Enough with the Big Lie

There is no competing narrative for January 6

By Brian Karem


Published January 6, 2024 5:45AM (EST)

US President Donald Trump speaks at "Save America March" rally in Washington D.C., United States on January 06, 2021. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks at "Save America March" rally in Washington D.C., United States on January 06, 2021. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

This country has not progressed, politically at any rate, since the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Nine deaths are linked to the attack. More than 700 people have gone to court for their roles in it. More than 450 people have been found guilty and sentenced to prison.

Donald Trump urged his supporters on that day, telling them at a speech in the Ellipse south of the White House, to “fight like hell.” If they didn’t, he told them, “You’re not going to have a country anymore.” I know, because I witnessed it.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, standing with Trump, urged “trial by combat.” Trump’s supporters did just that.

President Joe Biden is beginning his re-election campaign this week reminding everyone of the terror inflicted upon the country three years ago on that day and the fact that it was orchestrated by and for the sole benefit of former president Donald Trump. 

“At this hour our democracy is under an unprecedented assault,” Biden said at the time of the insurrection. He’s never wavered from that, and launched his re-election bid reminding everyone how foolish, dangerous and anti-American the insurrection was. His campaign kicked off with a 60-second ad on national television.“There’s something dangerous happening in America,” Biden says while images from the insurrection appear.“There’s an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy . . . all of us are being asked right now, what will we do to maintain our democracy.” 

Biden has previously called Trump a “dagger at the throat of America,” and said there was “no question” Trump supported the insurrection. Biden is now asking us not only to give him our vote, but to stand up for the principles of our Constitution – even as Trump rallies the GOP around him.

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Friday, appearing at Valley Forge, Biden was stark. He described Jan. 6 as the day, “we nearly lost America — lost it all.”  

Biden’s ace up his sleeve appears to be reminding everyone how damnably delusional Trump is, and how seriously dangerous he remains to the country – and Biden is banking that we are now paying attention – or at least will when we go to vote this November. But I’m concerned that this may be merely wishful thinking on his part. And I’m truly concerned about the security of the election.

Trump, on the other hand, is also using the January 6 Insurrection in his campaign. “Joe Biden and his allies are a real and compelling threat to our democracy,” Trump senior campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles wrote in a memo this week. Trump himself, at recent rallies, has continued to lie about losing the 2020 election and conveniently omits the fact that he lost 60 court challenges to the results.

On Friday, Trump repeated his lies and sent out an email to supporters which said, “The Radical Left Democrats, Now Led By Joe Biden, Are The Greatest Threat to Democracy the United States of America Has Ever Faced.”

Trump’s disinformation has been so successful, that despite the well-known and publicized facts, a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll shows that 25 percent of Americans say it is “probably” or “definitely” true that the FBI instigated the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021.

This horse crap has spread even though Trump and his allies – including former Attorney General Bill Barr, controlled the Justice Department and the FBI at the time of the insurrection. Another way of looking at it is that a quarter of the people in this country – according to that poll – believe that the government-run by Trump started the insurrection, and yet they don’t think Trump had anything to do with it.

If that makes your head hurt, you’re not alone.

But, my head also hurts for another reason. On that day I joined dozens of other reporters at the White House who walked into the press office and demanded Trump say something to stop the insurrection. We waited for hours while he did nothing. We knew what was going on and every reporter there that day knew we had a responsibility to the rest of the country to get our facts straight.

I witnessed Trump’s speech and Giuliani’s. I spoke with the insurrectionists as they marched to and eventually broke into the Capitol – some of them spreading human feces on the wall. I personally watched as the Confederate Flag was carried inside our Capitol – a feat that did not occur even during the Civil War. 

I saw my colleagues harassed and threatened simply because they were reporters. I was one of them. For the first time since 1814, the Capitol was breached. More than 200 years ago it was red coat British troops who invaded during the war of 1812. In 2021, it was American seditionists, many of them wearing red “MAGA” t-shirts who did it. They were not peaceful. I never thought in my life I would see what I witnessed Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol. I have covered wars and conflicts in developing countries, and on that day I felt once again I was standing on foreign soil in a shithole nation devoid of democracy.

And my head hurts because many reporters to this day continue to mince words about what happened. This isn’t time for equivocation. There aren’t two sides to this story. Just like there isn’t two sides to the Holocaust or the moon landing – both of those things actually happened. So did the insurrection. We have to call that day out, factually, for what it was: an attempt to overthrow the United States government by the man who still ran it, but was upset that he’d lost the election and knew he had only two weeks left in the Oval Office. That’s the fact jack. 

