The Impact of January 6 One Year Later : Up First January 6, 2021, changed politics, the media and all of us. Today, in the formal launch of Up First Sunday with host Rachel Martin, we have an episode designed to help you think deeper about the news of the week, featuring conversations with NPR Investigative Reporter Tom Dreisbach, Senior Political Editor Domenico Montanaro and Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin.

Life After January 6: Our Politics, Our News, Ourselves

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hey, everybody. It's Rachel Martin. You already know that every Monday through Saturday, UP FIRST brings you the news you need to start your day. On Sundays, we're excited to bring you something a little different.

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MARTIN: Starting today, we're formally launching UP FIRST SUNDAY. We're going to bring you episodes designed to help you think deeper about the news of the week, how it all might shake out and the consequences on people's actual lives. That could mean stories from NPR's best podcasts, interviews you won't hear anywhere else or conversations that we can't stop thinking about.

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MARTIN: Today, we're thinking about January 6, 2021, how it changed politics, the media and all of us.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: They have pushed past the barriers.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: They're going up the steps.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Pushed past the barriers, they're now going up the steps to the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I was able to see people starting to come closer up the stairs.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: It's absolute pandemonium as far back as the eye can see.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Probably before I even made it back to my office, they had already come through the doors.

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MITT ROMNEY: What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the president of the United States.

MARTIN: The first person we're going to talk to today is someone who has been thinking about January 6 for a very long time. His name is Tom Dreisbach. Hi, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Tom is a member of NPR's Investigations team. And, I mean, this is no exaggeration, right? You have been thinking about the people involved in the events of January 6 for - what? - a whole year?

DREISBACH: Yeah, the full year. We've been tracking all of the criminal cases and the charges and the investigations that came out of that day.

MARTIN: So you and other NPR colleagues compiled this massive database of all these people. What did you learn about them over time?

DREISBACH: One of the first things that became clear is that this was a really wide spectrum of people who were involved. I mean, they came from virtually every state in the country. The number of people facing charges is over 700 at this point. And that's out of a group of what the FBI estimates is around 2,000 or more people who were involved in the events that day.

MARTIN: So in your conversations - because you got to talk to some of these folks over the past year - do any of them regret being there that day?

DREISBACH: There's one woman, Anna Morgan-Lloyd - she actually didn't go to trial. She was among the first people who pleaded guilty and was sentenced for her role in January 6. It was one of these lower-level crimes. And she expressed a lot of remorse in court to the judge when they were going through sentencing. And that's something a lot of judges look for when sentencing people. They want to know whether you regret your role in the crime that you're pleading guilty to. And she seemed to regret that role. Later, though, she then appeared on Fox News on Laura Ingraham's show and appeared to really downplay the events of January 6, said, basically, that it wasn't that big of a deal. She didn't understand the fuss. She didn't necessarily see the violence that has been described and seen on camera.

ANNA MORGAN-LLOYD: People were very polite, and nobody was breaking anything. And it was calm enough that people were actually walking out of the Capitol Building that worked there - walked right past us. And they had no fear on their face at all.

DREISBACH: And after that interview on Fox News, the judge in that case said he felt like he was played. And I think that has really reverberated with some of these judges. They're going to look much more skeptically at some of these claims that people make in court at sentencing that they regret what they did. They really want to see evidence of that, and they won't necessarily take it completely at face value.

MARTIN: Where are the investigations right now?

DREISBACH: So out of those 700-plus people who have been criminally charged, about 170-ish have pleaded guilty. A smaller number of that subset have actually gone through sentencing. But one key thing that we haven't seen yet are the trials of any of these defendants. This is pretty typical for a massive investigation like this, but I think what we'll see when those trials eventually happen is a lot of the government's evidence coming into the light. And I think that's going to bring a lot of information and some clarity to what happened.

MARTIN: When's the first one, and do we know who the defendant is?

