Americans watched in horror as an angry mob stormed our Capitol this January. On Tuesday, the Senate released a bipartisan report outlining the security failures that enabled this breach and a list of recommendations to protect the building from another attack.
Sixteen Republican state lawmakers who were in Washington on Jan. 6 still hold public office and continue to pass bills as part of the democracy they attacked.
The report, while important, doesn’t sufficiently address a key aspect of the riot: the dangerous undercurrent of conspiracy theorists serving within our country’s state legislatures. At least 20 Republican state lawmakers were at or near the Jan. 6 riot, and many more spread the type of falsehoods that the angry mob would later use as justification for their cause.
Sixteen Republican state lawmakers who were in Washington on Jan. 6 still hold public office and continue to pass bills as part of the democracy they attacked by using their platform as public officials to try to overturn a fair and free election. Many are also spearheading efforts to pass sweeping sets of voter suppression laws.
Until these officials are removed from government and held accountable, the danger will remain. Senators investigating what happened on Jan. 6 can’t only look to policing deficiencies and inadequate preparation; they must also look within the Republican Party.
But insurrectionists aren’t the only problem. There are many more Republicans within our statehouses who pushed former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen and fanned the flames of the insurrection. They continue to do so.
Indeed, instead of taking a measured stance against insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists, Republican members have welcomed and enabled bad actors in their party. In fact, the highest-profile GOP official who faced party repudiation is someone who refused to go along with election falsehoods: Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who was ousted from U.S House Republican leadership for her commitment to the truth.
Firebrands like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene may capture headlines, but Republicans’ radical extremism problem runs far deeper than just a few notorious individuals in Washington. To take one example: Mark Finchem, a state representative for Arizona, is affiliated with far-right extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and the Coalition of Western States. He’s considered an extremist by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism for his involvement with these groups.
Finchem attended the violent insurrection in D.C. and initially defended the rioters, although he then tried to claim that it was actually antifa who stormed the Capitol. Recently, new evidence emerged that seems to show the lawmaker directly in front of the Capitol after rioters broke through a series of barricades and police lines. Finchem is now running for secretary of state, even though he was at the center of the effort to overturn election results in Arizona last year. Arizona Republicans responded by burying a bill to expel him and clearing him of 82 ethics complaints related to his participation in the Jan. 6 riot.
The revelation about Finchem’s activities in Washington comes hot on the heels of a similar discovery about Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who originally claimed he left the area as soon as the crowd got violent. Recently released footage shows he was apparently closer to the Capitol siege than he originally suggested.
At the time, GOP state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said the Senate had “no cause to act” when faced with calls to remove Mastriano from office. Since then, the GOP leadership has repeatedly refused to comment on the new evidence about his conduct during the insurrection. Mastriano is now exploring a run for governor. He’s said Trump wants him to run and to change Pennsylvania’s voting laws. Mastriano also organized buses for attendees of the insurrection and advocated for Pennsylvania’s election results to be overturned.
Beyond the threat these lawmakers pose in their positions, the failure to hold elected officials who attended the riot accountable serves to embolden more. Many attendees of the Jan. 6 riot are running for office, an alarming development that imperils any chance of moving forward.
Even Republican leaders who didn’t attend the riot are spreading misinformation about it and our elections in their home states. Mike Shirkey, the top Republican in the Michigan Senate, has appeared with far-right militias in the state; he even offered to help them work on their messaging. In the wake of the insurrection, Shirkey said he empathized with the mob then went on to call it a hoax and insinuated that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have somehow played a role. He also implied that there are “puppeteers” controlling elected officials.
Despite these unhinged musings, Shirkey is still the leader of the Michigan Senate GOP. The national Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, instead of condemning the legislator, welcomed him onto their board.
Insurrectionists aren’t the only problem. There are many more Republicans within our statehouses who pushed former President Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.”
In Arizona, Republican Senate President Karen Fann is one of many leaders who claim to have doubts over the election. That sparked the state’s deeply compromised election “audit,” run by a firm with no election experience owned by a “Stop the Steal” follower to run a haphazard wild goose chase inspired by wild conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality. The effort is a huge waste of taxpayer resources — but serves as a cover to pass bills making it harder to vote. Two actual independent audits already confirmed President Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
Republican elected officials, who swore an oath to uphold our democracy, pose a significant threat to our very system of government. We don’t just need to hold the growing number of Republican public officials who are conspiracy theorists accountable — we must also condemn the leadership that has turned a blind eye to their party’s radical members and those who use their falsehoods for political gain. Our democracy can’t last if we don’t have a shared understanding of the challenges we face. No security measure can protect us from Republican lawmakers determined to use their power to undermine our democracy and spread falsehoods.