Freeing the Vote

They loved him, they really loved him. They stormed the Capitol and made it impossible for Congress to tabulate the official state-certified final count of the votes in the presidential election from each of the fifty states and from the District of Columbia. This was a formality, but this would seal Donald Trump’s fate. This was the end. Joe Biden won. He lost. But formalities can be stopped. Maybe this wasn’t the end. If an angry mob shut down the House and Senate nothing could be “over” yet or maybe never be over at all. He could be president forever.

But of course he must have known that was a stupid idea. Nothing would change the result. But this was a message to everyone who had disrespected him. Look at these people! Look at what they’ll do for me, and just for me! They’ll tear down the Capitol. They’ll tear down your damned government, just for me. They love me that much, so don’t ever mess with me again! Donald Trump was loving this. Of course he wanted what he was seeing to go on and on. He’d show the world who was boss here!

Maybe that was the plan all along. He’d not stop this. That finally became obvious:

The commanding general of the D.C. National Guard told lawmakers Wednesday that restrictions the Pentagon placed on him in the run-up to the Capitol riot and lag time in decision-making by his chain of command prevented him from more quickly sending forces to help quell the violence.

Maj. Gen. William J. Walker said his hands were tied by the Pentagon for more than three hours after he received a call from the Capitol Police chief saying a request for backup was imminent, delaying the arrival of military forces at the premises as lawmakers evacuated or barricaded themselves in offices during one of the biggest national security failures since the 9/11 attacks.

Walker described how he had troops ready and waiting to be sent to the Capitol but did not have sign-off from the Pentagon, which in directives ahead of the events had restricted his leeway to respond to contingencies.

It may be that the word, from the top down, was let this ride, let the world see what people would do for Donald Trump. And this was now urgent again:

The quest by lawmakers to understand the failings that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection took on special urgency during the hearing, as the Capitol Police on Wednesday warned of a possible plot by a militant group to breach the Capitol on March 4, a day that some conspiracy theorists have baselessly declared the “true Inauguration Day” when former president Donald Trump will again assume power. Responding to the threat, the House scrapped plans for a Thursday session.

Why? Here’s how that works:

For some QAnon conspiracy theorists, March 4, 2021 is a date circled in red Sharpie on the calendar. The truly devoted believe that, on this special date, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 19th president of the United States.

The theory borrows from the sovereign citizens movement, which espouses that a law enacted in 1871 secretly turned the U.S. into a corporation and ended the American government put in place by the founding fathers. Accordingly, the true inauguration date was not January 20, as the rest of the world believes. The conspiracy theorists contend that the real inauguration will happen on March 4, the date on which presidents were sworn in prior to the 1933 passage of the 20th amendment. QAnon followers believe that Trump will return to power on March 4 as the 19th president of the United States. The last true president, the theory goes, was Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president, who was in office in 1871 when the United States turned into a corporation.

And of course March 4, 2021, will also be the day of “the storm” – the day of the arrest and public execution of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and George Soros, and Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga and Anderson Cooper and all the rest. At least that’s how the thinking goes. The secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring plotted against Donald Trump while he was in office, but Trump has been planning a day of reckoning, the Storm. January didn’t work out. Now it’s in March. Be there!

But back to the hearing:

Walker’s testimony, which expanded on comments he first made to The Washington Post in late January, brought the Pentagon back to the center of a furor over the government’s preparations for and response to the Jan. 6 events and increased pressure on Congress to hold a public hearing with the uniformed and civilian leaders who were overseeing the U.S. military from the Pentagon that day.

But they weren’t talking. They sent a flunky:

The Defense Department sent a career official to the hearing, Robert Salesses, who was not one of the main operational decision-makers at the Pentagon on Jan. 6. The top civilian and uniformed leaders who were in charge that day have not testified publicly but have defended their actions in comments to the media. They have described the military’s response as rapid, given that neither the Capitol Police nor any other federal law enforcement agency had requested help from the military in advance and that city officials had asked for Guard troops to assist only with traffic and crowd management.

But they’re not going to say anything under oath. Keep ‘em guessing:

Much of the hearing before the Senate’s Rules Committee and its Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee focused on how long it took the Pentagon to give the members of the D.C. Guard who were already deployed on Jan. 6 a new mission and send them to the Capitol.

