WASHINGTON – Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene swept into the District of Columbia jail to check on conditions for the Jan. 6 defendants, with Republican lawmakers handshaking and high-fiving the prisoners, who chanted “Let's Go Brandon!” — a coded vulgarity against President Joe Biden — as the group left.
A day earlier Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with the mother of slain rioter Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who was shot and killed by police as she tried to climb through a broken window during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
And the House Republican leader recently gave Fox News’ Tucker Carlson exclusive access to a trove of Jan. 6 surveillance tapes despite the conservative commentator’s airing of conspiracy theories about the Capitol attack.
Taken together, the House Republicans can be seen as working steadily but intently to distort the facts of the deadly riot, which played out for the world to see when Donald Trump's supporters laid siege to the Capitol, and in the process downplay the risk of domestic extremism in the U.S.
In actions and legislation, the Republicans are seeking to portray perpetrators of the Capitol riot as victims of zealous federal prosecutors, despite many being convicted of serious crimes. As Trump calls for the Jan. 6 defendants to be pardoned, some House Republicans are attempting to rebrand those who stormed the Capitol as “political prisoners.”
The result is alarming to those who recognize a dangerously Orwellian attempt to whitewash recent history.
“There's no question Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Republicans are attempting to rewrite history,” said Heidi Beirich, the co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. “They're making light of what was a serious attack on our democracy.”
The tour Greene led at the local jail Friday comes as nearly 1,000 people have been charged by the Justice Department in the attack on the Capitol — leaders of the extremist Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy. The 20 or so defendants being held at the jail, many in pretrial detention on serious federal charges, are among those who battled police at the Capitol, officials said, in what at times was a gruesome bloody scene of violence and mayhem.
Greene told The Associated Press the idea she’s trying to rewrite history is the “stupidest thing” she’s ever heard of, especially since the assault on the Capitol has been captured in the 41,000 hours of video that McCarthy made available to Fox News.
“We can’t rewrite it — it’s all on video,” Greene told the AP.
“You can’t change the history, but what we can do is expose the truth. That’s what we need to do,” Greene said.
The country has been here before — in the aftermath of the Civil War, when the Lost Cause movement sought to reframe the battle over ending slavery in the U.S. as one of states’ rights, and again in the years following the Civil Rights movement as critics of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. questioned his transformative legacy.
In the House under Republican control this year, the new leadership openly questions what happened on Jan. 6 as well as how the federal government is investigating and prosecuting extremists. Outside groups are raising money and rallying to the aid of Jan. 6 defendants.
This past week, a Republican-led Judiciary subcommittee probed the federal government's treatment of parents protesting school board policies — sometimes violently — as unfair. Next week, the new Republican committee on the “weaponization" of the federal government will delve into First Amendment free speech rights on social media.
McCarthy warned that the federal government is labeling parents as “domestic terrorists” for showing up at school board meetings, even though such prosecutions are extremely rare.
His was a reference to a 2021 Justice Department memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland responding to the National School Board Association's concerns about violent protesters at school board meetings. Garland had directed federal law enforcement to address what he called a “disturbing spike” in harassment of school officials.
Probing the matter, the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee released a report showing that in one federal investigation, the FBI interviewed a mom for allegedly telling a local school board “we are coming for you.” In another, the FBI investigated a dad who opposed COVID mask mandates after a tipster to a federal hotline said he "fit the profile of an insurrectionist” because he “rails against the government” and “has a lot of guns and threatens to use them.”
“Parents should have a right to go to school board meetings and not be called terrorists,” McCarthy said.
While Greene has said the Capitol attack was wrong, at the jail visit Friday she said she believes there’s a "two-tiered” justice system and that the Jan. 6 defendants are being “treated as political prisoners” for their beliefs.
Democrats on the tour said that is categorically false. While the local jail came has long been the subject of complaints — the U.S. Marshals made plans to relocate 400 detainees after a surprise 2021 inspection found parts of the facility “do not meet the minimum standards” — the Jan. 6 defendants have been housed in a newer wing that was not cited as problematic in the Marshals' statement.
The two Democrats who joined the tour as members of the House Oversight Committee said they both had visited detention facilities before. “It's probably as good as a jail can be,” said Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, a former public defender.
Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia of California noted the way the Republicans led by Greene treated the Jan. 6 defendants as celebrities — shaking their hands and slapping backs when the lawmakers arrived in the jail facility.
As they left, the defendants chanted the “Let's Go Brandon!” phrase against Biden, he said in a tweet.
“What is most important to remember is that while Marjorie Taylor Greene and others want to treat these folks as pseudo celebrities, some of these folks are insurrectionists,” Garcia told reporters. “And we can't forget that.”
This story has been corrected to reflect that Ashli Babbitt was an Air Force veteran, not a Navy veteran.