The Sickness Behind Calling the January 6 Criminals “Hostages”

The Sickness Behind Calling the January 6 Criminals “Hostages”

The Sickness Behind Calling the January 6 Criminals “Hostages”

Trump has made defending the thugs who stormed the Capitol a central plank of the GOP platform.


Disgraced former president Donald Trump, facing 91 felony charges, has long been calling the people arrested and convicted for violence during the January 6 insurrection “hostages,” and promising to pardon them if he gets reelected in November. But on Sunday, former centrist turned craven Trumper Representative Elise Stefanik of New York adopted the term too.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host Kristen Welker played a clip of Stefanik on January 6, 2021 saying the violent rioters were “anti-American and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Welker noted that Trump calls those who have been prosecuted “hostages,” and asked Stefanik if she still thought those involved “should be held responsible to the full extent of the law?”

This time, Stefanik lined up with Trump. “I have concerns about the treatment of January 6th hostages.” Unbelievably, or not, Welker didn’t challenge her on the use of that charged term.

Just a few weeks ago, recall, Stefanik was a hero to many, including some liberals, for her defense of Israel in the wake of the October 7 Hamas massacre, and her showboating on the issue of antisemitism on college campuses (which helped oust the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard from their posts). I had to wonder: Why did those rightly concerned about the Israelis and Americans who are literally hostages in Gaza not excoriate Stefanik for using the same word to describe the violent mob who tried to overturn our democracy?

Right on time, Representative Jamie Raskin did exactly that, writing on various social media sites:

People convicted of violently assaulting police officers and conspiring to overthrow the government are not “hostages”’ Stefanik must apologize to the families of 130 people being held hostage by Hamas right now. Her pandering to Trump is dangerous.

I’ve yet to see anything from the liberal leaders who praised Stefanik’s pretend crusade against antisemitism; maybe I’ve missed it.

Stefanik put on an excellent show—which is unsurprising, given that she’s running to be Trump’s running mate. She came out of the gate calling NBC “biased” and spewed lies faster than Welker could correct them. The politician actually turned the tables on the journalist, “fact-checking” Welker’s factual assertions with her own twisted rebuttals. To be fair, Welker challenged some of Stefanik’s false claims regarding the 2020 election results and the Justice Department supposedly ignoring wrongdoing by the twice-indicted Hunter Biden, but she let the “hostage” abomination stand.

Stefanik also refused to say the House would certify the results of the 2024 election, saying it would do so only “if this is a legal and valid election,” insisting 2020 was not. Welker did try to follow up, but Stefanik steamrolled her. It was a shit show.

Marcy Wheeler, of Emptywheel, laid out how Stefanik’s entire MTP appearance was designed for an audience of one: Donald Trump. It’s not just that she wants to be his running mate; it’s that she understands that he sets the GOP agenda now, and so she had to hit all of the hot button topics—“biased” media, election “integrity,” the “Biden crime family,” Democrats trying to keep Trump off the ballot, the “weaponization” of law enforcement against Trump, Tish James and more Tish James. I wrote on Friday that January 6 was a “rolling insurrection” that continues today; Wheeler notes correctly that’s because of spineless Republicans like Stefanik—most congressional Republicans, to be honest—who have gone from rightly condemning the violence at the Capitol to defending those who perpetrated it.

Speaking of spineless, former vice president Mike Pence told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday that January 6 was a “riot,” not an “insurrection.” Excuse me? What was the goal of the riot, Mike? Why were they chanting “Hang Mike Pence”? Why did they build gallows?

And why did one of the insurrectionists, through a bullhorn, read to the murderous crowd Trump’s tweet attacking you, Mike, for not having “the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution”?

Pence’s weaselly words came the same day ABC revealed more details about Trump’s indifference to the threats to his vice president’s safety, uncovered in special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation. A Trump aide told Smith’s investigators that when he warned the president that Pence had been moved to a secure location, Trump replied, “So what?” (In fact, he followed up with that inflammatory tweet about Pence’s lack of “courage.”) When aides told Trump that his tweet attacking Pence was “not what we need,” the serial lawbreaker replied, “But it’s true.”

Former Trump loyalist Dan Scavino told the special counsel that Trump “was just not interested” in doing more to stop the threats to Pence or to lawmakers of both parties.

Maybe the saddest thing about Pence’s comments to Tapper is that his political career is almost certainly over, since his presidential run garnered single-digit support and he dropped out surprisingly early, in October 2023. The Republican base believed Trump and turned on Pence as a traitor for refusing to reject the 2020 election results. You might think he’d now join former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a former Trump supporter who’s now the only GOP primary candidate to attack Trump’s lawlessness, in telling the truth about his former partner. But you would be wrong.

Now Stefanik is running for the job Pence once held: to be Trump’s toady, to gaze at him loyally, to endorse his delusions and his crimes against democracy. What’s especially sad is Stefanik was once seen as an up and coming GOP moderate, but she saw where the party was headed and she cast her lot with Trump. She’s certainly not alone, but she’s one of the most appalling. I hope she gets what she wants, and that the voters send them both home in November. And then a jury in one of the four felony cases against Trump sends him to a prison cell.

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