The Fight for Accountability After January 6
On Jan. 6, 2021, a faction of militants laid siege to our nation’s capitol building in an attempt to subvert democracy and overturn the results of our free and fair election. The unprecedented assault ultimately failed, democracy was upheld, and the votes of millions of Americans were counted. For many Americans, it appeared that the inauguration of President Joe Biden marked the end of the turmoil and pain caused by the insurrection.
But in the days and months since right-wing radicals laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, an unshakeable truth has been laid bare: the ideology that fueled insurrectionists is rapidly spreading across the nation. Rooted in the same lies that established enslavement, advocated for Jim Crow and upheld segregation, the toxic agenda of the far-right is seeping into local, state and national elected offices, stoking fear, spreading disinformation and fueling the subversion of democracy as we know it.
At least 13 insurrection participants ran for office this year. Ten insurrectionists won their elections, joining the Virginia House of Delegates, city councils, school boards and county and town boards. Five other Jan. 6 participants ran for office and lost.
These individuals continue to push false and dangerous narratives about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Marie March, an incoming member of the Virginia House of Delegates, said on Facebook in a now-deleted post that she would be willing to “fight and die” in a “coming Civil War.” Multiple candidates continue to deny their participation and falsely place blame for the violence on Antifa and anarchists.
The same conspiracy theories and coordinated disinformation campaigns that powered Jan. 6 are now being used to suppress voters nationwide. The Republican Party, on both the state and national level, is passing voter suppression laws designed to disenfranchise Black, brown and young voters. Their false narratives about fraudulent elections are becoming commonplace, and they have manipulated the redistricting process to all but guarantee that Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade. Democrats seem unable to fight back — they will not pass two major pieces of voting rights legislation: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.
The Jan. 6 participants elected this year are just the beginning. We will see more insurrectionists, including incumbents, on the ballot in 2022 and 2024. Public Wise, an organization fighting to secure a government that reflects the will and protects the rights of all people, is launching a campaign to recognize the insurrection and hold accountable those responsible for it. Our first step is an exciting tool called the Insurrection Index, an online database of public records of individuals and organizations in positions of public trust who were involved in the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. Through the database, electoral work and granting, we are committed to keeping insurrectionists out of office and away from positions of public trust. According to our polling, provided by Change Research, a Public Benefit Corporation, per 3,711 adults polled nationally in the United States conducted Oct. 5-7, a majority of Americans think it is important to hold Jan. 6 participants accountable and that elected officials who paid for buses and who coordinated with participants in advance should not remain in office. Our campaign is nonpartisan and will be applied to any member of any political party found to have participated in or meaningfully aided the insurrection.
The Insurrection Index, which is still being developed, has records of over 100 elected officials from 27 states who participated in the insurrection. A majority of the participants in elected office, including state senators and representatives, school board members, city council members, state attorney generals, county commissioners, GOP state chairs, and town council members, resisted calls to resign and remain in office.
Keeping Jan. 6 participants out of office does not just mean making sure Trump can’t run again in 2024. We must ensure that any participants in the insurrection cannot win seats on our school boards, town and city councils or state assemblies. Elected officials participating in an ongoing structural attempt to undermine democracy are the most serious threat our country faces. They power our democracy every day, at every level. They make decisions about our schools, our COVID-19 protocols, our right to choose, our tax dollars, our ability to vote, our elections and our laws. Any individual who participated in Jan. 6 elected to public office gives the “Big Lie” more legitimacy and the opportunity to continue to ravage voting rights. We must hold those who sought to overthrow the will of the people accountable and ensure they never assume positions of power in our society.
Christina Baal-Owens is the executive director of Public Wise.