DREISBACH: We don't yet know. I mean, they've moved around a lot because of COVID, and they have been really overwhelmed with the number of these cases. So I expect we may see the first trial the first half of this year. One thing that Merrick Garland, the attorney general, said this past week that was interesting, though, is that the Department of Justice starts a big investigation like this with the lower level crimes, what he called the more overt crimes. And then you're building a foundation to go after more complex crimes and people who may or may not, he said, have been there that day.

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MERRICK GARLAND: The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators at any level accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.

DREISBACH: What that says to me is that the current universe of criminal charges that we are tracking at NPR is going to grow quite a bit, and the nature of the crimes people are being charged with is going to change. And it may reach into people who possibly paid for people to attend the protests and actually ended up rioting or attacking the Capitol. It could involve political figures as well who get caught up in this. It could involve leaders of extremist groups, who have largely escaped criminal charges. But I would just say the criminal justice system is not a - it's not a truth and reconciliation commission in the same way, right? Like, the main thing is, can a prosecutor bring a criminal charge that they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt? Root causes, the political background - a lot of that will not necessarily come into play. So if you're looking for some answers to really big questions about what January 6 means for our democracy, I'm not sure that the criminal trials will necessarily provide a lot of information or clarity around that.

MARTIN: You're going to be at it for a while.

DREISBACH: (Laughter) Yes.

MARTIN: Tom Dreisbach with NPR's investigations team. Tom, thank you.

DREISBACH: Thanks, Rachel.

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MARTIN: Those big questions about democracy - they've been playing out in the court of public opinion over the past year. According to a recent poll conducted by NPR and Ipsos, about two-thirds of the American public agree that democracy is, quote, "in crisis and at a risk of failing." But the reason it all feels so fragile - that's the thing we're really divided on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I think the Democrats rigged the election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I've never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now because of the metastasizing of the big lie.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Liberalism is a mental disorder. It's kind of like it's lost all grasp of common sense and logic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I see a Democratic Party that does not understand that American democracy is hanging by a thread.

MARTIN: And around the one-year anniversary of January 6, politicians have been trying to define what happened.

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UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN #1: January 6 last year wasn't an insurrection, but it very well may have been a fedsurrection (ph).

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UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN #2: But right now we have a continuing attack on our democracy.

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UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN #3: It is wrong to go after law-abiding citizens who are engaging in their constitutional rights.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy.

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MARTIN: The next test for that democracy is coming up sooner than any of us wants to admit. The midterm elections in November will be the most consequential in a long time. But what happens when the two parties are living in such parallel worlds?

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: And what we're stuck in is a situation where we can't even agree on the same set of facts so that we can then disagree about the policy solutions.

MARTIN: This is NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro.

MONTANARO: Every Democratic and Republican strategist I talked to believe that Republicans are going to take over the House this fall by all of the metrics that they see and look at, not to mention history. You know, on average, since World War II, president's first midterm is usually pretty bad for the president's party. They lose on average 29 seats. And that wasn't any different under President Obama, who lost 63 seats, or former President Trump, who also lost a couple of dozen seats. So this is what people have been expecting. Then when you look at President Biden's approval ratings, inflation and COVID continuing with the different variants that continue to tick up, it makes it a very difficult position for the party in power.

MARTIN: All those things you just ticked off, right? - the inevitability in some ways of the minority party retaking control in a midterm and the economic struggles and how President Biden changes the narrative around that. Those seem like normal things, Domenico. And this is not a normal moment when there is one party that supports an effort to overturn a democratic election.

MONTANARO: Well, we've seen unprecedented things over and over again. And I'm honestly very surprised, just as a political observer, that what happened last January 6 didn't change minds within the Republican Party, that it didn't decrease former President Trump's standing within the party despite the fact that you had, you know, a bleed over. Seven Republican senators voted for former President Trump's impeachment. Ten in the House did so, which you would've thought potentially could have been even higher than that. And you had leaders in the Republican Party speak out against former President Trump. But what those elected officials found is that the Trump base believes him. They are behind him, that those 70-plus million people who voted for him - millions and millions of those believe him fully.

