“FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to answer questions about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, told the lawmakers what should be obvious to all: that “militia violent extremists” and “racially motivated extremists” were behind the insurrection, and that there is no evidence of “fake Trump supporters” or “antifa” having any role in the attack, as Republican officials have suggested. In general, the Trump-appointed Wray testified, white supremacists are the “biggest chunk” of the domestic terrorism threat and “the most lethal.”
But to hear the Republicans tell it, the country is besieged by left-wing anarchists.
“There has been 280 arrests as a result of the Jan. 6 attack, compared to more than 1,000 arrests as a result of riots just in Portland last year,” argued Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the panel — as if violence tied to last summer’s racial justice protests in Oregon is the same as an attack on the U.S. seat of government to overturn the election. Grassley went on at length: “holding the ‘A’ symbol for antifa” ... “an admitted antifa adherent” … “antifa rioters.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wanted to make sure the FBI was “tracking extremist groups like antifa or other radicalism that are connected to violence in cities across the country.”
And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who helped to foment the Capitol attack with his effort to overturn the electoral college results, proclaimed that “we have seen massive rioting and violence as extremists, many of them leftist extremists, took to the streets,” part of an “ongoing pattern of domestic terrorism.”
Even after Wray said the FBI had found no sign of antifa or anarchist involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) took issue with “the narrative” of who was involved on Jan. 6 — and again suggested that anarchists played a role.
The attempt to muddy the waters with the largely imaginary threat of antifa serves to shift the focus from the real and present danger of white-supremacist violence. Grassley, grudgingly acknowledging that “white supremacy movements may be considered the most dangerous at a given time,” cited ever-present “left-wing threats” and asked for the FBI to “make your left-wing anarchist extremism program as robust as your white supremacy and militia extremism program.”
Key to the effort is to derail plans for a 9/11-style commission to probe the Jan. 6 attacks. Republican leaders haven’t responded to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) request for their input on a draft proposal for such a commission two weeks ago. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week poured cold water on the “partisan” idea and called for an investigation into “the full scope of political violence.”
In short, Republicans want to turn the Capitol insurrection commission into an antifa commission — and to paint over the events of Jan. 6 with a coat of false equivalencies.
Yet Democrats might be smart to oblige them.
Jamie Gorelick, one of the Democratic appointees to the 9/11 commission, reminded me that it, too, was born amid fierce partisanship. President George W. Bush didn’t want a commission, and a joint House and Senate intelligence probe failed to make much headway.
But the inspired leadership of Republican Chairman Tom Kean and Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton — in a sign of their unusual partnership, they instead referred to each other as co-chairmen — made it a bipartisan triumph. There was one staff, not divided by party. No subpoenas were to be issued without bipartisan agreement. The members would only speak publicly in bipartisan pairs. Kean and Hamilton agreed that they would switch sides to prevent any vote of the commission from breaking along party lines. Whenever they couldn’t agree on the language of the 9/11 report, they agreed to limit that section of the narrative to “bare facts.”
Gorelick says the same model could work again, as long as both sides agree to appoint only former officials who have no interest in holding future elected or Senate-confirmed office. If they get that part right, it won’t matter if the commission’s mandate is Jan. 6 or broader political violence, Gorelick argued. “They’ll look at the facts,” she said, and they’ll see what is objectively true: that political violence on the left is “not as consequential” as the danger from the right.
If Republicans pack the commission with saboteurs, they could still kill the effort. But we’d be no worse off than we are now, with Republican senators meeting the FBI director’s facts with antifa fantasies.
And — who knows? — the commissioners might confound the GOP leaders who appointed them by following the facts.“