Walker’s comments bolstered critics of the Defense Department who say the U.S. military leadership moved too slowly in getting the National Guard to the Capitol and laid bare the tension between the D.C. Guard and the Pentagon about how the military should have responded.

There’s something to that:

Walker said he did not receive permission from his chain of command at the Pentagon to send forces to the Capitol until three hours and 19 minutes after receiving an urgent call at 1:49 p.m. Jan. 6 from the Capitol Police chief saying a request for Guard backup was imminent. But the call came only about 25 minutes before rioters breached the building, raising the possibility that the situation was already too far gone by the time the military was summoned.

The acting defense secretary at the time, Christopher C. Miller, activated the full D.C. Guard shortly after 3 p.m. in response to the riot, calling up troops who had not been mobilized, but he did not assign the already deployed members a new mission and send them to the Capitol until 4:32 p.m., according to Salesses. Walker said he did not receive word that he could go to the Capitol until 5:08 p.m., more than half an hour later.

And that led to this:

“How is that possible?” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked incredulously, noting the time gap.

“I think that’s an issue,” Salesses said, offering no explanation.

The Guard arrived at 5:20 p.m.

“It shouldn’t take three hours to either say yes or no to an urgent request from either the Capitol Police, the Park Police, the Metropolitan Police Department,” Walker said.

But wait, there’s more:

In a Jan. 5 memo, then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Walker’s direct superior in the chain of command, prohibited him from deploying a quick-reaction force composed of 40 soldiers on his own and said any rollout of that standby group would first require a “concept of operation,” an exceptional requirement given that the force is supposed to respond to emergencies.

In the Jan. 4 memo, the Army secretary himself was prohibited from deploying D.C. Guard members with weapons, helmets, body armor or riot control agents without the defense secretary’s approval but retained the power to deploy the quick-reaction force, “only as a last resort.”

Had he not been restricted by Pentagon directives, Walker said, he could have sent about 150 soldiers to aid police at the Capitol within about 20 minutes – a force that may not have changed the outcome of the day, given the lateness of the call for backup, but that Walker said would have helped.

“I believe that number could have made a difference,” Walker said. “We could have helped extend the perimeter and helped push back the crowd.”

He called the memo that restricted him unlike anything he had seen in his career.

That’s because it was bullshit:

“The memo was unusual in that it required me to seek authorization from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense to essentially even protect my Guardsmen,” Walker said, referring to restrictions placed on his ability to deploy the 40-person quick-reaction force if members of the Guard deployed for the traffic and crowd-control mission that day had ended up in distress.

But it doesn’t matter now:

Miller, who served as acting defense secretary for two and a half months, has rejected criticism that the Pentagon was too slow in responding to the riot, saying in an interview with Vanity Fair that any suggestion the Defense Department dragged its feet “is complete horseshit.” He said the Pentagon leadership “had their game together.”

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in remarks to reporters this week that the Defense Department reacted at “sprint speed,” seeing as the military had not been asked to prepare contingency forces in advance and still got to the scene within hours.

No one bought that:

“The three-hour-and-19-minute delay in authorizing the deployment of the National Guard to respond to the Capitol to quell the violence was one that left police, members of Congress, staff and the public in danger and is without question completely unacceptable,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at the conclusion of the hearing.

And then it got even stranger:

During the hearing, Walker also addressed a call on the afternoon of Jan. 6, during which he said top Army generals expressed reluctance to deploy the National Guard to the Capitol due to the optics, shocking him and officials from the Capitol Police, D.C. police and the D.C. government on the call.

Asked about those comments, Walker said they were made by Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, the director of the Army staff, and Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations and the brother of former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“They both said it wouldn’t be in their best military advice to advise the secretary of the Army to have uniformed Guard members at the Capitol during the election confirmation,” Walker said.

But those two guys were useless:

Piatt initially denied making those comments but later told reporters he “may have said that,” though he said he did not recall using the word “optics.” Charles Flynn has said he does not remember whether he said anything during the call. He has said his relationship with his brother, who had been floating martial law and calling for the military to “rerun” the election ahead of the riot, had no impact on his actions.

For the record, on July 4, 2020, Michael Flynn, that former eccentric general and former national security adviser to President Trump, posted a video where he swears an oath to QAnon, not this government, not that that matters at the moment:

Neither Piatt nor Flynn was in the chain of command, and therefore they were not empowered to deploy the Guard to the Capitol or deny a deployment. Piatt has said he was attempting to talk through how the Guard deployment would work with the officials on the call, as the Army secretary ran down the hall to receive sign-off from the acting defense secretary to activate the Guard.