MARTIN: I mean, even the handful of Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump - they're sort of falling in line, right? I mean, Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan said that he sees no other option as a Republican than to support former President Trump.

MONTANARO: Well, there's certainly been a huge shift among a lot of Republicans, even ones who didn't support his impeachment but had, you know, spoken out. I mean, I think about, like, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who's the leader of the Republican conference in the House. And, you know, McCarthy was someone who called President Trump that day on January 6 and told him to call off what was happening. And you think about somebody like Peter Meijer, who was very strongly talking about how President Trump was to blame - you know, then is going on "Meet The Press" and talking about how maybe what actually was going on is people on the right were having, quote, unquote, "riot envy" because of what they saw with Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. So this is the sort of whataboutism, this other-handedness that - really, the reason why they're doing it is because you've got to look at politicians in the lens of they want to win. And the biggest problem here is that there's nobody talking to the Republican base who's not Trump. You don't have people like Mike Pompeo or Nikki Haley who could run against Trump, speaking out against him and convincing the base that they need to change.

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MARTIN: NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, thank you.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome.

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MARTIN: After the break, what role have the media played in how we collectively processed January 6?

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MARTIN: So how you think about the events on January 6 depends in large part on what media you consume because it could not be more different.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: This is treason. This is treason.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: The definition of sedition is to try to overturn the rule of law...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Despite their insistence that this was a violent rightwing uprising, there was no...

TUCKER CARLSON: Of all the things that January 6 was, it was definitely not a violent terrorist attack. It wasn't an insurrection. Was it a riot? Sure. It was not a violent terrorist attack. Sorry.

MARTIN: But what happens to a democracy when its citizens don't agree on facts or truth? And what responsibility do mainstream news outlets have to break old formulas of objectivity?

JENNIFER RUBIN: Hello. This is Jennifer Rubin. I am a columnist for The Washington Post.

MARTIN: What do you column about, Jennifer?

RUBIN: Oh, just about everything - politics, foreign policy, domestic policy. I try to stay away from sports, though.

MARTIN: I asked Jennifer Rubin where the media has fallen short since January 6, 2021.

RUBIN: I think my overall complaint is that it hasn't featured prominently enough. I can't think of an issue that is more important than the fate of American democracy. And there have been weeks, if not months, where the issue really was not seen or heard from. And I think there has been an ongoing unwillingness to put the Republicans' feet to the fire for continuing to follow the man who instigated the insurrection. And they should be held accountable for their past support of this Big Lie and for their ongoing support of it. And I still think the media has been reticent to do that.

MARTIN: Why do you think that is?

RUBIN: I think the media is very sensitive to accusations about liberal bias. I think they have bent over backwards to try to create a even picture, even when the parties are not acting in an evenhanded manner.

MARTIN: I mean, I think that's really it, right? Especially as you look towards the midterms. The existential struggle is, how do you cover an election in this illusion of balance when the system is so out of balance, when it is one party - in this case, the Republicans - who, for example, don't see it as a problem that Trump supporters tried to overturn a democratic election?

RUBIN: I think you put it exactly right that it does not come naturally to journalists, at least journalists who are trained in, for lack of a better word, the mainstream media. And I think that determination to be truth teller has to rise above everything else because we're not only in a crisis of democracy. We're really in a crisis of truth. And I think the degree to which disinformation has been able to flood the zone has really shown a necessary shift, if you will, in the way the media covers these things. It's not on the one hand and then on the other hand. There are certain facts that are knowable. And I think we're having a fairly philosophical debate as a country. Is the truth knowable? Is there objective reality? And those of us who think there is such a thing would like the media as a truth-telling institution to be able to say so.

MARTIN: What kind of consequences should there be, do you think, for spreading disinformation in a country founded on principles of free speech?

RUBIN: I think there are a few things that we can do better. First, I don't think it's necessary for mainstream newspapers - and I would include The Washington Post in this - to put on its front page on a fairly regular basis the latest crazy thing that some Fox News host said. That's not newsworthy. That's amplifying disinformation.

