And so it came to pass that on the sixth of January, 2023, two years after the demonstration/riot/failed coup that caused millions of dollars in property damage, six deaths and countless injuries on Capitol Hill, hundreds of thousands of copies of six books, all of them titled “January 6 Report,” began to flood bookstores and delivery trucks around the world.
“The world” now is very different from “the world” on which “bombshell” books based on Washington hearings landed previously: Pearl Harbor, Organized Crime, Watergate, 9/11, Iran-Contra and the Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas hearings, among others.
The major difference being that you no longer have to have a physical copy of books that were rushed into print about those historic events. You can now read book length versions on a screen. And, while the books each cost around $25 each to buy, the virtual texts are free, if you have a reliable internet connection.
The other main difference is that in the January 6 tomes, only a total of 27 pages, out of 734 in the Celadon/Macmillan edition, are original. The other 707 pages are public property. This compares to the first similar event, the 1951 Kefauver “Committee to Investigate Organized Crime” book, where transcripts totalled 11,000 pages. I brought home with me from Washington, where I anchored radio broadcasts of the Iran-Contra hearings, at least twenty books whose total pages I never counted.
But as unwary purchasers of the five “January 6 Report” books now being published will quickly discover, the current shorter books are nevertheless no more accessible than their historical predecessors.
For “January 6,” there are nine prose sections written by Committee staff. These comprise barely 200 pages. Most of what’s in them has been preceded by a 255 page “Executive Summary.” The other three-quarters of these heavy tomes are footnotes and citations. In other words, a waste of paper, and your money, if you buy what you think is a readable book.
The other major problem with the “Final Report” is that it’s dull. Such spark as came in the televised hearings is missing. Print is never as dramatic as live presentations, of course. And these particular visual presentations were assembled from both live witnesses and edited tapes by a television executive with decades of doing such work for major networks. Nevertheless, the hearings lacked “setting, character, and plot,” says Harvard Professor and New Yorker critic Jill Lepore (“The American Beast,” New Yorker, January 26, 2023). For example, “there is very little suffering” in the book length report, Lepore notes. And not much in those professionally, and expensively, produced televised sessions.
But there was, in fact much suffering on January 6th. In the Capitol building, people were slipping in blood, howling in rage and pain. People desperately trying to reach their families or their offices shouted and sobbed into poorly functioning cell phones that had never been adapted to work in the thick walls and twisting corridors that had often been remodeled. Terrified members of Congress and their staffs, and poorly prepared and commanded police, suffered through what many felt were the last moments of their lives.
No matter how much or how little you may choose to read in the January 6 report books, or how much or how little you may have chosen to watch the thirty hours of live televised hearings, you’ll probably have come away with the feeling that the whole sick, sordid, violent mess was the fault of one man, Donald Trump.
The idea on the part of the Committee’s guiding mentalities, Congress members Bennie Thompson, Adam Schiff, Liz Cheney and Zoe Lofgren, was that Trump was responsible and guilty for what went on. And that if that idea was hammered home enough, he would forevermore remain an ex-President, with no hope of regaining his previous, or any other, post, in government.
But it would be premature, and foolish, to conclude that such an end has been assured. Trump went into the hearings with a 42% national approval rate. As they ended with a burst of attention to the report’s publication, he was at just under 40%. An insignificant decline. And one which leaves the always establishment media, led by the New York Times, writing oceans of babble about how Trump’s fiefdom, the Republican Party, can be restructured and reformed into a ”responsible” government entity. Something that would seem to be impossible to be accomplished when more than half the Republican elected officials, in Washington and statehouses, believe, without evidence that, as Trump continues to state, the last elections were “stolen.”
It is often remarked that political fortunes can change quickly. And that popular based movements can develop rapidly as well. So probably one should evaluate “The January 6 Committee Report” on its predictive implications, rather than its well documented, if narrowly focused, analyses.
Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Rochester N.Y. and Charlottesville are among the many U.S. cities where groups which came together to storm the Capitol on January 6 had been active. Their members are among the 900 people already convicted of various crimes in connection with January 6. But they also continue to have loosely organized and sporadically inter-communicative presences, thanks to cynical unregulated opportunists with supposedly “liberating” virtual communications operations like Elon Musk and Marc Zuckerberg.
People in these groups live in communities with police and sheriffs departments, district attorneys, city attorneys, and F.B.I. offices. But you will search in vain in the “January 6 Committee Report” for any evidence that prior to that date coordinated communication was done or is now recommended to be done among these law enforcement offices to monitor people who may be arming themselves, circulating false information, maintaining secret funding accounts and threatening and harassing elected officials, from school boards and city councils to state legislators.
Not until page 500 of the “January 6 Committee Report’s 724 pages do we encounter significant focus on much other than President Trump and his minions. The report picks up the story of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and Q Anon when there were already thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of people influenced by them and smaller groups. A grand total of five pages (with 25 pages of footnotes) is devoted to the background, ideology, and previous activities of violence-prone groups. Most importantly the interaction of such groups with law enforcement, the military, and churches is entirely absent. The equivalent would have been to conduct the Watergate Hearings without discussing Republicans. Or the events of 9/11 without reference to Middle East governments. Or the Iran-Contra scandal without analysis of the Reagan White House.
This is not a call for “unleashing” law enforcement. History has shown that when restraints, minimal as they usually are, disappear or are weakened, the oppressed are further oppressed. And the greedy benefit further from the pain of the needy. (Think Native Americans and African-Americans as prime examples.)
Can one nevertheless have hope, if not faith, that those in a position to do so will now take January 6, 2021, as a big, flashing warning sign?
Larry Bensky can be reached at LBensky@igc.org