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Wrong election narration deepens the national divide | Messages


WASHINGTON, DC – Months before attackers who supported then-President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, social media sites were flooded with angry posts claiming the presidential election had been rigged and turned into violence has been called.

The Stop the Steal campaigns, falsely claiming that the Democrats stole the election for President Joe Biden through widespread electoral fraud, became a rallying cry for the angry crowd that attacked the Capitol on what became known as one the darkest in America will go down in history.

Even a year after the attack, Trump’s supporters, candidates for elected office, Trump himself and in families at the dining table kept spreading and repeating false information.



Political watchers, pollsters and researchers claim these diverse, false accounts of the worst violence to have occurred at the center of American government in more than 200 years continue to sow the seeds of radicalization.

“The legacy of the Capitol Riots is that violence, or the threat of violence, has now become the norm for this type of political strategy,” said Juliette Kayyem, a national security expert and former homeland security officer under former President Barack Obama. “We haven’t seen that since the civil war.”

Kayyem said Trump and other Republican leaders’ refusal to oppose the Jan. 6 siege increases the likelihood of political violence in the future.

“It created an atmosphere where violence is just a scratch beneath the surface of our voting rights,” she said. “And that’s the most worrying aspect for me.”


Although Trump and many close friends continue to dismiss the January 6 attack as a spontaneous outbreak, a flow of evidence that began days before the Capitol rupture suggests that the violence was part of a coordinated effort that resulted in the Tilt 2020 elections.

“It wasn’t something that just got out of hand,” said Kayyem.

Researchers tracking disinformation in American politics say the attack’s roots go back years.

Luke O’Brien, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said many of Trump’s supporters across the country have been over a period of years of conservative social media influencers and the former president’s political rhetoric “Radicalized” members of his family and surrogate mothers.

O’Brien points to conservative political activists like Ali Alexander who began spreading claims that the 2020 elections would be rigged before voters even went to the polls.

“They had this influencer class of right-wing propagandists working together to spread disinformation about the elections,” said O’Brien. “In the meantime, you have a number of elected officials in Congress and elsewhere who have compounded this disinformation and given it a stamp of authority.”

He said this gave a “green light” to extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, which federal investigators believe were coordinated before and during the violence.

“You don’t have the numbers alone to overthrow our democracy,” said O’Brien. “They had to activate a mob, and that is exactly what happened.”


A variety of evidence has emerged in the year since the attack, often providing firsthand insight into the attack and intimate glimpses of the underlying triggers.

More than 700 people were charged with crimes related to the attack, ranging from assaulting a police officer to conspiracy. Several of the accused were sentenced to prison terms. The FBI is still searching for and arresting other suspects.

But even efforts to organize Congressional investigations into the Capitol siege and its motivators have exposed divisions between lawmakers who have witnessed the violence firsthand.

A Democrat-run House of Representatives is holding hearings on Capitol Hill as part of its investigation into the riot. This body has summoned hundreds of people to testify and has collected a mountain of documents, telephone records and texts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders were quick to condemn the riots in the Capitol immediately thereafter, but Trump’s supporters and even members of Congress have since helped spread lies and disinformation about the incident.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, criticized the Justice Department for “molesting” suspected rioters, whom he described as “peaceful patriots”.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Georgia described that rioters walking through the Capitol on January 6 looked like a “normal tourist visit,” and suggested that the riot was far less serious than depicted.

And Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, recently suggested that the riot was an attempt to “overthrow tyrants” and was therefore supported by the Constitution.

Some elected officials even suggested that the attack was orchestrated by the government, a “false flag” operation – a claim fueled by conservative media.

“They are trying to cover up these attacks and pretend it never happened,” said Lori Trahan, D-Mass, MP, who was at the Capitol during the riot. “Many of us hoped this would be a turning point for the Republican Party to move away from extremism, but it clearly did not happen.”

Trahan noted that some Republican lawmakers even did the work of the House Special Committee and the two GOP lawmakers – Reps. Liz Cheney from Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger from Illinois – who work in it.

Even some GOP lawmakers, whose decisions were profoundly influenced by what they witnessed during the attack, are reluctant to talk about hand-to-hand combat today.

When rioters broke through the Capitol, Senator James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, stood on the podium delivering a speech questioning the integrity of the Arizona election results and calling on his colleagues to set up a 10-day commission to review ballots .

The day after he fled the Senate Chamber with fellow legislators, Lankford wrote to his supporters that “rioters vandalized several offices, smashed windows and occupied the Capitol.”

“These painful images will forever be burned into my memory,” he wrote. He said “violence and terror” are not acceptable ways to deal with disagreements.

Lankford later voted to partially accept voters in the Senate debate because he wrote that delaying the vote would only create more uncertainty “and risk opportunities in our nation.”

A year later, in the middle of the 2022 re-election campaign, Lankford was criticized for his remarks and actions after January 6th. Jackson Lahmeyer, a Republican challenger, remarked on his campaign website Lankford “like fishing out of the water and giving in like a coward to confirm a lie.”

Lankford declined an interview request for this story.


Meanwhile, Trump and his deputies continued to spread disinformation about the day’s events as his supporters demand the release of “political prisoners” arrested in hand-to-hand combat as part of the FBI’s criminal investigation.

Fact-checking organization Politifact rated the effort to rewrite the January 6th story of the Capitol Riots as the “Lie of the Year” in 2021.

Political observers say a legacy of mob violence is a more divided country.

A Reuters / Ipsos poll in April found that six in ten Republicans believe Trump’s false claim that the November presidential election was “stolen” by widespread voter fraud.

About half of the Republicans surveyed at the time believed the siege was a “non-violent protest” or was instigated by left-wing activists, pollsters found.

Kevin Boyle, a professor of American history at Northwestern University, said disillusionment with the political process fueled by widespread disinformation is generating political violence and sowing the seeds of insurrection.

“I think there is a fundamental distrust of American public policy that has prevailed among large parts of the American population,” he said. “There’s a lot of anger channeled into political extremism, which has a number of roots, some economic, some racial.”

Meanwhile, a recent Politifact investigation found that many of the defendants arrested on charges related to the attack viewed their actions as patriotic and believed that that day would mark a turning point in American history.

Ernesto Verdeja, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, said social media played a key role in lighting the division.

He said the partisan debate on social media is driving people to wider marginalized activities and groups.

“When the internet started we thought it would have a democratizing effect,” said Verdeja. “It was really fascinating to see how social media has effectively become … echo chambers for very deliberate disinformation.”

O’Brien of the Shorenstein Center said many of the propaganda networks supporting the former president are still up and waiting for the next call.

“A lot of the people who are spreading this information are still out there doing the exact same thing,” he said. “As disturbing as it is, it can happen again.”

CNHI Statehouse reporters Janelle Stecklein, Ali Linan and Whitney Downard contributed to this report.


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