I’d rather move to Novosibirsk than live under a President Liz Cheney. But she did her job.
I'm from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and lynching. I'm reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try to justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021.
These were some of the first words spoken on Thursday night at the first public hearing of the House Special Committee investigating the horrors of January 6, 2021. They came from Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi, a proud son of a place called Bolton, a town with 521 residents. On December 28, 1899, according to the Bamberg Herald of Bamberg, South Carolina:
Two negroes, named Jim Martin and Frank West, were lynched on the Baker's creek bridge, near Bolton, Miss., for the murder of an aged and highly respected citizen named Milton S. Haire and an attempted criminal assault on his niece, Miss Curran. The murder was one of the most cold-blooded in the criminal annals of the county.
Martin and West were killed without trial, two of the 500 lynchings that occurred in Mississippi between 1899 and 1948, which happened to be the year that Bennie Thompson was born. When he talks about the soured promises of Reconstruction and the deadweight of Jim Crow, Bennie Thompson knows this history the way he knows the twists and turns of the Bolton Brownsville Road that runs through his hometown. He continued:
The words of the current oath taken by all of us—that nearly every United States Government employee takes—have their roots in the Civil War. Throughout our history, the United States has fought against foreign enemies to preserve our democracy, electoral system, and country. When the United States Capitol was stormed and burned in 1814, foreign enemies were responsible. Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, congresspersons and U.S. Federal Government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies— foreign... and domestic.
That oath was put to the test on January 6th, 2021…But unlike in 1814, it was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed and occupied the Capitol... who sought to thwart the will of the people...to stop the transfer of power.
And they did so at the encouragement of the President of the United States.
At that moment, I was immensely grateful that someone like Bennie Thompson had been chosen to lead this committee. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to Rep. Liz Cheney in a moment.) To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Henry V, Bennie Thompson is but a congressman for the working day. His profile is low. He has no grand national ambitions. His ego seems to be fully out of the way of doing his job. In this, he reminds me of nobody more than Rep. Peter Rodino, who led the House Judiciary Committee through its proceedings in the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In his essential work on the Watergate summer, the late Jimmy Breslin told the story of how Majority Leader Tip O’Neill schmoozed a Nixon loyalist named Sonny Montgomery into at least letting Rodino and his committee look into the idea of impeachment.
“You know, Sonny, about this impeachment business going to the Judiciary Committee, don’t you think it would be a wonderful thing to give Peter Rodino a chance to get a little television exposure? Let people see what a great guy he is. After all these years of being on the bottom, nobody knowing him, wouldn’t it be nice to give him this little chance?”
“Sure,” Montgomery said. “Thing isn’t going any place so we might as well give Peter a little publicity.”
Another parallel between Rodino and Bennie Thompson can be found in one of the first decisions each of them made. Rodino chose for his committee counsel John Doar, an implacable and courageous attorney who had faced down shotguns during the civil-rights struggle in Alabama. Bennie Thompson chose Liz Cheney as his vice-chair and principal spokesperson. On Thursday night, we found out why.
vice chair liz cheney l stands as chairman bennie thompson adjourns the house select committee hearing to investigate the january 6th attack on the us capitol, in the cannon house office building on capitol hill in washington, dc on june 9, 2022 photo by alex brandon pool afp photo by alex brandonpoolafp via getty images
Thompson and Cheney took the reins.
ALEX BRANDONGetty Images
Look, Liz Cheney voted almost 93 percent of the time with the policies of the president* she arraigned on Thursday night for instigating a violent attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. And hell, I’d rather move to Novosibirsk than live under a President Liz Cheney. But watching her on Thursday night was to see a pure-bred product of the political lizard-brain out for blood.
She laid out the case in a lawyerly fashion. Count the number of times she began a sentence with either, “You will see…” or, “We will show…”, which are the twin katana blades of any decent prosecutor. Tell them what they’re going to see, and then show them. In addition, Cheney did a fine job of explaining what each public hearing will be devoted to demonstrating.
She dropped a legitimate bombshell when she said that the committee had evidence that “multiple Republicans” in the House sought pre-emptive pardons from El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, because that’s what innocent people do. (Committee members Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin both firmly declined to name names, but that can’t last forever. Tell them what they’re going to see, and then show it to them.) And she put together a knife-to-the-ribs conclusion.
"Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible: There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone but your dishonor will remain.”
A mark, that will surely leave.
But I keep coming back to Bennie Thompson, who ran a focused, disciplined hearing. After that ghastly, compelling video compilation of the unruly gang of tourists, Thompson called a recess. The hearing room was a study in silence and a study in shock. Even people who had lived through the assault, even the Capitol Police officers who were lucky to live through the assault, seemed stunned. The silence was a weighted blanket, and you could see people coming to the terrifying conclusion that, yes, had the mob gotten its hands on Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi, the mob would have beaten them to a pulp—if they were fortunate. I resisted believing this until Thursday night. I believe it fully now. One of the reasons my mind changed on this was because Thompson so firmly linked the events of January 6 to the history of American political violence that he learned from the old folks back in Bolton, Mississippi.
At one point in her chilling testimony, Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards described the scene around her as the mob overwhelmed the Capitol. They were not there to break windows and steal office signs. They were there to do violence to more than a building.
When I fell behind that line and I saw - I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene. It was like something I had seen in the Middle East. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up...I was slipping in people's blood.
So much of the history of this country has involved slipping on people’s blood. Bennie Thompson has known this his whole life. Anyone with eyes and ears knows it now.