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How the narrative of the Jan. 6 insurrection has changed in the last year

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It has been a year since...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Multiple counts of entry. Multiple counts of entry.

KELLY: ...January 6, 2021, Washington, D.C...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The assault got up here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.

KELLY: ...The day of a deadly attack on the Capitol after a speech by President Trump to a large crowd. For many who participated in the violence, it was a patriotic act, protesting what they had been told was a stolen election. But as arrests continue and jail sentences begin, how have the consequences reshaped that narrative? NPR's Tom Bowman and Lauren Hodges were there on January 6 and have this report.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: I was standing with thousands of Trump supporters on the lawn rising up to the Washington Monument. Trump came on stage to raucous applause.

(APPLAUSE)

BOWMAN: He claimed election fraud...

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DONALD TRUMP: We're leading Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia by hundreds of thousands of votes. And then late in the evening or early in the morning.

BOWMAN: ...Attacked the media...

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TRUMP: Boom - these explosions of bull****. And all of a sudden...

BOWMAN: ...And vowed to go to Capitol Hill.

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TRUMP: We're going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. I love Pennsylvania Avenue. And we're going to the Capitol.

BOWMAN: Walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, there was almost a festive air. But then I got a call from my colleagues Hannah Allam and Lauren Hodges, who were up on Capitol Hill. They saw something far different.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yeah, it's getting pretty bad.

LAUREN HODGES, BYLINE: Hannah and I had kind of embedded with this group of the Proud Boys who were just starting to make their way down to the White House rally. And then suddenly, they stopped in the street and began to turn around to go back to the Capitol. They must have heard Trump was coming or at least sent a crowd our way. We looked down Pennsylvania Avenue and saw a huge stream of people, thousands coming toward us. It happened really fast. All of a sudden, Hannah and I were just surrounded by this crowd that kept getting tighter and tighter.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: They've pushed past the barriers. They're now going up the steps of the Capitol. It's absolute pandemonium as far back as the eye can see.

BOWMAN: They were looking for any way in, and eventually, they succeeded.

HODGES: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it. Get it. They're in. They're into the Capitol.

We asked one of them what they were trying to accomplish.

So what do you hope comes of all of this?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: The people in this house who stole this election from us hanging from a gallow out here in this lawn for the whole world to see so it never happens again. That's what needs to happen - four by four by four hanging from a rope out here from trees.

BOWMAN: You guys get in on the other side?

NATALIE O'BRIEN: Yeah, we got in the other side. They're in the tunnels right now.

BOWMAN: Who is?

O'BRIEN: Our friends.

BOWMAN: On the other side of the Capitol, I met Natalie O'Brien and Chris Scalcucci of Detroit.

O'BRIEN: People are taking their flagpoles and other things and were busting in the window and the other door.

BOWMAN: How many people would you say got in the building?

O'BRIEN: Oh, God, hundreds. I don't know. Yep.

BOWMAN: What brought you here?

O'BRIEN: The Republic falling and becoming corrupt and unmanageable and our vote not mattering at all whatsoever.

CHRIS SCALCUCCI: Because we love our country.

O'BRIEN: Yeah.

SCALCUCCI: We don't want to see it fall in the hands of these evil people. The stuff that they do - it's unforgivable.

BOWMAN: But what do you think of what's going on right now?

O'BRIEN: I think it's more a statement than anything. I think we - our tax dollars pay for this monument, you know? This is kind of our property.

BOWMAN: (Unintelligible).

O'BRIEN: We have no other recourse. Yeah. We have no other recourse.

BOWMAN: So where do you take it from here?

SCALCUCCI: We don't know.

O'BRIEN: We keep coming.

SCALCUCCI: We keep fighting.

O'BRIEN: We keep coming.

HODGES: Last month news broke that Mark Meadows, Trump's then-chief of staff, texted with Fox News hosts on January 6. They were asking Trump to call off the riot. But later that same day, this was the story on Fox News.

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LAURA INGRAHAM: Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd. We'll have more on that later.

HODGES: And that narrative spread.

BOWMAN: Lauren and I went back to the Capitol grounds in September for the Justice for J6 rally. A lot of the people we spoke with had been there on the 6, and yet they had a new story.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: And those weren't Trump supporters.

BOWMAN: Who were they?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: They were all wearing - I don't know. I didn't ask them their names. But they were blacked out in gear.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: So they were black helmets, black clothes, black backpacks who started bursting the windows first. There were some Trump supporters trying to fight them off. But initially, what I saw was what looked like either BLM or antifa.

HODGES: Former President Trump has repeated that narrative that his supporters didn't instigate the violence. Here he is talking to Candace Owens on December 21.

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TRUMP: You have BLM, and you had antifa people. I have very little doubt about that. And they were antagonizing, and they were agitating.

BOWMAN: But, of course, the whole point of the Justice for J6 rally was to protest the treatment of those in custody and awaiting their trials for what they did that day. We knew who was there.

HODGES: So far, more than 700 people have been charged. The defendants are largely white, and 13% of them have ties to the military or law enforcement. Over 100 of them have alleged ties to known extremist or fringe organizations such as the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters, a part of the anti-government militia movement. But the bulk had no ties to extremist groups. Tampa Bay attorney Bjorn Brunvand represents several people who were at the Capitol that day, including Robert Scott Palmer, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting law enforcement officers with a fire extinguisher, a wood plank and a flagpole. His is the longest term yet.

BJORN BRUNVAND: He believed in the lies that were being professed from President Trump and his accomplices.

HODGES: Brunvand says the time in jail has been eye-opening for his client.

BRUNVAND: This is 100% support for President Trump and the idea that the election was fraudulent at the beginning to a recognition after he's been incarcerated that he was misled. He's sitting in a detention facility here in Washington D.C., and this big powerful former president, you know, who said meet me at the Capitol, he's too busy playing golf and has no interest in any of the guys that have been arrested.

HODGES: He says Palmer took President Trump's words that day as a directive, that he was doing this for him. And now he feels abandoned.

BRUNVAND: Not only did he not show up - he's not there for anyone at this point who were there and supposedly were there to save democracy and save the country, when in fact they were most likely doing quite the opposite.

HODGES: But the idea of January 6 did not die with the day. The University of Chicago project on security and threats has been tracking insurrectionist sentiment in the U.S. for a year now. It found that 21 million share the same beliefs that motivated rioters that day. In other words, millions of Americans support the idea of political violence. Researchers call it an American insurrectionist movement - one that a year after the attack on the Capitol is still alive and well.

Lauren Hodges.

BOWMAN: Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.