Republicans are right – we don’t need a probe on the Capitol insurrection

·4-min read
Then president spoke to ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on morning of riot (Getty Images)
Then president spoke to ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on morning of riot (Getty Images)

Republicans are right. We do not need an independent commission to investigate what happened during the 6 January riot at the US Capitol, or what led to it.

Why not? Because we already know what happened when hundreds of supporters of Donald Trump stormed the legislature to “stop the steal”, and who was responsible for them doing so.

In recent days, Democrats calling for an independent commission have likened our current situation to the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. After al-Qaida terrorists hijacked passenger aircraft and killed more than 3,000 Americans in assaults on New York and Washington DC, there was a pressing need to know how that had been allowed to happen.

How could the most powerful nation on earth be brought so shudderingly to its knees by 19 men armed with little more than craft knives? The probe was set up. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, more frequently referred to as the 9/11 Commission, interviewed around 1,200 people across the world and took close to two years to deliver its report of more than 600 pages.

Chaired by Republican Thomas Kean and co-chaired by Democrat Lee Hamilton, the commission’s report pointed to serious failures within the FBI and the CIA, including the refusal to share critical information in a timely manner. Perhaps most pointedly, it suggested “the most important failure [concerning the 9/11 attacks] was one of imagination”.

The commission was not without controversy; some critics say it chose to ignore evidence of the complicity of Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers , though Riyadh strongly denied this. Nevertheless, the team of five Republicans and and five Democrats are generally seen to have acted apolitically and in the interests of the nation, rather than party, concluding that both Republican George Bush, and his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, had been ill-served by the FBI and the CIA.

When the House on Wednesday passed a bill to establish a commission into the event of January, 9/11 Commission leaders Kean and Hamilton backed the move. “The 6 January attack on the US Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country,” the said. “Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened.”

But there are striking differences between the 9/11 attacks and that on the US Capitol. While at least six people lost their lives in the events of 6 January, the numbers are just a fraction of those killed when the Twin Towers were brought down in lower Manhattan, when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon, and when a handful of passengers fought with the hijackers and managed to bring down Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania, avoiding even more devastation.

And while the rioters did swarm into the Capitol building, many of them seeking to avert the ratification of Joe Biden’s electoral votes, they did not succeed in doing so.

Yet the most obvious reason we do not need a commission is because we already know what happened and who was responsible. It was the then-president of the United States, Donald Trump, who, with a wave of lies and false claims, incited his supporters to try to overturn Biden’s victory.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who this week said it was unclear what additional facts would be uncovered by a probe, has already made clear his belief that Trump was to blame, saying from the Senate floor in February: “Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” A few days after the riot, Kevin McCarthy concurred: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.”

Remember this: several criminal investigations have rightly been launched into the riot, and the US Capitol police and others are examining how they may have been prepared better prepared. All of this is welcome and necessary.

But the biggest challenge for America in the aftermath of the 6 January insurrection is not trying to work out what happened; we already have that information in spades.

Rather, the puzzle is to work out why so many Americans continue to support a leader who sought to overturn democracy, whose single term was marked by bigotry and racism and who continues to exert an iron grip on his party.

The challenge is to grapple with why so many Republican politicians continue to support his lie that the elation was “stolen”, and believe he, or at least a big chunk of his supporters, are their best hope to success in the 2022 midterms.

That reckoning is going to require a lot of soul-searching and self-reflection. It will be well beyond the ability of a single commission set up by Congress, and it may even defeat our imagination.

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