Republicans refusing to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory must own the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol

Mob that gathered outside the Capitol shared the goals of some Republicans gathered inside

January 7, 2021 8:38 am
Jan. 6 protestor inside U.S. Capitol

A protester holds a Trump flag inside the U.S. Capitol Building near the Senate Chamber on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rep. Steve Scalise professed to be outraged in August when Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, during an on-camera interview with MSNBC, used the phrase “domestic enemies” to describe Republicans she said were plotting to suppress the vote during the Nov. 3 presidential election.  

“Disgusting,” Scalise, the House Republican Whip, wrote on Twitter. “Nancy Pelosi just called Republicans ‘domestic enemies.’ I was shot because of this kind of unhinged rhetoric. Where’s the media outrage?”

On Wednesday, domestic enemies carrying Confederate battle flags and flags bearing Donald Trump’s name infiltrated the U.S. Capitol where the House and Senate had gathered to certify the results of the Nov. 3 vote that wasn’t suppressed enough to stop Joe Biden from winning.

We know which political party that mob supports, and we know which party’s incendiary rhetoric spoke that mob into existence.

It’s Scalise’s party, not Pelosi’s.

The Republicans must own Wednesday’s physical assault on our democracy — and not only because the insurrection was a predictable result of their own verbal assault on it. They also must own it because they supported and indulged a morally depraved bully and con man who always has and always will put his own interests ahead of any principle — especially love of country.

What fools they were to believe that a man who attacked POWs and Gold Star families to protect his gossamer ego, who let drizzling rain keep him from visiting the French gravesite of America’s war dead, who blows kisses to right-wing goon squads and calls them “fine people” would suddenly care more about the country than himself when that country voted him out. 

“I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Biden said in a televised address Wednesday afternoon.

When Trump did speak, he again lied that he’d won the election. He told the mob to disperse, but he also said, “We love you. You’re very special.”

“We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Pelosi said in the interview that Scalise called disgusting. “And, sadly, the domestic enemies to our voting system and honoring our Constitution are right at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with their allies in the Congress of the United States.”

Would Scalise still like to quibble with Pelosi’s choice of words?

Those enemies occupied her office Wednesday, sat at her desk, rifled through her papers, even carted off the speaker’s lectern.

Because a person on the left of the political spectrum nearly killed him in 2017, Scalise routinely suggests that heated rhetoric from the left poses the greatest threat to the country, but he just as routinely ignores the belligerent rhetoric and actions from those on the far right. He also pretends that he can keep feeding right-wingers the garbage that Trump was robbed of a second term and distance himself from their attempts to violently avenge Trump.

Given that within the last year, right-wing, Trump-loving mobs have stormed Michigan’s capitol and plotted to kidnap that state’s governor, tried to run a Joe Biden campaign bus off a Texas highway, have stormed the state capitol in Oregon and vandalized Black churches in D.C.; given that Trump had peaceful protesters in Washington tear gassed so he could have a clear path to a church to pose with a Bible he knows nothing about, Pelosi’s phrase “domestic enemies” is exactly right.

If suit-and-tie Republicans don’t want to be linked to the MAGA-cap-and-tactical-vest wearing storm troopers, then they should make sure their goals aren’t the same as the insurrectionists’ goals.  But, in this case, Wednesday’s mob gathered outside the Capitol to do the same thing dozens of Republicans gathered to do inside: attempt to undo America’s selection of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.

Some Republican lawmakers were so ashamed by what happened Wednesday that they ditched their plans to object to the certification of Biden’s victory. Just a day after losing her election bid, Georgia Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who’d have to move miles and miles to the left to be called a moderate, said Wednesday night, “I cannot now in good conscience object to the certification of these electors.”

But Scalise’s conscience allowed it.  So did the consciences of most of the Louisiana congressional delegation, including Rep. Clay Higgins, Rep. Mike Johnson and Sen. John Kennedy, all Republicans. They all said Wednesday’s insurrectionists were wrong and then voted the way the insurrectionists wanted them to vote. 

In a Wednesday evening interview with the Illuminator, Johnson wouldn’t say Biden won the election and wouldn’t even blame Trump supporters for ransacking the Capitol, speculating instead that there’s a “big mix of people involved in this.”  He said, “Clearly, there were a lot of Trump supporters in town today, but there might be other groups and parties involved as well.”

Perhaps most shockingly, Johnson expressed doubts about the longevity of American democracy.  “We are an experiment in government,” he said. “Nobody knows how long this can last.”

It can last. Domestic enemies might attack; they might even occupy the White House and seats of Congress, but democracy can last. What Republicans have to decide is if they’ll remain committed to a government of the people when the people remove them from power. Or if they’ll try to take the power the people haven’t granted.


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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.