This was a mess, but Dana Milbank saw this:

At best, this was a catastrophic failure of government. At worst, political appointees and Trump loyalists at the Defense Department deliberately prevented the National Guard from defending the Capitol against a seditious mob.

The man ultimately responsible for the delay, Christopher Miller, had been a White House aide before Donald Trump installed him as acting defense secretary in November, as the president began his attempt to overturn his election defeat. Miller did Trump’s political bidding at another point during his 10-week tenure, forcing the National Security Agency to install a Republican political operative as chief counsel.

This did seem deliberate:

Representing the Pentagon on Wednesday fell to Robert Salesses, who haplessly tried to explain the delay. An hour and six minutes of the holdup was because then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy “was asking a lot of questions” about the mission. Another piece of the delay: The 36 minutes between when the Pentagon claims Miller authorized the action and when the D.C. Guard was informed of the decision. “That’s an issue,” Salesses allowed.

Curiously, the Pentagon claims Miller’s authorization came at 4:32 – 15 minutes after Trump told his “very special” insurrectionists to “go home in peace.” Was Miller waiting for Trump’s blessing before defending the Capitol?

The Pentagon’s 199-minute delay looks worse in light of a Jan. 4 memo Miller issued saying that without his “personal authorization” the D.C. Guard couldn’t “be issued weapons, ammunition, bayonets, batons or ballistic protection equipment such as helmets and body armor.”

The Army secretary added more restrictions the next day, saying in a memo that he would “withhold authority” for the D.C. Guard to deploy a “quick reaction force” and that he would “require a concept of operation” before allowing a quick reaction force to react. McCarthy even blocked the D.C. Guard in advance from redeploying to the Capitol guardsmen assigned to help the D.C. police elsewhere in Washington.

This had been planned all along:

The Pentagon claims the restrictions were in response to criticism of the heavy-handed deployment of the National Guard in Washington during racial justice protests last summer. Maybe so. But Walker testified that when the police chiefs “passionately pleaded” for the Guard’s help on Jan. 6, senior Army officials on the call said it wouldn’t be “a good optic.” They thought “it could incite the crowd” and advised against it.

During this moment of crisis – an attempted coup in the Capitol – the defense secretary and the Army secretary were “not available,” Walker testified.

Walker seems to be implying that those two knew that they had to keep Trump happy. Trump liked what he was seeing. Those people would kill for him. The world needed to see that.

But this was about the vote, only the vote, as Aaron Blake notes here:

On Jan. 6, supporters of President Donald Trump who latched on to his false claims of voter fraud stormed the Capitol, with some targeting Vice President Mike Pence. Unhappy that Pence declined to take the extraordinary step of trying to unilaterally overturn the presidential election, some even chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Since then, Pence has been rather quiet, declining to address Trump’s attacks on him or apparent lack of interest in his welfare.

All that is about to be fixed. There will be no more talk of stolen elections. Biden took back the White House. Democrats took back the Senate. Democrats held onto the House. It’s time to fix the voting system. That’s the real plan:

The House late Wednesday night passed expansive legislation to create uniform national voting standards, overhaul campaign finance laws and outlaw partisan redistricting, advancing a centerpiece of the Democratic voting rights agenda amid fierce Republican attacks that threaten to stop it cold in the Senate.

The bill, titled the “For the People Act,” was given the symbolic designation of H.R. 1 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and it largely mirrors a bill passed two years ago in the early weeks of the House Democratic majority.

This year, however, the bill has taken on additional significance because of the new Democratic majority in the Senate and President Biden’s November win, as well as the efforts underway in dozens of Republican-controlled state legislatures to roll back voting access in reaction to former president Donald Trump’s loss and his subsequent campaign to question the election results.

That can be fixed. Everyone gets to vote. That old idea is new again:

Democrat after Democrat said this week that the GOP’s state-level efforts made it more important than ever to act at the federal level to preserve expansive voting laws. Many invoked the gains won in the 1960s civil rights movement by activists including John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who died of cancer last year.

“The right to vote is under attack,” said Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.). “Voter suppression is alive and well. Old battles have become new again. The legacy of the foot soldiers like John Lewis requires that we pick up that baton – the baton of voter access, the baton of voter equality – and we continue the next leg. Their cause is now our cause, too.”

