Mark Meadows.
(Image credit: Illustrated | AP Images, Getty Images, iStock)

There's no question the events of Jan. 6, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol, were terrible and had the potential to be even worse in terms of injury or loss of life. The Democratic-led House committee investigating those events is therefore correct to want to learn more about the riot and to deter similar violence from happening again.

But the committee's obvious desire to elevate Jan. 6 to a 9/11-level event — and to treat a ragtag group of rioters, who made up most of the death toll, as a serious attempt to overthrow the federal government — is laughable. Doing so repeats the errors and excesses of the Trump-Russia saga, when the former president's indifference to Russian interference in the 2016 election (as long as it mainly hurt his opponent) was bad enough, and there was no need to largely fabricate a more elaborate conspiracy.

It's entirely true Trump encouraged supporters who were deeply invested in him to believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. He entertained cockamamie legal theories about how the electoral vote count could reflect this mistaken belief. This was reckless and encouraged some of his supporters to take matters into their own hands with disastrous results. He bears moral, if not legal, culpability for this, as well as for not doing more to call them off once it became apparent that the pro-Trump protests had spiraled out of control.

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But the now-famous Mark Meadows texts some see as damning proof of various Fox News commentators' hypocrisy also suggest many who supported Trump or were in his orbit did not expect the Capitol breach, did not want it to happen, and thought that it was inexcusable. This included Trump's own son, who advised delivering "an Oval Office address" to demand the rioters stand down. Whatever Meadows' correspondents were saying publicly, such communications undercut the conspiracy narrative, at least as it involved remotely competent people.

The problem with treating every Republican more supportive of Trump than token GOP committee members Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) as an existential threat to the republic is twofold. One, the reason the more serious legal efforts to overturn the election failed is because there were people with fidelity to the Constitution working for Trump. Sidney Powell wasn't White House counsel. The second is that strengthening Capitol security — the riots were quashed the moment they were met with an appropriate level of response — is probably a better deterrent than trying to marginalize eccentric but widely held political views.

Republicans should take Jan. 6 more seriously, but they are also correct to resist treating ordinary members of their party as horn-wearing, violent extremists.

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