Republicans Rewrite History of the Capitol Riot, Hampering an Inquiry

WASHINGTON — Four months after supporters of President Donald J. Trump stormed the Capitol in a deadly riot, a growing number of Republicans in Congress are mounting a wholesale effort to rewrite the history of what happened on Jan. 6, downplaying or outright denying the violence and deflecting efforts to investigate it.

Their denialism — which has intensified for weeks and was on vivid display this week at a pair of congressional hearings — is one reason that lawmakers have been unable to agree on forming an independent commission to scrutinize the assault on the Capitol. Republicans have insisted that any inquiry include an examination of violence by antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, and Black Lives Matter. It also reflects an embrace of misinformation that has become a hallmark of the Republican Party in the age of Mr. Trump.

“A denial of finding the truth is what we have to deal with,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “We have to find the truth, and we are hoping to do so in the most bipartisan way possible.”

She drew a direct link between Republicans’ ouster of Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming as their No. 3 leader — a move that stemmed from Ms. Cheney’s vocal repudiations of Mr. Trump’s election lies, which inspired the riot — and their refusal to acknowledge the reality of what happened on Jan. 6.

A House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the riot on Wednesday underlined the Republican strategy. Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, the chairman of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, used his time to show video of mob violence purportedly by antifa that had unfolded 2,800 miles away in Portland, Ore.

His fellow Freedom Caucus member, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina, used his turn to question whether rioters involved in the Capitol attack had actually been Trump supporters — despite their Trump shirts, hats and flags, “Make America Great Again” paraphernalia, and pro-Trump chants and social media posts.

“I don’t know who did the poll to say that they were Trump supporters,” Mr. Norman said.

Another Republican, Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, described the scene during the assault and its aftermath — which resulted in the deaths of four police officers and injured nearly 140 others — as appearing like a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol.

“Let’s be honest with the American people: It was not an insurrection,” Mr. Clyde said, adding that the House floor was never breached and that no firearms had been confiscated. “There was an undisciplined mob. There were some rioters, and some who committed acts of vandalism.”

He then asked Jeffrey A. Rosen, who was the acting attorney general at the time of the attack, whether he considered it “an insurrection, or a riot with vandalism, similar to what we saw last summer,” apparently referring to racial justice protests that swept across the country.

Immediately after the attack, many Republicans joined Democrats in condemning the violent takeover of the building known as the citadel of American democracy. But in the weeks that followed, Mr. Trump, abetted by right-wing news outlets and a few members of Congress, pushed the fiction that it had been carried out by antifa and Black Lives Matter, a claim that the federal authorities have repeatedly debunked. Now, a much broader group of Republican lawmakers have settled on a more subtle effort to cloud and distort what happened.

The approach has hampered the creation of an independent commission, modeled after the one that delved into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to look into the Capitol riot, its roots and the government’s response. Ms. Pelosi said discussions had stalled given Republicans’ insistence on including unrelated groups and events, and that Democrats might be forced to undertake their own inquiry through existing House committees if the G.O.P. would not drop the demand.

“Now we’re getting this outrageous Orwellian revisionist history, where Donald Trump is out there saying that his most loyal followers came in — literally, he said, ‘hugging and kissing’ the Capitol officers,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “My colleagues should stop with all of the evasions, the diversions and the distractions. Let’s figure out what happened to us on that day.”

Republicans involved in the effort to shift attention from the Jan. 6 attack argue they are merely pointing out hypocrisy by Democrats, who want to investigate supporters of the former president but not those aligned with movements on the left. The topic took center stage this week over Ms. Cheney’s ouster.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California and the top House Republican, has insisted the commission must investigate left-wing violence, while Ms. Cheney publicly undercut him by arguing that it should be narrowly focused on the events of Jan. 6.

“That kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing,” Ms. Cheney said in an interview broadcast on Thursday on NBC.

Ms. Cheney may have been referring to the fact that some Republicans actively pushed Mr. Trump’s lie that the election had been stolen from him, urging their supporters to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to make a defiant last stand to keep him in power. The lawmakers linked arms with the organizers of the so-called Stop the Steal protest that preceded the riot and used inflammatory language to describe the stakes.

There is also deep concern among Republicans that an independent investigation will focus negative attention on their party as the 2022 midterm elections near. And many Republicans say they are listening to their voters, who continue to want them to stand with Mr. Trump and oppose Mr. Biden’s victory as illegitimate.

Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and a supporter of Ms. Cheney, said a sort of circular logic had taken hold of his party, in which Mr. Trump makes false statements, his supporters believe them and then Republican lawmakers who need backing from those voters to get re-elected repeat them.

“The reality is, you can’t blame people that think the election was stolen, because that’s all they hear from their leaders,” Mr. Kinzinger said. “It’s leaders’ job to tell the truth even if that’s uncomfortable, and that’s not what we’re doing.”

Instead, Republicans are portraying themselves and their supporters as victims of a scheme by Democrats to silence them for their beliefs.

Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, one of the leading proponents in Congress of the “Stop the Steal” movement, used his time at the hearing this week to accuse the Justice Department of “harassing peaceful patriots across the country.”

“Outright propaganda and lies are being used to unleash the national security state against law-abiding U.S. citizens, especially Trump voters,” he said.

Representative Jody B. Hice, Republican of Georgia, painted Trump loyalists as the true casualties of the Jan. 6 attack.

“It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day,” he said, “not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.