And to get specific:

The bill’s voting provisions would guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections; require states to use their existing government records to automatically register citizens to vote; restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences; and mandate the use of paper ballots.

Other provisions would create new disclosure requirements for “dark money” donations to political groups; require states to appoint independent commissions to draw congressional districts; and create new federal standards for election equipment vendors.

The bill also would require tech platforms to disclose political advertising information; establish a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices for the first time; restructure the Federal Election Commission to an odd number of members to break partisan deadlocks; and require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

This opens up the process to everyone, but of course that’s the problem:

The bill has become a lightning rod for Republican opposition, spurring claims that it is a partisan attempt to rewrite federal election laws in Democrats’ favor. No Republicans voted for the bill in 2019 or Wednesday night, when it was approved 220 to 210.

“It is not designed to protect Americans’ vote — it is designed to put a thumb on the scale in every election in America, so that Democrats can turn a temporary majority into permanent control,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said during floor debate Tuesday. “It is an unparalleled political grab.”

Among the legion of Republicans objecting to the bill is Trump, who mounted a months-long campaign to criticize the expansion of mail-in voting and other efforts to deal with the challenges created by the pandemic. After the election, his campaign sued to block the counting of voters in multiple swing states, while Trump himself led a baseless effort to claim the election had been stolen by Democrats.

And none of it worked, so this must be stopped:

Former vice president Mike Pence also spoke out against the bill this week in a published column, calling the legislation an “unconstitutional, reckless, and anti-democratic bill that would erode those foundational principles and could permanently damage our republic.”

“Every single proposed change in HR 1 serves one goal, and one goal only: to give leftists a permanent, unfair, and unconstitutional advantage in our political system,” he said in the piece, which was published in the Daily Signal, a website affiliated with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Unfair? If everyone votes? That may be the issue now:

Although virtually all Democrats, including Biden, have signaled support for the bill, the solid GOP opposition means the legislation is in deep peril in the Senate, whose rules allow a 41-vote minority to block most legislation from coming to a final vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that Republicans plan to fight tooth and nail against it.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said this week that she expects to usher companion legislation through the Senate Rules Committee later this spring and ultimately to bring it to the floor. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said, “If you’re ranking the most important legislation of the year, that is way up there.”

However, with Republicans firmly opposed, the bill’s only path into law may be through the willingness of Democrats to abandon the 60-vote filibuster rule.

Yeah, well, screw that:

Several Democratic lawmakers have openly discussed creating a limited exception for civil rights legislation, but key Democrats – including Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) – have said they will not entertain any changes.

But with GOP legislatures moving quickly ahead of the 2022 midterms, an internal pressure campaign among Democrats is likely to ensue regardless.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Tuesday that by turning to the filibuster, Republicans were “using the filibuster to deny progress” in a throwback to the early days of the civil right movement.

“We’re not going to just give in to these arcane methods of denying progress,” he said. “People of color will not be quiet on this issue.”

Fine. That might work. Trump’s militias may storm the Capitol and demand surrender.

Why do that?

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The Purist Madness

Political movements and political parties, and all major religions, face the same choice, to seek converts or to punish heretics, to grow more powerful, with new converts, which might require accommodations for those new to the faith, until they settle in, or to grow more powerful by purging those of questionable faith, to assure purity in commitment to the cause by subtraction. Will it be that Big Tent – everyone is welcome and we’ll work out the details later? Or will it be the Exclusive Few and purity tests and possible public shaming for anyone else? Some will never compromise their principles. Some will never compromise anything. Some will never compromise their pride. Others, when questioned, smile – Okay, let’s talk.

That sort of thing divides conservatives from liberals. That sort of thing divided Martin Luther from the somewhat arrogant Catholic Church at the time. He nailed his theses to the door. It was time for a Big Tent – and that became Protestantism in all its variations. Guttenberg’s printing press helped too – Bibles for everyone, not just the exclusive few. But that was settled long ago. Now it’s the politics, with the same question – seek converts or punish heretics – choose one or the other.

