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'Insurrection' Theater on Capitol Hill

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

First thing's first: Nancy Pelosi's select committee probing the January 6th Capitol riot is a political animal. It became one the second that Nancy Pelosi vetoed Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's choices of Republicans to serve on the panel. Pelosi made it clear: only Trump-haters were welcome in this “bipartisan” endeavor. Otherwise, there would be a danger that the select committee might actually think critically about what happened on January 6th, and the Left's narrative about an “insurrection” might be damaged or discredited. Crazy Nancy was having none of that.


It has been clear from the start that the select committee is part of a broad effort to tarnish Donald Trump and Trump-supporting (i.e. mainstream) Republicans as "insurrectionists," even though zero Americans have been charged, let alone convicted, of "insurrection," and no prominent Republicans were involved in the riot that occurred on January 6th. 

The House's recent vote to hold Steve Bannon in "contempt of Congress," for his refusal to testify before the committee, should be seen in this light. Fantasies about Steve Bannon rotting in a D.C. jail cell for defying the righteous commands of Nancy Pelosi's select committee are exactly that: fantasies. It is virtually unheard of for Congressional subpoenas to be enforced and/or for persons in violation of those subpoenas to be punished. Nonetheless, since justice is not blind, we can't eliminate the possibility that the Department of Justice will try to charge Steve Bannon with "contempt of Congress" or some similar offense. History suggests he is highly unlikely to be convicted, and if convicted he is highly unlikely to receive a significant punishment, such as jail time. The last major federal official to be found in "contempt of Congress," for instance, Eric Holder, President Obama's Attorney General, was not prosecuted or penalized in any way. And let's be clear: even if Congress could coerce Bannon into appearing before the committee, it cannot force him to speak. He can always "plead the Fifth" and refuse to testify. Thus, a DOJ decision to prosecute Bannon would serve no constructive purpose, except to underline false claims about an "insurrection" and to intimidate future potential witnesses.


With respect to the insurrection fairy tale, it is important to understand that Democrats benefit from creating the impression that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and other prominent Republicans have something to hide about the events of January 6th. That's why Pelosi's committee has made overly broad demands for records that have nothing to do with January 6th, but which concern, for instance, peaceful, lawful efforts to question and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the official results of the 2020 election.

The select committee is clearly desperate to create the false impression that the attack was preplanned at the very highest levels. The FBI and the Department of Justice have been investigating such claims vigorously over the last nine months, and their statements have made clear that they have found no evidence to substantiate them. Nevertheless, Cheney and her ilk constantly imply otherwise. According to Cheney, "Mr. Bannon's and Mr. Trump's [failures to comply with Congressional subpoenas] do...reveal one thing: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6. And this committee will get to the bottom of that."

In Steve Bannon's case, it is patently obvious that he was deeply involved in planning protests on various dates, including January 6th, and in supporting claims of election fraud. It is equally obvious that he had no role in the attack on the Capitol, no foreknowledge of such an attack, and no reason to believe that he, or President Trump, would benefit from such a harebrained scheme. 


For Democrats and Trump-hating Republicans, however, espousing the cause of contesting the 2020 election – in other words, exercising one's constitutional rights to freedom of conscience and freedom of speech – is the same thing as planning and executing an insurrection, and thus Steve Bannon is guilty de facto even if he isn't guilty de jure. And naturally the Left would like us to forget all about the fact that it has failed to deliver criminal convictions against any of the GOP "big fish" who they have constantly reviled as insurrectionists, seditionists, and traitors.

There is no doubt that Trump-haters are manipulating the present inquiry to maximize the political damage to Trump and Trump supporters. The truth, however, is that no one has been charged with insurrection, because no insurrection took place. It is clear that the events of January 6th at the Capitol were mostly spontaneous, chaotic, and more farcical than fascistic. 

What's more, the most basic and relevant fact about January 6th is that the events of that day in no way, shape, or form benefited Donald J. Trump and Trumpism. On the contrary, they became, almost instantly, part of the perverse, self-aggrandizing mythology by which Democrats and progressives, who are manifestly failing to govern America effectively, justify their misrule. 

Not for the first time, the Left is trying to make political capital from lawlessness and senseless violence. They were wrong to do so in the tumultuous summer of 2020, and they are wrong to do so now as well.


Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.

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