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Lest we forget: 100 days and counting since the insurrection

It has been just over 100 days since we watched in suspended disbelief as countless Americans marched from the Washington Ellipse to the nation’s Capitol, where Congress was meeting to approve the state by state certified results of the 2020 election of Joe Biden as president.

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It was a breathtaking, surreal moment as incited men and women turned rioters fought pitched battles with the ill-prepared Capitol Police. Their objective was to gain access to both chambers of the building and offices, intent on overturning the will of the people, which, on that infamous day, Jan. 6, hung in the balance.

Our screens were filled with stark images of relentless insurrectionists searching rooms and corridors for lawmakers … to do what? They rubbed feces and urine on the walls. They defiled statues, and rifled through desks, their arrogance palpable. They had erected a gallows at the foot of the Capitol steps, and chants of “Hang Mike Pence” echoed from the surging crowds.

Who were these people? This mob? Were they Big Lie/Stop the Steal shock troops sent by 45 (and encouraged by Republican members of Congress), a man desperate to hold onto power at any cost? Had these self-identified “patriots,” denizens of small towns and large, inexplicably morphed into domestic terrorists or white supremacists, fully prepared to abandon democracy and embrace fascism?

In any case, what took place on that day cannot be allowed to drift into the fog of diminished memory. Rather, this is the moment when a thorough, unsparing investigation of Jan. 6, in all its permutations, must be carried out.

There is much to learn. As a nation we should demand an apolitical Warren/9-ll/1-6 Commission be created, a cohort of our best and brightest, independent from Congress.

Ultimately, the purpose of a 1-6 Commission would be to conduct an unrelenting fact-based search for truth, and would serve as an unequivocal response to those Republicans who are already re-writing the history of that day, shamelessly selling an agitprop fantasy. In the words of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who insists that he saw only law-abiding citizens and knows that “these people love this country, that truly respect law enforcement (some 140 Capitol Police were injured), and would never do anything to break the law …” He went on to say, with startling aplomb, that he would have been concerned had the invaders been Black Lives Matter or Antifa protesters.

Such mass delusion by a political party makes the creation of a well-funded Jan. 6 Commission all the more essential, one carried out by independent investigators with subpoena power to access documents and call witnesses. It should comprise political and social scientists who study the rise and fall of democracies, historical scholars, experts in cyber security and counterterrorism, and a robust staff of researchers. The resulting white paper would be an authoritative narrative regarding not only what happened and who was involved, but why.

Such an inquiry must be a deep dive into causation, as well as pre-planning, disinformation, sources of funding, and the role played by social media. And it should include an in-depth analysis of the growing threat of violent, right-wing extremism and white supremacy in America.

The work of such a commission is no small thing, and its purpose and final outcome would be to comprehensively deepen the public’s understanding of what was and is at stake for our democracy.

If the formation of a Jan. 6 Commission becomes bogged down in partisan haggling, then President Biden should step forward, and, using the power of the executive branch, set the investigation in motion. The worst outcome would be that the events of that day drop down a G.O.P. rabbit hole and we fail to learn the essential lessons and truths that such a comprehensive investigation can teach us regarding the viability and health of our democracy.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.