It was an act of country love.
This is what we have repeatedly been told about the insurrection at the Capitol, one year ago this week. The claim began, as brazen lies so often seem to, with Donald Trump. “These are the things and events that happen,” he said, “when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.”
This is what he tweeted that evening. After the walls were scaled and the windows smashed, after the bones were broken and the blood spilled, after the lawmakers were barricaded and the vice president fled, after the building was ransacked and the wall smeared, after the shot was fired and the woman died, after a day that will absolutely live in infamy, that was his response: “Great patriots” had done all this after being cheated out of their votes.
It was a statement of such stunning mendacity — a year later, there is still zero evidence of meaningful election fraud — that you dared to hope even so-called conservatives would reject it. But the Republican Party is where moral courage goes to die, so in the ensuing year, Mr. Trump’s canard has become coin of the realm on the right. Rep. Paul Gosar has described as “peaceful patriots” the architects of the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Tucker Carlson called them “solid Americans.” Sen. Ron Johnson said they were “people that love this country.”
The right has doggedly resisted the idea of holding accountable the man — Mr. Trump — who called the rioters together, who exhorted them like Vince Lombardi in a pregame speech and aimed them like a gun at the heart of American democracy. This refusal to impose consequences, combined with the passage of laws designed to restrict Democratic-leaning voters’ access to the polls and the installation of Trump loyalists in positions of authority over state elections strongly suggests that the events of Jan. 6 will ultimately prove to be not an isolated event, but a dress rehearsal for something far worse.
Because you see, they “love” America so. Oh, and their votes were “stolen.”
On this first anniversary, it seems appropriate — indeed, necessary — to call that claim out for the despicable crock it is.
You know who’s had their votes stolen? Actually, really stolen?
Women, who had no federally guaranteed right to vote until the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, Asian Americans, who did not enjoy full access to voting rights until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, and African Americans, whose voting rights were broadly denied until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and, even so, are still threatened to this very day.
And you know who loved America? They did. They loved it enough to spend decades arguing with it, working through its courts, demanding it venerate its own ideals. They never stormed the Capitol. They loved America enough to believe in it.
So it is beyond galling to hear these gangsters of democracy, these spoiled brats who attacked the seat of government because, heaven forfend, they lost an election, lauded as avatars of country love. No, they are avatars of cowardice, the fear of demographic change. And love? They love the braying of the fascist, the easy answers of the demagogue, the reasoning of the mob, the justice of fists and force, the powerless silence of the disfavored and despised.
They don’t love America. They love an America that does not exist.
Leonard Pitts Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for the Miami Herald.