A pro-Trump mob breaks into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. while Congress held a joint session to ratify Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over then-President Donald Trump. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
On the third anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, some Republican activists in Kentucky rallied support for those who stormed Congress and asserted that information about the violence of Jan. 6, 2021 is being withheld from the public.
The Republican Party of Kentucky’s central committee narrowly approved a resolution to that effect on Saturday at a sparsely attended meeting.
“I would say the Republican Party is a little split,” said Bobbie Coleman, the chair of the Hardin County Republican Party, who introduced the resolution, as the Lexington Herald-Leader first reported.
The party committee voted by secret ballot, Coleman told the Lantern on Monday, adding that not every committee member at the meeting cast a ballot. The resolution passed 34-32.
Republican legislative and party leaders had little to say on Monday about their fellow Republicans’ claims that Jan. 6 protesters are being detained unconstitutionally and denied due process. Protesters who stormed the Capitol were attempting to block certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president.
No action in legislature
The resolution defending the rioters also was introduced Friday in the Kentucky Senate. The Senate took no action on it Monday other than assigning it to a committee. Senate President Robert Stivers said he left the Saturday central committee meeting before the resolution was considered and hasn’t “looked at it.”
House Speaker David Osborne said he did not attend the party meeting Saturday or hear the debate but that he’s “heard lots about it.” Osborne declined to say how he would have voted at the party meeting but said “it will not be our intent” to call the resolution in the House.
Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman Sean Southard has had nothing to say about the resolution. Attempts by the Lantern to reach the recently-elected chair of the party, Robert Benvenuti, were not successful.
Kentucky Democrats did not shy from denouncing the resolutions and calling on Republicans to condemn those defending the rioters.
John Yarmuth, the former Democratic congressman representing Louisville who was in the U.S. Capitol during the riot, said “virtually everybody” among the rioters committed a crime that day, regardless of the severity.
“If you defecate in the halls of Congress, you may not have acted violently, but you acted criminally,” Yarmuth said.
He said he considers the resolutions, along with former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the riot, to be a part of broader efforts to rewrite the history of the riot as a peaceful protest when it was “a violent insurrection aimed at disrupting our democracy.”
“People are going to believe what they want to believe,” Yarmuth said. “Most American people saw what happened that day and they saw it with their own eyes.”
The Kentucky Democratic Party chair Colman Elridge lambasted the resolution as “doubling down on hate, division, and even political violence.”
“Kentucky Republicans, especially elected officials and candidates, should condemn this appalling and unpatriotic resolution and stand up to extremism, violence and the insurrectionists that have taken over their party,” Elridge said in his statement.
‘It’s out there, and our media is not being honest’
Speaking to the Lantern, Coleman, the Hardin County GOP chair, claimed that “at least 200 FBI agents” infiltrated the Jan. 6, 2021 protest of Biden’s election. A quarter of Americans and a third of Republicans think the FBI helped orchestrate the riot, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll recently found. There is no evidence of FBI involvement in inciting the attackers.
Coleman cited riot coverage she has seen in the Epoch Times, a far-right media company associated with the Falun Gong religious movement that has promoted conspiracy theories including misinformation on vaccines, QAnon, and false claims of election fraud during the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s out there, and our media is not being honest,” Coleman said of the claim of the FBI’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attack.
Coleman said the resolution she introduced at the party meeting “is not supporting the actions of what happened on Jan. 6” but instead claiming that constitutional rights are being denied those charged in the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The defense of the rioters echoes former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. Trump has said the rioters acted “peacefully and patriotically,” comparing those charged in the breach to “hostages.”
Most defendants released on pretrial bond
State Sen. Lindsey Tichenor of Oldham County introduced the resolution in the state Senate on Friday, the day before the third anniversary.
It claims some defendants indicted for breaching the Capitol, including many Kentuckians, have been “unconstitutionally held without the right to due process” and the right to a speedy trial by a jury. The resolution describes rioters that day as innocent “protestors” who are “wrongfully accused or detained as prisoners.”
The two-page resolution also claims information has been withheld from the public regarding the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
Tichenor said she believes the majority of people who entered the Capitol did not have “mal-intent,” though she added there could have been people there to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election.
“If they have their due process rights in place, those are going to — those truths are going to come out,” she said.
In Congress, there’s been a growing partisan rift between lawmakers over what happened, with some Republicans seeking to discredit a previous investigation by Democrats into the riot. That investigation found that Trump was involved in a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and failed to stop supporters from attacking the capitol. Trump currently faces federal charges for allegedly working to overturn the results of the 2020 election leading up to the riot.
Twenty-three people have been arrested in Kentucky in cases involving the Capitol breach, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). with charges ranging from assaulting law enforcement — one Kentuckian is accused of dragging a police officer down steps into rioters where the officer was beaten — to violent entry and disorderly conduct in the Capitol building.
More than 1,200 people have been charged in connection with the riot, according to the Associated Press. Of those charged, about 730 people have pleaded guilty while about another 170 have been convicted on at least one charge in trial by a judge or jury. Two defendants have been acquitted on all charges by a judge. The large majority of defendants in the months after the riot were released on pretrial bond.
The U.S. Justice Department says the prosecutions are moving forward “at an unprecedented speed and scale.”
Attack on the ‘very foundation of American democracy’
Tom Tye, the chair of the Boyle County Republican Party, was one of the state party committee members who voted against the resolution. He said he didn’t believe the central committee was the appropriate place for such a resolution to be considered.
“I really think there’s no excuse for breaching the perimeter of the Capitol,” Tye said. “I don’t think that’s an issue that needs to come out of the Republican Party of Kentucky. It’s a national issue.”
He said the state party’s primary role is to encourage and help Republican candidates for elected office, not to take “a political position.” But he did agree that “due process has not been extended” to Jan. 6 riot defendants based on “what I’ve read and what I’ve been led to believe.”
Joshua A. Douglas, a University of Kentucky law professor and expert on election law, said Republican attempts to rewrite the Jan. 6 history, especially during a presidential election, threaten democracy.
“We all watched in horror on Jan. 6, 2021, as a segment of Trump supporters sought to undermine American democracy, refusing to accept a peaceful transfer of power. It’s extremely concerning that, in an election year, some individuals are trying to rewrite that history,” Douglas said.
“Make no mistake: this is another example of an attempt to attack the very foundation of American democracy.
“I remain optimistic about American democracy as we begin a presidential election year — but my optimism requires people to speak up. People from all sides and all political parties should denounce this current attempt to minimize the serious violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol that day.”
McKenna Horsley and Jamie Lucke contributed to this report.
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