The Capitol Riot Narrative Is Collapsing, but Its Political Exploitation Persists

By Benjamin Weingarten
Benjamin Weingarten
Benjamin Weingarten
Ben Weingarten is deputy editor for RealClearInvestigations. He is a senior contributor to The Federalist, columnist at Newsweek, and a contributor to the New York Post and The Epoch Times, among other publications. Subscribe to his newsletter at
May 23, 2021Updated: May 25, 2021


Virtually the entire American ruling class has invested in a narrative that is collapsing—that what transpired at the Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6 represented a murderous, armed insurrection, posing a dire threat to the republic.

Yet, the exploitation of that single event to marginalize and malign up to half the country, in a slew of efforts that pose a threat to the liberty and justice of all, continues apace.

If the foundation of these efforts is crumbling, shouldn’t these efforts be called into question, too?

The events at the Capitol on Jan. 6 were inexcusable and disgraceful, and those who committed crimes ought to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We settle differences in America by persuasion and reason, and abjure force and coercion—something many of those hyping Jan. 6 as a “domestic terrorist attack” only seem to believe when it suits their political interests.

But this isn’t the whole story of that day. While congressional demagogues and social media speech police claim otherwise, the sole person killed in the riot was an unarmed protester, shot by a Capitol cop. Not one of the more than 400 people charged in connection with the events stormed the building with a firearm. Most of those detained face glorified trespassing offenses.

Video footage indicates that some percentage of the protesters was allowed to waltz into the Capitol, and others, once inside, were permitted to remain there by police, seemingly in contradiction of what prosecutors have argued. Authorities are concealing more than 14,000 hours of additional footage concerning Jan. 6, breathtakingly using the same argument that Spygate participants used to conceal the whole truth about their machinations, that of national security.

The Capitol riot wasn’t on the level of the Civil War, as President Joe Biden has argued, 9/11 as he implied, nor Pearl Harbor, as then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asserted.

Little about the event resembled a sophisticated military assault, or jihadist attack, or kamikaze mission, nor did the rioters the likes of QAnon Shaman conjure images of such warfighters—even as some of those detained seem to be being punished like enemy combatants.

There is little to suggest that the peaceful transfer of power ever hung in the balance as a consequence of the pathetic and outrageous acts of that day.

The challenge that prosecutors are facing—in spite of the sprawling investigatory effort undertaken in connection with Jan. 6—to justify the rhetoric of “insurrection” and “coup” attests to the chasm between rhetoric and reality.

Yet, this singular event has been used as the central data point to back the claim that there is a pervasive threat of “violent extremism” to the homeland, demanding a whole-of-society War on Domestic Terror, and broader purging of extremists.

Note that that broader narrative, too, has never been substantiated by federal officials with evidence and precision.

As a Yahoo News report from February detailed, “The government has released no data on historical activity or the current threat landscape” to justify its claims. Prominent Democrats have alluded primarily to a single source, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) domestic terror database to claim that “rightwing extremists” pose the greatest domestic threat of all, as Jan. 6 reflected.

But there is a methodological issue with this assessment. Per The Washington Post, CSIS’s definition of domestic terrorism incidents “excludes many violent events, including incidents during nationwide unrest last year, because CSIS analysts could not determine whether attackers had a political or ideological motive.”

While government officials have also hyped the threat in particular from the military as a hotbed of domestic violent extremism, as CSIS’ analysis details: “Based on the 2020 data, less than four ten-thousandths of a percent of all active-duty troops and two ten-thousandths of a percent of all reservists were involved in domestic terrorism.”

In short, we are supposed to take the government at its word about the relative extent of the domestic violent extremist threat, even though the government has never clearly defined the size, scope, and nature of the threat, and even as the government has, in recent years, clearly targeted its perceived political opponents.

Yet, this overall narrative has been used to justify a raft of liberty and justice-infringing measures, all traceable back to a narrative about Jan. 6 itself that is collapsing.

Consider a sampling of such actions:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi consulted with the Pentagon about preventing then-President Donald Trump from accessing the nuclear codes and discharging his other duties.

Congressional Democrats launched a second Kabuki impeachment, pushing a liberal standard of incitement to violence that would eviscerate the First Amendment if actually applied, against a president who called for people to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard.

The leftist Big Tech oligarchs de-platformed Trump, purged thousands of like-minded accounts, and temporarily de-platformed an alternative non-leftist social media platform in toto, in Parler.

Big Tech has also intensified its social media censorship around a variety of critical issues, including questions about 2020 election integrity—at the very same time Democrats are trying to push for a bill that would make many of the most dubious measures of that election permanent.

Congressmen targeted cable and satellite companies in a bid to get them to drop conservative outlets such as Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News.

Democrats militarized Capitol Hill for months, once again without substantiating the threat to it.

The military is engaged in a pervasive effort to root out “extremists”—which seems to be code for conservatives—including piloting a program to monitor the social media behavior of personnel using private firms to evade First Amendment restrictions.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is engaged in a similar effort. It also is considering, citing Matt Taibbi, “‘analyzing the travel patterns’ of right-wing suspects, expanding the No Fly List to include ‘domestic extremists,’ and stopping such targets at customs, where officials may ‘search their phones and laptops’ before allowing them back in-country.” Last but not least, DHS reportedly is contemplating using non-governmental entities to surveil “potential domestic terrorists” that they themselves cannot legally spy on, to produce information beneficial to itself and the FBI.

There are indicators that actors in the intelligence community that by law are only supposed to focus on foreign threats are increasingly being used to focus on domestic violent extremism.

The White House reportedly is considering executive orders to revise the criteria of terrorism watch lists to potentially include more homegrown extremists. It has already spoken of its desire for Big Tech to better police its platforms, likely further chilling speech.

The Biden administration more importantly has initiated a comprehensive, not just whole-of-government, but as the DHS has indicated, whole-of-society effort to counter violent extremism.

Last but not least, of course, is the pending Jan. 6 Commission, or what I have labeled a Wrongthink Inquisition, that would further fuel these types of efforts.

It isn’t clear why the Capitol Riot on the merits justifies these actions.

It also isn’t clear that the Capitol riot is representative of a broader movement that so imperils our homeland that it justifies such actions.

What is clear, however, is that the government’s extensive pursuit of Capitol rioters, and its disturbing treatment of those detained—particularly when juxtaposed with its lax treatment of leftist agitators over the past year, and revelations that the FBI ruled the attack on Republicans at the congressional baseball practice “suicide by cop”—could serve as the archetype of a broader War on Domestic Terror.

If the threat the government claims exists demands such a response, the American people deserve to know.

If its assessments are based on politics, not national security, it’s incumbent upon our political leaders to expose it.

If our government apparatuses, in tow with civil society actors, become hyper-politicized weapons, pointed directly at anyone who dares dissent from its orthodoxy, we risk becoming America in name only.

We will have squandered the greatest experiment in liberty and justice mankind has ever known.

Ben Weingarten is a fellow of the Claremont Institute and co-host of the Edmund Burke Foundation’s “The NatCon Squad.” He is the author of “American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party” and is currently working on a book on U.S.–China policy and its transformation under the Trump administration.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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