Republicans have made their choice. They chose purity. They chose Trump. Slate’s William Saletan sees that:

This weekend, as Republicans gathered in Orlando, Florida, for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the agenda wasn’t free markets or a strong foreign policy. Instead, their focus was on solidifying former President Donald Trump’s control of the party. What united the speakers, including Trump and the party’s top 2024 presidential prospects, was their contempt for public health measures and their embrace of lies about election fraud. To any Republican who dissents from this madness, the conference sent an unambiguous message: Get out.

So, forget the doctors and scientists, and ignore the dead bodies piling up in the corner.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kicked off the event by denouncing “lockdown states” – those that restricted business activity during the pandemic – and boasting that he travels only to “free states.” Another speaker, COVID demagogue Alex Berenson, blamed lockdowns on Amazon, Facebook, and Google, which “profit from keeping you in your house.” A third speaker, conservative provocateur James O’Keefe, denounced Facebook for censoring lies about COVID vaccines. Others derided Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s chief medical officer.

Several members of Congress, including Rep. Jim Banks, the chair of the 159-member House Republican Study Committee, bragged onstage and in interviews about not wearing masks. Sen. Ted Cruz, addressing the audience on Friday, ridiculed the idea that people should have to cover their faces after standing up from meals at restaurants. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, whose state leads the nation in recent COVID deaths per capita, denounced mask mandates and noted with pride that South Dakota was the only state that had never ordered any businesses to close. “No governor should ever dictate to their people which activities are officially approved or not approved,” she declared.

That was the unambiguous message. This was a purity test. Someone got that message loud and clear:

Texas will end its coronavirus restrictions next week with an upcoming executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday during a press conference in Lubbock.

After Abbott signs the new order, which rescinds previous orders, all businesses can open to 100% capacity and the statewide mask mandate will be over, though large parts of the state will remain under mask local ordinances.

But those local ordinances might not survive this:

“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott said Tuesday. “For nearly a half a year, most businesses have been open either 75% or 50%, and during that time, too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities.”

“Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end,” he added.

The governor said the restrictions are no longer needed now that the state is more prepared to test for and treat the virus and is vaccinating more of its residents.

That might not be true:

Texas reported more than 1,600 new cases and zero new deaths from the virus on Monday, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

This isn’t going away, but neither are their governors:

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) also announced Tuesday that the state will lift mask mandates for all counties on Wednesday, saying its “hospitalizations have plummeted, and our case numbers have fallen dramatically as well,” according to an ABC affiliate.

Wait. Not so fast there:

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monday warned states against lifting public health restrictions because coronavirus cases and deaths “appear to be stalling” after a recent decline.

“With these new statistics, I’m really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” Walensky said.

Data! There’s data! Politico adds detail to that:

“70,000 cases a day seemed good compared to where we were just a few months ago,” she said at a news briefing. “But we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths.”

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she continued. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of Covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

In short, this is better than January, but still awful, and likely to get worse:

A Feb. 26 internal briefing document from the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed that four states, including Texas and Mississippi, were in the “red zone,” defined as having a positivity rate over 10 percent. The other two states were Oklahoma and New Hampshire, according to the briefing, which cited CDC data and was obtained and reviewed by POLITICO.

But that doesn’t matter:

A senior administration health official told POLITICO that the White House believed the Texas and Mississippi announcements – posted on Twitter within 30 minutes of each other – were a “coordinated effort” by Republican governors, and that it expected to see similar announcements in the coming days.

Clay Jenkins, the Democratic judge of Dallas County, said in a Zoom news conference after Abbott’s announcement that the governor did not consult with local officials before the announcement, adding that he believed Abbott was bowing to political pressure on the right to lift the orders before it made sense for the state.

“It doesn’t take much of a shift in [mask] compliance to set us back months and months, to set us back in herd immunity,” he said.

But the governor was trapped:

Abbott, who has served as governor of the nation’s second-largest state for the past six years, has long harbored national ambitions. But mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions have become less popular among Republican base voters as cases have plummeted, and Abbott could end up competing with smaller-state governors who have championed a laissez-faire approach to the pandemic.

This past weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., the crowd of activists cheered Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota – two governors staking out possible 2024 presidential lanes – for the more limited restrictions they have implemented over the past year….

DeSantis, whose state hosted the conference, described Florida as “an oasis of freedom” compared to other states during the pandemic.