I also think that the day of reckoning is coming for social media. And right now, they live in a rarified world where they're not held responsible for anything they say. And they have allowed themselves to become a platform, a megaphone for hate speech, for disinformation, for vaccine denial. And worse, that they create even more radicalized people through the operation of their algorithms. So I think in a society in which right and left can agree on very little, the one thing right and left agree on these days is that social media companies have been bad actors.

MARTIN: Is there a path forward for conservatives who are not pro-Trump? I'm thinking about Jonah Goldberg, the Charlie Sykes of the world, people who have tried to carve out a very narrow space of still being a quote, unquote, "traditional conservative" but being anti-Trump. Should they be amplified in the mainstream media?

RUBIN: Well, they certainly do exist. I think there are obviously a slew of commentators, including some of my colleagues at The Washington Post, who were formerly Republican, still consider themselves to be conservative, at least on some issues, and really critique the Republican Party and the right from a position of conservatism. And I think there are many Republicans who are, in some sense, better able because they've been on the other side to explain that to voters and to listeners and to help clarify what's really going on.

MARTIN: But I guess, what - are the people who would most benefit from hearing that message getting it? I mean, not to put the spot on Jonah Goldberg, but he quit Fox News - you know, took this very moralistic line saying, I don't want to be on a network where Tucker Carlson is allowed to produce a show - I don't want to call it a documentary - propagating lies about January 6. So he quits, and then that's one fewer conservative voice on Fox News saying something different than the Trump base.

RUBIN: This is the catch-22, isn't it? - that conservatives or neutral journalists do not want to be fig leaves for a propaganda machine. I do think the problem of media silence (ph), though, is really difficult to overcome because - you're right - the people who most need the truth are buried so deeply within a right-wing media bubble that, in some sense, they aren't reachable. That's the responsibility of the president and other elected leaders - to do what he did on January 6, to give big speeches that it is very hard to ignore. And I would even urge him to do more in primetime.

Because of this fragmentation of the audience, it puts a greater responsibility on the president and on other elected leaders to communicate in ways and in venues that other people may hear. And that includes going on popular media shows. That includes going on late night television. It includes going on "The View." So I think politicians have to become more creative as they try to reach a greater audience.

MARTIN: I'll close by just asking how you feel. NPR just helped lead a poll in which most Americans said that they thought that American democracy was in a crisis. As someone who has studied American democracy through a lot of different lenses, through your writing and your columns, where do you think we're at right now?

RUBIN: I think, to quote the president, "we are at an inflection point," that our fate is not sealed, that it is quite possible that we can rebound from this episode with a new dedication to democracy, with grassroots organizations that are dedicated towards increasing voter participation, increasing democracy and that, out of this dark, dark period, some good may come. But it is also possible that, in our distracted, entertainment-filled world, that Americans just don't care and that the voices that are authoritarian, that are spreading lies do come to dominate.

So when readers ask me about this - and they ask me about it a lot - I essentially say, it's in our hands. And it's not just the politicians. It's in all of our hands. We're the voters. And to some extent, we do get the elected representatives we deserve. And we have to start asking more of ourselves and more of them. And I think if we do that, if we remember that citizenship is not simply a privilege but a responsibility, I think we can come through this.

MARTIN: Jennifer Rubin, columnist with The Washington Post. Jennifer, Happy New Year.

RUBIN: Happy New Year.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Let us be optimistic. Thank you so much for your time.

RUBIN: Oh, you're welcome.

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MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin. This episode of UP FIRST SUNDAY was edited by Barrie Hardymon and Nicole Beemsterboer. It was produced by Adelina Lancianese and Dan Girma, with support from Pablo Argoyas (ph). Special thanks to Miles Parks, Joel Rose, Melissa Block and Tovia Smith, whose reporting you heard in this episode. UP FIRST will be back tomorrow with the news you need to start your day. Have a good one.

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