who refused to go along with the plot last November, aiming to replace them with exponents of the Big Lie. They are fine-tuning a legal argument that purports to allow state legislators to override the choice of the voters.”
The work of the Justice Department and the January 6 Committee is vital to uncovering the origins of the deadly insurrection and to holding the perpetrators accountable. But the most dangerous conspirators weren’t the ones strutting the halls of Congress in horned fur hats and superhero costumes. They’re the ones quietly dismantling democracy in state capitols across the country. And they must be held to account, too.
Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.