They were the true believers, part of the exclusive few on the inside, and he was the heretic. He had to fix that and he did. But there’s more. Biden said there will be vaccine for everyone quite soon. Philip Bump adds this:

It’s clearly not the case that Texas has achieved sufficient immunity to disregard these concerns. The state has done one of the worst jobs in the country of vaccinating its residents, though that was negatively affected by the recent winter storm. That’s the asterisk to the Biden announcement, of course: Vaccine ability doesn’t mean uniform ability to quickly distribute it.

Abbott is instead appealing to the ability of Texans to take necessary precautions on their own, an optimism that recent history suggests is not warranted. Abbott announced a stay-at-home order in late March, moving quickly to lift it once Donald Trump’s administration began advocating for broad reopenings. By summer, Texas had become an epicenter of new case spikes nationally. Abbott implemented a mask mandate on July 2, when the state was seeing about 6,300 new cases a day. Over the next few weeks, as existing infections became symptomatic, new case totals topped 10,000. By early September, though, they’d fallen again.

In early October, Abbott began scaling back restrictions on restaurants and bars. Nationally, a third wave of cases was just beginning, and Texas ended up seeing more than 23,000 new cases a day and, at the worst moment, more than 336 new deaths each day.

Abbott should know better:

Wilensky’s point was that the country (and states) shouldn’t settle for “better than January” as a benchmark, given how bad January was. Texas has other advantages that not all states share, like usually moderate weather in early spring facilitating outdoor activities. But particularly given how close the country is to being able to resume normal activity while containing the virus, it’s hard to understand why Abbott has decided to suddenly take his foot off the brake.

It also risks the thing we can least afford: providing an opportunity for the virus to spread widely enough that another, more dangerous variant might emerge. Perhaps even a variant that is resistant to the available vaccines. There’s a very small risk, in other words, that Texas isn’t only already celebrating a victory it hasn’t attained, but that it might also push the finish line even further away.

But at least Abbott won’t be a heretic now. Many will die, but at least Donald Trump won’t sneer at him and tell him to get the hell out of his Republican Party!

Others are making the same calculations on another issue. Aaron Blake explains here:

Two months ago, supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Ever since then, Trump’s allies have sought – in multiple ways and without real evidence – to call into question the idea that those rioters were truly inspired by Trump or acting on his behalf. They’ve suggested that the rioters were provocateurs or antifa, or that evidence of preplanning efforts precludes pointing the finger at Trump.

Those narratives suffered significant blows Tuesday, even as Republicans continued to try to muddy the waters and plant seeds of doubt.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified repeatedly to the Senate Judiciary Committee that there was no evidence that antifa, anarchists or provocateurs who didn’t support Trump were involved in the Capitol siege.

“We have not, to date, seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to antifa in connection with the 6th,” Wray said at one point.

Asked at another point whether the people involved were fake Trump supporters, Wray said flatly, “We have not seen evidence of that at this stage.” And again: “We have not seen any evidence of that.”

They kept asking. Those were all antifa people pretending to be Trump people, right?

Nope. But it didn’t matter. They knew better, but they had to show that they weren’t heretics. They’re with Trump:

Republicans sought to refocus the hearing and question the idea that these were people inspired by Trump and his bogus claims of voter fraud.

The committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), began his opening statement by assuring the committee that the events of Jan. 6 were horrible. But he then spent most of his statement and round of questioning on the threat of antifa and extremist groups associated with the left.

Grassley didn’t go as far as Sen. Ron Johnson did last week, when the Wisconsin Republican used a similar hearing to float theories about Jan. 6 provocateurs based on a single, speculative account from a witness at a right-wing think tank. Grassley instead essentially set Jan. 6 aside and suggested that the FBI might be giving left-leaning extremists and anarchists comparatively short shrift by not equally investigating last summer’s protests against police violence.

That wasn’t the day’s topic, but of course this was for Trump’s approval.

Grassley said repeatedly that he agreed with comments from Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) about the gravity of Jan. 6, but he added that “a narrow view of these matters would be intellectually dishonest. We’re not serious about tackling domestic extremism if we tolerate mobs that attack some police officers, but not all police officers.”

He also used his comments to suggest that antifa is aligned with the Democratic Party – a suggestion that misunderstands what the group is truly about.

“Supporters of that group have been charged federally for violence, promoting riots and using Molotov cocktails – even after President Biden’s electoral victory,” Grassley said. “Can you believe this? Antifa rioters attacked the Oregon Democratic Party headquarters, and they did that on Inauguration Day. You’d think the results of the election ought to satisfy them.”

