As a History of Insurrection, the January 6 Report is a MessRoundup
tags: Republican Party, insurrection, Capitol Riots, January 6 Commission
Jill Lepore, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is a professor of history at Harvard. Her books include These Truths: A History of the United States and If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.
The Government Publishing Office’s eight-hundred-and-forty-five-page report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is divided into eight chapters, makes eleven recommendations, attaches four appendices, and includes four thousand two hundred and eighty-five endnotes. Its executive summary, which at nearly two hundred pages can hardly be called a summary, provides a numbered list of seventeen key findings, the first eleven of which have, as the subject of the predicate, the forty-fifth President of the United States:
1. Donald Trump purposely disseminated false allegations of fraud. . . .
2. Donald Trump refused to accept the lawful result of the 2020 election. . . .
3. Donald Trump corruptly pressured Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes. . . .
4. Donald Trump sought to corrupt the U.S. Department of Justice. . . .
5. Donald Trump unlawfully pressured State officials and legislators. . . .
6. Donald Trump oversaw an effort to transmit false electoral certificates. . . .
7. Donald Trump pressured Members of Congress to object to valid slates of electors. . . .
8. Donald Trump purposely verified false information filed in Federal court. . . .
9. Donald Trump summoned tens of thousands of supporters to Washington for January 6th. . . .
10. Donald Trump purposely sent a social media message publicly condemning Vice President Pence. . . .
11. Donald Trump refused repeated requests over a multiple hour period that he instruct his violent supporters to disperse and leave the Capitol. . . .
In a foreword to the report, Bennie G. Thompson, the committee’s chairman, stresses the importance of “accountability at all levels,” but although the word “conspiracy” appears both in finding No. 12—“Each of these actions by Donald Trump was taken in support of a multi-part conspiracy to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 Presidential election”—and more than a hundred times elsewhere in the document, the report is less an account of a conspiracy than a very long bill of indictment against a single man.
Two years ago, the President of the United States attempted to overturn an election for no reason other than that he had lost. A mere handful of Republican officeholders denounced him; for months, nationally prominent members of the G.O.P. refused to acknowledge that Joseph Biden had won the Presidency. On January 6, 2021, at Trump’s urging, thousands of his supporters staged an armed, lethal, and yet somehow also inane insurrection at the Capitol, aimed at preventing a joint session of Congress from certifying the results of the election. They failed. Unless you count being temporarily banned from Twitter as punishment, the former President has suffered no consequences for his actions; Republicans have refused to hold him to account, not least because many Party leaders have been implicated in the attempted overthrow of the United States government. Days after the insurrection, the House voted to impeach the President, but the Senate then failed to convict him. Months later, the House voted to establish an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the insurrection, but the Senate blocked that by way of the filibuster. The House soon voted to hold its own investigation, under the aegis of a select committee composed of seven Democrats and six Republicans. Then Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, refused to seat on the committee two Republicans who had supported the insurrection, whereupon Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Minority Leader, denounced the committee and pulled his members from it, after which the G.O.P., declaring the attack on the Capitol to have been “legitimate political discourse,” censured the two Republicans who did serve on the committee, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom left office this month. (Cheney lost her bid for reëlection, and Kinzinger declined to run.)
Congress established the January 6th Committee on June 30, 2021. The committee’s report is the fullest record yet of the conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential election, much of it deriving from the dauntless work of earlier reporters, much of it newly gathered by the committee itself. In the course of eighteen months, the committee reviewed thousands of pages of evidence and presented testimony from more than seventy witnesses during ten televised hearings produced with the aid of the former president of ABC News and illustrated with taped video interviews, Facebook posts, text messages, YouTube clips, and surveillance footage, all of it easily snipped and posted on social media. The hearings made for great television and, probably more important, great memes, the TikTokification of testimony. “Like our hearings, this report is designed to deliver our findings in detail in a format that is accessible for all Americans,” Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice-chair, writes in a foreword to the written report. But the report, unlike the hearings, is dreary, repetitive, and exhausting. In that sense, it’s like Trump himself. It’s also surprisingly scanty in the key elements of storytelling—setting, character, and plot. It’s as if the committee found itself unable to surmount Trump’s madness and senselessness, trapped in his very plotlessness.