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Why Trump became the latest Republican to defend Jan. 6 rioters

The pro-rioters contingent in American politics tends to be quite small, and yet, there was Trump last night, defending the Jan. 6 attackers.
Image: Supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol's Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021
Supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol's Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images file

As a rule, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has taken the lead among Republicans in defending the insurrectionist rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The Wisconsin senator, apparently indifferent to factual details, has peddled a variety of ridiculous claims, including alleging that the mob was secretly made up of "fake Trump protesters," praising the rioters patriotism, and arguing the armed insurrectionists may not have actually been armed.

But as it turns out, Johnson isn't alone in pitching the maybe-the-rioters-weren't-that-bad argument. The Associated Press reported overnight:

Former President Donald Trump on Thursday defended some of his supporters who rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, saying they posed "zero threat" to the lawmakers who had assembled there to certify the Electoral College vote that confirmed Joe Biden's victory in the presidential race.

The Republican conceded that his insurrectionist supporters "went in [to the Capitol] and they shouldn't have done it." But Trump did not leave it at that.

"It was zero threat. Right from the start, it was zero threat," Trump told Fox News' Laura Ingraham. He added the rioters were merely "hugging and kissing the police and the guards."

The former president went on to complain that law enforcement has been "persecuting" the Capitol rioters.

Even by Trump standards, such rhetoric represents true madness. At issue is a violent mob -- dispatched by Trump himself -- that launched the most serious attack against our Capitol in two centuries. Several Americans died, including a Capitol Police officer, and dozens of other law-enforcement officials were injured during the riot.

The former president may like the idea that the attackers were "hugging and kissing the police," but the video of the assault against Officer Brian Sicknick lays waste to such ugly nonsense.

As for the idea that the rioters posed "no threat," the Washington Post recently reported that the pro-Trump mob "battered police with a multitude of weapons: metal flagpoles, baseball bats, wrenches and clubs." The article added, "In court filings, officials have said that guns, bombs, stun guns and other weapons were seized from rioters, the Associated Press reported. Fourteen people face charges related to bringing weapons to the riots, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including an Alabama man who allegedly had an arsenal in his truck and a Maryland man who police say stormed the Capitol with a gun, multiple magazines and a bulletproof vest."

One wonders if Trump's former vice president agrees that the rioters posed "no threat," as they chanted, "Hang Mike Pence" and Secret Service agents scrambled to move him to safety.

As for why the former president is pushing such ridiculous rhetoric -- the pro-rioters contingent in American politics tends to be quite small -- it's likely that Trump has again concocted an alternate reality that he prefers to our own.

But I'm also reminded that the former president is reportedly concerned about the prospects of being held criminally liable for his role in inciting the violent attack.

Maybe Trump insists the mob posed "zero threat" because he thinks such nonsense might be part of an effective legal defense?