On Jan. 6, a mob made up of mostly white nationalists, fascists and Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. They faced much less police opposition than even the most peaceful group of Black protesters might have, and stormed their way, many armed, into the building.
They brought the legislative session to a halt with their rampage and had lawmakers and their staff barricading themselves inside their offices.
Five people, including two white police officers, died.
After hours of mass panic, Trump called on his supporters — who he had encouraged to “fight like hell” in order to overturn the election in a speech that very morning — to “go home,” adding praise to that message: “We love you,” he told them. “You’re very special.”
The reason many of the men and women who forced their way into the Capitol gave for being there was to “stop the steal” — that is to say, they believed Joe Biden’s victory over Trump was the result of voter fraud, not a legitimate victory, and that they were there to “set things right.”
It’s true that some were there promoting more explicitly bigoted and violent agendas, as evidenced by the Confederate and Nazi symbols they wore or carried.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a report in October calling white supremacists “the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.” And there were certainly many known white supremacist figures in the pro-Trump mob.
But many members of the mob told reporters they were there to proclaim that the results of the election were inaccurate, and that Democrats had somehow stolen the vote.
Even during the insurrection itself, Trump repeated on Twitter his claims the election was “fraudulent,” reassuring those storming the building that they were right all along, even as he told them to go home.
These claims of voter fraud are not new, and as Republicans continue to form their platforms around spurious assertions such as these, they only aid the violent fascism that was on display at the Capitol building.
As Jamelle Bouie pointed out in this week’s New York Times, we had our own ‘stop the steal’ moment in good old Missouri in 2000. That year, the incumbent Republican Sen. Jay Ashcroft lost to a dead man, Mel Carnahan. Carnahan’s name remained on the ballot that Election Day, three weeks after he was killed in a plane crash. His wife ran, and won, in his stead.
At Ashcroft’s election-night party, the state’s senior Republican senator, Christopher “Kit” Bond, said, “Democrats in the city of St. Louis are trying to steal this election.” Then, for the next decade, Republican legislators and governors in this state have announced crackdown after crackdown on voter fraud.
But here’s the thing: even far-right think tank The Heritage Foundation has been able to find fewer than two dozen confirmed cases of voter fraud in the entire state in the past decade.
Two dozen invalid votes, out of well over 4 million registered voters. As far as even the data collected by the furthest right wing tells us, this is a miniscule problem if it is a problem at all.
So, when people like Missouri Gov. Mike Parson — who, this past summer, refused to expand mail-in voting and thereby put people in unnecessary danger of COVID exposure — say that they need to take drastic measures to address voter fraud, they are fighting a phantom problem.
And in putting on this fight-performance, they encourage a much more real and growing serious threat: that of white nationalism. Parson and his cohort provided a justification for racist, violent attacks like the one our nation’s capital experienced this month.
In encouraging the narrative that an imaginary group of conniving liberals is plotting to steal power, they create the conditions for members of their own voter base to go on a violent crusade all the way into the U.S. Senate chambers.
And some senators and Congress members were ready and willing to help.
When Missouri’s own Sen. Josh Hawley raised his fist in solidarity with the ‘stop the steal’ crowds on Jan. 6, he sent a message of solidarity with their sedition. He reinforced the message that, rather than being a justly won election, this was somehow fraud.
Hawley asserted that the good (white, Republican) people of America should rise up to protect their own power from imaginary fraudsters, and thereby put very real people in danger. And that’s exactly what they did.
Just as the justification behind the insurrection has a long history, it won’t just magically go away anytime in the near future unless we take action to stop it.
“Stop the steal” was around before Trump, and it will be around after.
In order to combat these ideas and misinformation — and the violence that those who carry these ideas now know they can enact with almost no repercussions — we must demand of those who govern us that they stop legislating around this imaginary problem and get to work on the many starkly real ones.
We agree with incoming President Joseph R. Biden’s words in his inauguration address:
“We face an attack on our democracy and on truth,” he said, adding, “we must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured … There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit.”