Wray sat politely and said nothing. This wasn’t for him. Grassley didn’t want to be told to get the hell out of the Republican Party. He was performing for Trump. And then there was this:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) also got in on the act, more directly – albeit subtly – questioning the official account of Jan. 6 and even possible anarchist involvement in the siege.

“I’ve heard the expression that, here in Washington, whoever has the best narrative wins,” Cornyn said. “And so sometimes I think the narrative is created, and then [they] try to search for facts that might bolster that narrative.

“But as you said, the fact is these extremist groups are not monolithic. So that’s, I think, an important part of understanding the threat. I’ve heard them described – some of these folks described as white supremacists, domestic terrorists, insurrectionists, rioters, seditionists, anarchists. The list goes on and on.”

Ah, no one will ever know. Move on. Nothing to see here. Move on. Maybe that will satisfy Donald Trump, but the New York Times ran an investigative piece on how this started:

At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol – and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

In short, this was minor pure madness that was amazingly useful:

The rioters breaking into the citadel of American democracy that day were acolytes of Mr. Trump, intent on stopping Congress from certifying his electoral defeat. Subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection.

But even as Americans watched live images of rioters wearing MAGA hats and carrying Trump flags breach the Capitol – egged on only minutes earlier by a president who falsely denounced a rigged election and exhorted his followers to fight for justice – history was being rewritten in real time.

Within hours, a narrative built on rumors and partisan conjecture had reached the Twitter megaphones of pro-Trump politicians. By day’s end, Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin had shared it with millions of Fox News viewers, and Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida had stood on the ransacked House floor and claimed that many rioters “were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”

And now this could not be stopped:

Nearly two months after the attack, the claim that antifa was involved has been repeatedly debunked by federal authorities, but it has hardened into gospel among hardline Trump supporters, by voters and sanctified by elected officials in the party. More than half of Trump voters in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll said that the riot was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack.”

That had to happen:

A review of media activity in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot reveals just how quickly the right-wing media machine, first online and then on radio and cable TV, advanced the fiction about antifa’s supposed involvement.

The conspiracy gained new momentum after The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, published an online article shortly before 2:30 p.m. claiming that a facial recognition firm had identified antifa activists in the crowd at the Capitol. The newspaper corrected the article less than 24 hours later, after its claims were proved false — but not before the story made an enormous impact. The article eventually amassed 360,000 likes and shares on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle, a tool owned by Facebook and used for analyzing social media.

From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., the antifa falsehood was mentioned about 8,700 times across cable television, social media and online news outlets, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. “Remember, Antifa openly planned to dress as Trump supporters and cause chaos today,” said one tweet that collected 41,100 likes and shares.

And none of it mattered;

Hours after the attack, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a Republican who had served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at the pre-riot rally, promoted the false antifa claims on national television.

“We did have some warning that there might be antifa elements masquerading as Trump supporters in advance of the attack on the Capitol,” Mr. Brooks told the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. He amplified his baseless claim the next morning in a Twitter thread that was retweeted nearly 19,000 times. “Evidence, much public, surfacing that many Capitol assaulters were fascist ANTIFAs, not Trump supporters,” Mr. Brooks wrote, providing no evidence. “Time will reveal truth. Don’t rush to judgment.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Brooks admitted that he had not verified his information before airing it publicly. But he insisted that several members of Congress – whom he would not identify – had warned him about an antifa presence in Washington, prompting him to sleep in his congressional office for two nights preceding Jan. 6.

Yeah, sure:

Mr. Brooks now says that the role of antifa and Black Lives Matter “appears to be relatively minimal compared to the roles of more militant elements of other groups.”

But he doesn’t say that too loudly. He’s doesn’t want to be a heretic, and that leaves this:

Jason Franzen, 46, a Trump voter who works in carpentry in Thorp, Wis., said he was convinced that the former president’s enemies planned and carried out the attack.

“I don’t want to point fingers, but my gut tells me that there were some higher-up Democrats who were instigating the whole thing,” said Mr. Franzen, who said he gets his news from Facebook and the right-wing cable network One America News. “My gut has been right a lot of times, so I’m just going to go with my gut.”

He’s in. He’s no heretic. So, how small can Donald Trump’s Republican Party shrink? Who knows? But it will be small. Then it will be forgotten.

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