Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., center, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is flanked by former U.S. Capitol Police Staff Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, left, and Rep. Glenn Ivy, D-Md., speaking during a news conference at the Capitol on threats to democracy three years after the January 6th riot, in Washington, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

On Jan. 6 Many Republicans Blamed Trump for the Capitol Riot. Now they Endorse his Presidential Bid

Lisa Mascaro READ TIME: 5 MIN.

In the follow-up to their 2018 bestseller "How Democracies Die," authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write about three rules that political parties must follow: Accept the results of fair elections, reject the use of violence to gain power and break ties to extremists.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, they write, only one U.S. political party "violated all three."

Saturday marks the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, and Donald Trump, the former president, is far and away the leading Republican candidate in 2024. He still refuses to acknowledge his earlier loss to President Joe Biden. Far from rejecting the rioters, he has suggested he would pardon some of those who have been convicted of violent crimes. Rather than distance himself from extremists, he welcomes them at his rallies and calls them patriots.

And Trump is now backed by many of the Republican leaders who fled for their lives and hid from the rioters, even some who had condemned Trump. Several top GOP leaders have endorsed his candidacy.

The support for Trump starkly highlights the divisions in the aftermath of the deadly storming of the Capitol and frames the question about whose definition of governance will prevail – or if democracy will prevail at all.

"If our political leaders do not stand up in defense of democracy, our democracy won't be defended," said Levitsky, one of the Harvard professors whose new book is "Tyranny of the Minority."

"There's no country in the world, no country on Earth in history, where the politicians abdicated democracy but the institutions held," he told The Associated Press. "People have to defend democracy."

The third anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack comes during the most convulsive period in American politics in at least a generation, with Congress barely able to keep up with the basics of governing, and the start of the presidential nominating contests just over a week away.

Trump's persistent false claims that the election of 2020 was stolen – which has been rejected in at least 60 court cases, every state election certification and by the former president's one-time attorney general – continue to animate the presidential race as he eyes a rematch with Biden.

Instead, Trump now faces more than 90 criminal charges in federal and state courts, including the federal indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith that accused Trump of conspiring to defraud the U.S. over the election.

Biden, speaking Friday near Pennsylvania's Valley Forge, commemorated Jan. 6, saying on that day "we nearly lost America – lost it all."

While the Congress returned that night to certify the election results and show the world democracy was still standing, Biden said Trump is now trying to revise the narrative of what happened that day – calling the rioters "patriots" and promising to pardon them. And he said some Republicans in Congress were complicit.

"When the attack on Jan. 6 happened there was no doubt about the truth," Biden said. "Now these MAGA voices – who know the truth about Trump and Jan. 6 – have abandoned the truth and abandoned the democracy."

At a quieter Capitol, without much ceremony planned for Saturday, it will be the last time the anniversary will pass before Congress is called upon again, on Jan. 6, 2025, to certify the results of the presidential election -- democracy once more put to the test.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who led Trump's impeachment over the insurrection, said Biden's 306-232 electoral victory in 2020 remains "the hard, inescapable, irradicable fact that Donald Trump and his followers have not been able to accept – to this day."

Raskin envisions a time when there will be a Capitol exhibit, and tours for visitors, to commemorate what happened Jan. 6, 2021. Five people died during the riot and the immediate aftermath, including Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police.

All told,140 police officers were injured in the Capitol siege, including U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick who died later. Several others died later by suicide.

One officer, Harry Dunn, has announced he is running for Congress to "ensure it never happens again."

Trump's decision to reject the results of the 2020 election was the only time Americans have not witnessed the peaceful transfer of presidential power, a hallmark of U.S. democracy.

A giant portrait of George Washington resigning his military commission hangs in the U.S. Capitol, a symbol of the voluntary relinquishing of power – a move that was considered breathtaking at the time. He later was elected the first U.S. president.

Trump opened his first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign with a popular recording of the J6 Prison Choir – riot defendants singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" recorded over a phone line from jail, interspersed with Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

More than 1,200 people have been charged in the riot, with nearly 900 convicted, including leaders of the extremist groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who are serving lengthy terms for seditious conspiracy.

Trump has called Jan. 6 defendants "hostages" and said there was so much love at the "Stop the Steal" rally he held near the White House that day before he encouraged the mob to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, assuring he would be with them at the Capitol, though he never did join.

Allies of Trump scoff at the narrative of Jan. 6 that has emerged. Mike Davis, a Trump ally sometimes mentioned as a future attorney general, has mocked the Democrats and others for turning Jan. 6 into a "religious holiday."

Republican Kevin McCarthy, who went on to become House speaker, had called Jan. 6 the "saddest day" he ever had in Congress. But when he retired last month he endorsed Trump for president and said he would consider joining his cabinet.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would back whomever becomes the Republican Party nominee, despite a scathing speech at the time in which he called Trump's actions "disgraceful" and said the rioters "had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election."

Asked about Trump's second-term agenda, GOP lawmakers brushed off his admission that he would be a dictator on "day one."

"He's joking," said Trump ally Byron Donalds, R-Fla.

"Just bravado," said Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn. "There's still checks and balances."

Levitsky said when he and his colleague wrote their earlier book, they believed that the Republicans in Congress would be a "bulwark against Trump."

But with so many of the Trump detractors having retired or been voted out of office, "We were much less pessimistic than we are today."

by Lisa Mascaro

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