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Why it matters that some Republicans see Jan. 6 rioters as victims

We've arrived at a point in which our discourse is so toxic, GOP members of Congress are comfortable telling us not to believe our lying eyes about Jan. 6.

In the immediate aftermath of the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol, no prominent voices made any serious effort to defend or rationalize the violence. The left, right, and center could agree: participating in a riot inside the nation's seat of government is bad.

That consensus did not last.

A handful of fringe Republicans started pushing the ridiculous line in January that the pro-Trump attackers may have secretly been leftists trying to make the right look bad. This was preposterous but effective: a national Suffolk University/USA Today poll in late February found that 58% of Trump voters believed the assault was "mostly an antifa-inspired attack."

Around the same time, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) argued the armed rioters may not have actually been armed, adding soon after that the rioters' patriotism is worthy of praise. In March, Donald Trump, who played a key role in inciting the violence, got in on the game, insisting that the Capitol attackers posed "zero threat," and were merely "hugging and kissing the police and the guards."

Yesterday, as NBC News reported, the line from far-right Republicans about the events of Jan. 6 reached new depths.

Multiple Republican members of Congress on Wednesday offered a false retelling of the devastating events that occurred during the Capitol riot, with one calling the entire event a "bold faced lie" that more closely resembled a "normal tourist visit" than a deadly attack.

The setting was a House Oversight Committee hearing on the Jan. 6 riot, which some Republicans took as an opportunity to characterize rioters as victims.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), for example, rejected the idea that the insurrectionist violence constituted "an insurrection," adding that Trump's rabid mob behaved "in an orderly fashion." The Georgia Republican went on to say, "[I]f you didn't know that TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit."

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) blasted the Justice Department for "harassing" suspected rioters, whom he described as "peaceful patriots." Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) added, "It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others."

It was every bit as surreal as it sounds. For these far-right Republicans, now is the time to write an entirely new alternate history about the events of Jan. 6, with the villains recast as the heroes. The facts make pro-Trump forces look like dangerous criminals, so Clyde, Gosar, and their cohorts have decided to pretend their fiction is real.

Part of what makes this so extraordinary is the audacity. The world saw the riot on television. Trump's recent impeachment trial added additional documentary evidence that had not previously been released, and reinforced the severity of the assault on the United States.

But for these congressional Republicans, the fact that we're already familiar with reality creates no disincentive for spreading demonstrable nonsense.

We've arrived at a point in which our political discourse is so toxic, GOP members of Congress are entirely comfortable telling Americans not to believe their lying eyes. These elected officials fully expect to get away with brazenly lying about events -- not from generations past, but from four months ago -- confident that their allies will simply believe what they're told to believe.

"The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears," George Orwell wrote in 1984. "It was their final, most essential command."

But just as notable is the fact that for these Republican lawmakers, political violence is now defensible, if not laudable. They saw a mob attack the Capitol, in the hopes of attacking U.S. officials and disrupting the certification of the nation's elections, and these members' judgment leads them to believe the violence is worthy of public defense.

It is a dangerous assault on reality.