The January 6 Capitol bombings remind us that distrust of government has long been part of the Republicans’ playbook.

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(THE CONVERSATION) The Republican National Committee legitimized the January 6, 2021 Capitol bombings. The RNC said on February 4, 2022 that the insurgency and previous events were “legitimate political speech” – a claim Senator Mitch McConnell replied soon after, saying it was a “violent insurrection”.

The Justice Department is investigating former President Donald Trump’s involvement on January 6, when several thousand rioters stormed the US Capitol. The attacks killed at least seven people and injured 150 police officers.

Meanwhile, Trump says he will consider pardoning the Jan. 6 rioters if he is re-elected in 2024, while continuing to lie that the 2020 election was stolen.


It’s the latest step in a long-running systemic effort by the Republican Party to sow and capitalize on public mistrust.

As political scientists who study the politics of public opinion and the rhetoric of Congress, we have chronicled the strategic use of distrustful rhetoric by American conservatives for decades in our book “At War With Government.”

How mistrust can help in politics

There are some clear benefits to leveraging distrust as a political tool.

In recent decades, Republicans have used mistrust to warn voters against opponents during election campaigns and to argue that Democratic policy proposals would hurt Americans. Republicans also sowed political distrust in institutions they did not control — like the presidency — while seeking to strengthen the same institutions when in office.

Our research shows that distrust has been a particularly powerful resource for Republican politicians as they work to galvanize the conservative base and attract the independent voters they need to win elections.

History of mistrust

In the 1950s, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy conducted a series of high-profile investigations into the potential affiliations of US government officials with the Communist Party. McCarthy and others used defamation tactics to delegitimize political opponents, portraying them as untrustworthy.

Public confidence in government fell precipitously, from 77% in October 1964 to 36% in December 1974.

Democrats began advocating for civil rights in the early 1960s. Republicans then adopted an election plan known as the Southern Strategy around 1968, courting white Southerners who opposed the Democrats’ progressive leadership on the civil rights and social issues and defending state power.

The secrecy of various presidential administrations over the Vietnam War, as well as former President Richard Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, heightened political mistrust.

Left-leaning American politicians have also capitalized on distrust of the government, particularly when it comes to national security. Historian Paul Sabin attributes distrust of government to liberal reformers such as Ralph Nader, who criticized the comfortable relationship between government and business.

But it was largely Republicans who strategically promoted political mistrust. Republicans have also used mistrust to rally against Democrats’ health policy proposals.

Working for the American Medical Association in 1961, 20 years before his election, for example, former President Ronald Reagan said the proposal that would become Medicare was “one of the traditional methods of imposing socialism or statism to a people”.

Newt Gingrich’s fight in the 1990s against former President Bill Clinton and House Democrats marked a turning point, as Gingrich encouraged fellow Republicans to use hyperbolic and highly personal attacks on fellow Democrats, portraying them as unworthy of public trust.

An early 1990s campaign memo from Gingrich advised candidates to define “Democrats as the party of radical leftist activists, unionized bureaucracies, and corrupt political machines.”

When opposing Clinton’s health care reform proposal, Republicans used phrases such as “Gestapo medicine” to instill fear of a destructive government.

In 2009 and 2010, opponents of the Affordable Care Act raised the possibility of government “death committees” making life-and-death decisions for citizens. A Republican strategist has urged Republican leaders to call the health care plan a “government takeover” that “like coups…leads to dictators and loss of freedom.”

“He made everyone angry”

Echoes of more than half a century of anti-government rhetoric spread on January 6.

Trump’s “draining the swamp” rhetoric, as well as his assertion that the election is rigged, have fueled people’s longstanding suspicions of the government.

In federal district court in New York in January 2021, one of the accused Jan. 6 insurgents defended his part in the attack, saying he was “tired of government corruption.”

Some protesters present on January 6 were involved with far-right anti-government groups, such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes wrote on the Signal messaging app two days after the November 2020 election that members of the group should not accept the election results, saying: ‘We won’t get away with it. without a civil war.

Other insurgents have justified their actions by citing Trump’s false statements in court.

Some rioters, for example, defended themselves against trespassing charges by saying Trump “invited” them to the Capitol.

An accused insurgent, Zachary Wilson, said: “I was surprised that President Trump told everyone the election was stolen. He made everyone angry.

Trump’s promotion of distrust of the election results has proven legally dangerous for citizens who have been moved by his rhetoric.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta told a defendant on January 6 that he was “a pawn” of those who lied about the 2020 election results. The people who believed the lie “are the ones who pay [legal] consequences,” Mehta said.

Distrust of the US electoral system has grown since the January 6 attacks. More than 3 in 10 Americans think the national system is fundamentally unsound, according to a November 2021 Monmouth University poll, up from 22% in January 2021. That finding fits with the GOP’s longer-term effort to militarize political mistrust.

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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/the-jan-6-capitol-attacks-offer-a-reminder-distrust-in-government-has-long-been-part-of-republicans-playbook – 175823.

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