The day started off with a crisp wind blowing and as I walked to the White House from a nearby parking garage before eight a.m., I saw the streets begin to fill as protesters gathered to hear Trump speak just outside the White House grounds. 

I heard him say, “This year they rigged an election.” The MAGA crowd cheered to the false claim. “They rigged it like they’ve never rigged and election,” Trump said enthusiastically. As I watched this narcissistic fear-monger preach his lies I told another reporter standing nearby, “Trump calls himself the law-and-order president. But he’s encouraging his followers to break the law so he can issue the orders.”

When Trump told his followers to fight, he said, “We will never give up. We will never concede,” and he pushed the mob even further. “We will not take it anymore.” He justified his call for violence because “this year, using the pretext of the China virus and the scam of mail-in ballots,” Trump told us, “Democrats attempted the most brazen and outrageous election theft and there’s never been anything like this. So pure theft in American history. Everybody knows it.”  

Trump used the same words he used six weeks earlier when he told me at a press briefing that he wouldn’t necessarily accept a peaceful transfer of power. He was claiming voter fraud six weeks before the election, claiming there was problems with the ballots that had not yet been cast and that “everybody knows it.”

If that makes your head hurt, I’m right there with you. As I wrote for Playboy Magazine two days later, that was the moment I knew the genie was out of the bottle. 

Donald Trump would never accept a defeat then because he didn’t want to. He can’t do so now because regaining the presidency is his only hope of not spending the rest of his life in prison. He has bullied, cornered, cajoled, bribed and threatened most of the rest of the GOP into following him into despotism. They are either so frightened or so enamored of the power they can’t resist him.

Oddly enough, it was Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, a bloviating bile of human excrement who nailed it. “The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our Republic forever,” McConnell said during the joint session to certify Biden’s win. Republicans must “muster the patriotic courage,” he said, to accept Trump’s defeat, adding that senators must “respect the limits of our own powers.” A vote on overturning the election was madness, he said. “I will not pretend that such a vote is a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing.”

At the end of the day, Biden, remembering those words from his old colleague McConnell, is hoping our desire for a democracy will count for more with voters than the price of gas. But, he should wake up to the fact that for some, that isn’t the issue and making this a cornerstone of his re-election bid – while it definitely should be done – will not sway Trump voters.

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Veteran Republican strategist Alice Stewart told the Associated Press this week that Trump voters will continue to stand with Trump. “A lot of Republican voters don’t love Jan. 6, but they’re not obsessed about it either” and may support Trump because they oppose Biden’s economic policies, Stewart explained. “Republican voters can hold two consecutive thoughts and say, ‘Jan. 6, that wasn’t great, but that doesn’t affect my bottom line,’” she added. I think she meant “concurrent” or “contradictory” but that’s another story.

Biden’s campaign strategy must include something other than the insurrection if he hopes to appeal to those members of the GOP. Trump gets a pass from the hard core supporters if women are enslaved if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Nor do they care to notice that it takes two parents and even teenage children working in a household in some cases these days to pay the rent each month.

These people are frightened. They vote out of fear, but they do vote – hoping to hold on to something they’ve never really had and at the same time not understanding that Trump will not deliver what it is they really need – liberty. They won’t mind an autocratic government or a despot, if they can just be assured they have a place to live and can exist from paycheck to paycheck.

For them, democracy is not the voting cry that it should be. They want peace. They want quiet. They are worn down and have no energy left for courage. As the musician sang, freedom of choice is what they’ve got and freedom from choice is what they want. A guarantee of a safe life that cannot be delivered is the ultimate aphrodisiac for some.

I do not believe there’s any way Biden can reach those people. But he’s betting that a majority of Americans can be reached. Last time out Biden won by about a mere 45,000 votes scattered across a handful of states. It should not be that close this time. Biden is rolling the dice and hoping he won’t crap out.

I don’t know the Vegas odds on it, but I hope he’s right. The country cannot take any more of Donald Trump. The invasion of the Capitol building was an act of domestic terrorism and an armed insurrection. Donald Trump called for it and loved it. 

Trump proved himself a traitor to everything this country stands for. He damaged our standing internationally and made the world a far more dangerous place in which to live. Trump deserves prison. He does not deserve the White House, and all the charlatans in the Republican Party who support him deserve nothing less than to join him in prison – or at the very least minimum wage jobs in a sweaty fast food franchise. They too are traitors to democracy, common sense, critical thinking, education, liberty and civil rights.

So Biden damn well better get this race right – because our country is riding on his bet.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Jan. 6 Joe Biden The Big Lie