Even as scores of President Trump’s usually unfailing loyalists condemned him for failing to call off the swarm of lawless demonstrators storming and ransacking the Capitol, many of his most vocal and visible defenders still could not bring themselves to fault the president for the surreal and frightening attack carried out in his name.
They played down the violence as acts of desperation by people who felt lied to by the media and ignored by their elected representatives. They deflected with false equivalencies about the Democratic Party’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some even tried to dispute the fact that Trump supporters were actually the true perpetrators, suggesting that far-left activists had infiltrated the crowd and were posing as fans of Mr. Trump.
“To any insincere, fake DC ‘patriots’ used as PLANTS — you will be found out,” wrote Sarah Palin, the Republican Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2008, who demanded that the media look into the identities of the people who smashed their way into the Capitol.
Responses like these — full of whataboutism, misdirection and denial — sounded almost like typical fare coming from stalwart defenders of a president who considers admitting fault to be a sign of weakness. That they persisted regardless of such an extraordinary and unsettling strike on the seat of American government is a sign of how premature it may be to conclude that Mr. Trump’s iron grip on his followers is at last loosening.
These were not isolated or trivial assertions from little-known people on the fringes of Mr. Trump’s movement. Rather, they came from some of his highest profile allies in conservative politics and media who helped enable his rise in the Republican Party and have aided him in his unrelenting assault on anyone who questions his actions.
Many Trump sympathizers were quick to try to shift the focus from the destructive scene in Washington and revive months-old stories about the fires and looting that accompanied some of the protests over police brutality and racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd in May.
On the floor of the House late Wednesday, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida blamed anti-Trump saboteurs “masquerading as Trump supporters” for the violence and said, “I’m sure glad that at least for one day I didn’t hear my Democrat colleagues calling to defund the police.” That earned him a round of applause from his Republican colleagues.
Jeremy W. Peters
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