Donald Trump did not act alone.
Though the president has been the most prolific spreader of election disinformation, the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday had also been primed by a long list of elected officials, from Congress to statehouses to local governments, who have echoed Trump’s dire rhetoric about a nonexistent threat to the republic.
“We know that that attack today, it didn’t materialize out of nowhere,” U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Allegheny County, said on the House floor hours after the Capitol building was secured and Congress was able to resume its final certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“It was inspired by lies — the same lies that you’re hearing in this room tonight. And the members who are repeating those lies should be ashamed of themselves. Their constituents should be ashamed of them,” Lamb said.
Eight Pennsylvania Republicans, including Lancaster County’s Lloyd Smucker, attempted to overrule the majority of Pennsylvania’s voters to award the state’s electors to the losing candidate, Trump. They joined 141 other Republicans in the House and Senate and the majority of Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly — hoping to accomplish through parliamentary procedure what the insurrectionists who’d stormed the building had failed to do on Wednesday.
“Trump has incredible holds on a lot of people at the national level, especially Republicans who aspire to higher office. What he’s done ... is make the ante, the table stakes for being able to run in the 2024 Republican primary a blanket endorsement of all the crazy he’s putting out right now,” said Nils Gilman, a researcher at the Berggruen Institute, who co-ran the Transition Integrity Project, a study of the potential ways things could go wrong after the November election.
“But there are a lot of people across the country who are just not in step,” Gilman said. “If you’re a back-bencher in Harrisburg, do you really want this to be your legacy? Really?”
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, one of Trump’s most vocal defenders and a potential candidate for governor in 2022, attended the president’s rally in Washington on Wednesday morning that precipitated the riot. He also organized a bus trip to transport people from Chambersburg to Washington for the rally.
On Wednesday evening, Mastriano released a statement saying he and his wife left the capital when it became clear the mob was turning violent, and he condemned the attack.
“As a military veteran and retired colonel, I do not — nor would I ever — condone the violence we saw today. I join with all patriotic Americans in condemning what occurred in the Capitol,” Mastriano, R-Franklin, wrote.
Just over a month earlier, however, Mastriano riled up a crowd during a Nov. 25 hearing in Gettysburg he organized to spread unfounded conspiracy theories about the election, using some of the same heated rhetoric found on fringe message boards where Trump supporters have called for violence.
“Let’s not forget 2001, Todd Beamer, ‘Let’s roll,’ ” Mastriano said, invoking the name of the man who joined other passengers to storm the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11. Some on the far right have likened the November election to Flight 93’s doomed heroes, saying the country’s survival was at stake.
“You know what?” Mastriano continued, drawing cheers. “It’s our time to roll. This is our time.”
Later, he told the crowd, “the time for dithering and deliberation is over. It’s time for decisive action.”
‘Unfit to serve’
After Mastriano’s presence in D.C. on Wednesday was revealed — in part by a photo posted to social media by former state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth — Democrats called on Mastriano to resign.
“He is unfit to serve. His participation in yesterday’s insurrection and attempted coup on behalf of Donald Trump is disgraceful and places a permanent stain on the state Senate,” Sens. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, and Tim Keraney, D-Delaware, wrote Thursday.
They and 14 other Democratic senators asked Senate leaders to investigate any member’s “involvement in the insurrection.”
The Senate doesn’t have cause to take action against Mastriano, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said in a statement.
“One of our fundamental rights is that of peaceful assembly,” Corman’s statement says. “I talked with Senator Mastriano who shared with me that he and his wife attended the political rally in Washington, D.C., but left as the horrific turmoil began to unfold. He assured me that he did not participate in any unlawful activities. Absent facts to the contrary, the Senate has no cause to act.”
Mastriano did not respond to questions about his support for overturning the election results or his role in a political movement that crashed through the doors and windows of the U.S. Capitol.
Hughes and Kearney cited the Gettysburg hearing in their call for his resignation. Mastriano’s organization of the hearing elicited praise and a White House invitation from Trump, who has also flattered and complimented the rioters.
The hearing featured Trump campaign lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, who called a parade of witnesses who spread falsehoods about election fraud. Many of those falsehoods have become gospel among Trump’s most hardened supporters, creating a complete break with reality, said Seth Jones, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“You have people that are continuing down this road, but based on literally fabricated information. That, to me, is really disturbing,” Jones said in an interview last month.
And it could get worse.
“It’s troubling because this movement is existing in what’s essentially a parallel universe, divorced from fact,” Jones said, noting that, eventually, the reality of Trump’s defeat will set in. “When people then fully realize that the alternative universe that they were living in or are living in is not the real universe, my concern, at that point, is that people resort to violence.”
Convincing them otherwise requires those who’ve convinced them of false fraud claims to reverse course, Jones said.
“That needs to come from individuals in the Republican Party, in my view, just to push this away from legitimizing violence,” he said.
That could be a tough sell for people who’ve sometimes cast the rejection of Biden’s win in biblical terms.
“In Galatians 6:9 we’re told by Saint Paul, ‘Grow not weary doing good because in due time you’ll reap your harvest,’ ” Mastriano said at the Gettysburg hearing.
“We’re going to reap our harvest.”
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