National Day of Infamy, Half Remembered


“It feels like this national psychosis or amnesia about what happened a year ago.”

People listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally before the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021 in Washington. AP Photo/Ivan Vucci, file

NEW YORK (AP) — Amid a pale winter light and the glare of television cameras, it seemed hard not to watch the January 6 US Capitol riot. The violent storm over the Capitol by Donald Trump supporters intent on averting the election of Joe Biden was clear as day: democracy under siege, live-streamed in real time.

Yet a year later, when it comes to where-you-go moments in American history, the national consensus is far from over.

A Quinnipiac poll found that 93% of Democrats considered it an attack on the government, but only 29% of Republicans agreed. A poll by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 4 in 10 Republicans remember the attack – which killed five people – as violent, while 9 out of 10 Democrats do.

Such disparity in memory may be inevitable in our hyper-polarized politics, but it is striking given the apparent clarity of January 6th at that time and the immediate aftermath. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., then said that “the president takes responsibility” for the attacks. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who was the majority leader at the time, said: “They tried to disrupt our democracy. They failed.”

But since that day, different versions – one factual, one fictional – have taken hold. Capital Riot – the violent culmination of a bid to invalidate the 2020 election and block its certification – has turned into a partisan “Rashomon”, a classic Japanese film told from different and conflicting perspectives. It’s about murder. In fact, the act of remembering can be a highly commercialized thing – especially when deep-seated political views are involved.

Charles Sykes, a former conservative Wisconsin radio host and founder of the website The Bulwark, says, “We keep using words like post-factual, but it seems to be a national psychosis or forgetfulness about what happened a year ago.” disease.” “It is not that we are two nations. It is as if we live on two different reality planets, when it comes to the remembrance of January 6th.”

Nations remember how people do: imperfectly. Neuroscientist Lisa Genova, author of “Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting,” explains how even the deepest memories are edited every time they are revisited. A native memory is replaced by version 2.0, version 3.0 and beyond.

“External influences can revisit each time we revisit and recall a memory for what happened. So for these collective memories, we have a lot of chance to see them again,” says Genova. Depending on the point of view, the news channel you watch, what this means for you, this memory will have a different orientation depending on the story you tell.”

And many people are trying hard to clear away the memory of January 6. Rep. Andrew S. Clyde, R-Ga. described the siege as “a normal tourist visit”. Rep. Matt Getz, R-Fla., claimed that the rioters were left-wing terrorists “masquerading as Trump supporters.” Trump has continued to insist that the election – Biden won by a wide margin with little evidence of fraud – was the real rebellion.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson has attempted to frame the Capitol attack as a “false flag” operation, organized by the FBI. Carlson made a series on Riot that aired on Fox News’ subscription streaming service.

To combat such misrepresentation, other documentary projects have tried to capture January 6th in rigorous, systematic detail. Jamie Roberts’ HBO documentary “Four Hours at the Capital” was inspired to firmly establish a visual chronology of the day, with the stampede after Trump exhorted his followers to “fight like hell” .

Roberts interviewed witnesses and participants. Some in the crowd praised his film and later complained after watching Carlson’s series.

“I had people who were in the movie saying to me: ‘Why didn’t you put this in your movie? You’re a liar,'” Roberts says. “What I was expecting from this project was a lot. The only thing was to put the hard and fast facts with people who could tell the story from the point of view of a witness. But for some people, it’s still not going to reach them.”

Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard and “Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?” The author of Alexander Keyser believes that a full commission of inquiry, as was the case after the September 11 attacks, would have given more impetus. National consensus on January 6. In May, Senate Republicans used their filibuster power to block the creation of such a commission. (A House committee will soon make public some of the findings from its six-month investigation.)

Instead, many Trump supporters have embraced the former president’s denial of the 2020 election. In the past year, Republicans have passed dozens of laws in 19 states to restrict voting. There are going to be more electoral battles in the mid-term of 2022 and beyond.

“It’s obviously dangerous because it becomes precedent,” Keyser says of the Capital Riot. “It has become a prism through which events are viewed. For a large section of Republican supporters, there is a perception that you cannot trust the outcome of the election. If you cannot trust the outcome of the election, So it will be true in the future as well. It becomes, as the great historian Bernard Ballin once said, ‘the grammar of thought.'”

Rather than being retracted in the past as an unusual threat to the heart of American democracy, the history of the Capitol riots remains to be fully written. Some projects are underway. The Capital Historical Society is creating an oral history to tell the story of January 6. Some of the stories – such as those of employees who have since left government and returned home – are particularly haunting for the society’s president, Jane L. Campbell.

Meanwhile, the Capitol remains closed to the public. Where there was once a regular parade, now only those by appointment can enter.

“When people say ‘Oh, it’s never been so bad,’ well, we had a civil war. That was bad. It was really bad,” Campbell says. “But during the Civil War, Lincoln held the Capitol. decided to dismantle the dome. We end that story a hundred times. ,

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