Anyone watching the violence unfold at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday had to wonder how President Donald Trump’s Christian nationalist sycophants were possibly going to spin this one.
The images were stark: Bands of marauding Trump supporters plowed through barricades, broke windows and forced their way into the Capitol building where they rampaged for hours until police restored order. They did these things in part because, earlier in the day, Trump had delivered an incendiary speech urging his supporters to head to the Capitol and continued to insist, against all evidence, that the election had been stolen from him.
How do you possibly put a good face on this? You can’t, so the Religious Right has decided to take a page from Trump’s playbook and construct a “fake news” version of events: Trump supporters were not responsible for the violence at the Capitol, antifa was.
Even as events were unfolding, evangelist Franklin Graham issued a statement reading, “The people who broke the windows in the Capital [sic] did not look like the people out there demonstrating. Most likely it was antifa.” (Nope – they were one and the same: Trump supporters.)
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, opined during a radio broadcast that it is “still uncertain as to the full composition of the group that breached security and made their way into the Capitol.” (Not really. They were Trump supporters.)
Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, implied that a few bad apples got out of control. Land asserted that while law-breaking is always bad, “there are always some of those amongst us ever ready to riot at the first whiff of disorder.” But anyone who watched the videos knows there were many, many bad apples in that bunch yesterday. (And guess what, they're still Trump supporters.)
But it was Sandy Rios of American Family Radio who really went around the bend. Listening to Rios recount the day’s events, you had to wonder what planet she was visiting Jan. 6. According to her version of events, 1.5 million people came to the D.C. event – but no media outlet is putting the number anywhere near that high. These are people, Rios said, “who love the country.” They enjoyed Trump’s “inspiring speech” and were angry over “the fraud that took place in their states.”
According to Rios, it wasn’t the crowd that rioted but rather the media’s interpretation of what happened that “spun out of control.”
Rios acknowledged that there were some Trump supporters in the crowd that stormed the Capitol but quickly added, “in their midst were members of antifa.” She claims to have seen a tweet (conveniently since deleted) that instructed people to dress up like Trump supporters and cause trouble.
Said Rios, “I’m telling you, it was incitement. … They were dressed in black with Trump hats.” (What more evidence do you need?)
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we all know what happened: A crazed mob of Trump supporters was whipped into a frenzy by his incendiary speech and attacked the Capitol (and, in a very real sense, American democracy) because he told them to and because they believed Trump’s drumbeat of lies, which he has issued incessantly since Nov. 3, that the election had been stolen.
These people did not try to hide who they were: They took selfies, made videos and posted to social media even as they rampaged – and when the police collect that material and start arresting the offenders, I’m going to bet there won’t be an antifa member among them.
Former Americans United staffer Steve Benen, now Rachel Maddow’s blogger, has handily debunked this nonsense. But it’s already making the rounds on Fox News and is infiltrating social media. It’s pretty clear that “blame antifa” is going to become the white Christian nationalists’ post-truth narrative.
This should not surprise anyone. Trump and his enablers began his administration with a litany of lies about the size of the crowd for his inauguration, and they kept the lies coming for four years. Now, at the end of Trump’s term, his supporters are ending it with one more über-lie about the riot they caused but would like to pin on others.
Nice try – but even in the waning days of Trump, facts still matter, and the truth has a way of coming out.
Photo: Trump supporters converge in Washington, D.C. Screenshot via Washington Post.