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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: One year later … what’s in a name?

It’s the anniversary of … something, but we can’t agree on its name. There is no common narrative yet for the events of Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington D.C. If your political bias leans left, it’s labeled an insurrection and the worst attack on our democracy in history. If your political bias leans right, it was a nasty riot capping off a summer of riots.

Regardless of your political lens, it was a horrible thing to watch. And President Trump missed an opportunity to be presidential when he ignored repeated pleas from family, friends and political allies to call on the mob to stand down.

The National Park Service issued a permit for 5,000 to 30,000 attendees for the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. One current estimate of the actual number is “six times as many protesters – as many as 120,000 – would show up on the Mall on January 6, according to classified numbers still not released by the Secret Service and the FBI but seen by Newsweek.” The number actually entering the Capitol is cited as 1,200, “circulating in classified assessments made by the Secret Service and the FBI, and obtained exclusively by Newsweek” and published Dec. 23.

Reuters News Agency reported in August “the FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result.” Attorney General Merrick Garland affirmed no one had been charged with insurrection at a congressional hearing in October. The Washington Post reported as of Dec. 31, a total of 725 individuals have been arrested. About “640 people were charged with entering a restricted federal building or its grounds. And another 75 were charged with entering a restricted area with a deadly weapon.”

The only gun fired on Jan. 6 was by a Capitol police officer. While few firearms were confiscated that day, PolitiFact notes “video plainly shows the mob using all manner of makeshift weapons to attack police and force their way in” and it is therefore correct to call it an armed mob.

The same PolitiFact fact check from last February also says five people died. That is incorrect, but has not been updated. Contrary to early reports, the D.C. Medical Examiner later determined Officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes, two strokes, with no sign of external or internal injuries.

In a November analysis, lists only four deaths. Two were heart attacks at the protest prior to the riot, not a surprising statistic in a crowd of 120,000. One was a young woman originally reported as being trampled by the mob, but whose death was later ruled an accidental overdose of a drug which “can be prescribed to treat attention-deficit disorder and narcolepsy.” The fourth fatality was Ashli Babbitt, shot by a Capitol police officer as she climbed through a window. The officer was later cleared of wrongdoing.

The 1% who chose to join the mob, knock over barricades and threaten lawmakers are individually responsible for their actions. The 99% of the lawfully gathered crowd held a mostly peaceful protest and went home.

The left narrative blames Trump’s year of whining about a stolen election and the Stop the Steal rally for inciting the riot. When a politician says “you can run the best campaign, you can even become the nominee, and you can have the election stolen from you,” the crowd cheers.

Or at least that’s how USA Today reported the scene in May 2019 when Hillary Clinton was speaking in Los Angeles to a crowd of definitely not Trump supporters. She went on to say “the press could not give up their addiction to waiting to see what Trump would do next.”

On this I agree with Clinton. Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016 when the media handed him a giant megaphone. He wasn’t expected to defeat Clinton.

The result was half of Democrats polled in 2016 believed President Trump was not legitimately elected. Protests both peaceful and violent broke out and continued until Inauguration Day. Democrats organized a pressure campaign on electors to throw over the popular votes in their states, hoping to deny Trump the presidency. Congress appointed a special prosecutor and held hearings on election integrity.

Claiming trouble ahead before and after election day is the new normal in federal elections. If your candidate loses it must be suppression, fraud or collusion. Trump’s rhetoric and litigation is a continuation of this toxic new American narrative, but it doesn’t excuse the 725 facing charges for acting stupidly on Jan. 6.

Trump had a duty to act and call for peace. He didn’t. He has disqualified himself from running for public office again. But it wasn’t the worst attack ever on our democracy. Lawyering up to challenge results in battleground states is less deadly than refighting the First Battle of Bull Run. Or maybe it was the First Battle of Manassas. The Union and the Confederacy never did agree on the name of the battle which nearly destroyed the republic in 1861.

On Jan. 6, 2021 we saw how easily a mostly peaceful protest can be the genesis of an out of control mob. Insisting on labeling it “insurrection” is an incitement to political division and civil war. Let’s not go there again.

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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