These are no ‘ordinary citizens’

They stormed through police barricades, these “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

They shattered windows and chanted death to the vice president, these “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

They smeared their own feces on the wall, these “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

Over the last 13 months, we’ve heard Republicans offer all sorts of rationalizations for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. We’ve heard the white nationalist thugs who perpetrated it called patriotic and good and likened to tourists. We’ve borne repeated insults to intelligence, memory and the service of police who defended against these gangsters as they tried to overthrow an American election.

But even that was scant preparation for the resolution the party adopted last week. It accused the Jan. 6th Select Committee — the one Democrats in the House impaneled after Republicans refused to support a full congressional probe — of “the persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Mind you, that “legitimate political discourse” gouged eyes and broke bones, erected a gallows and paraded a traitor’s flag through the people’s house.

The resolution’s larger purpose was to formally censure Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, which it described as people who “purport to be” Republicans. Their sin? To serve on the aforementioned committee. You’d think every American, regardless of political affiliation, would want to know all they could about what happened on Jan. 6th. You’d think every American would demand accountability.

You’d be mistaken. The GOP has other priorities.

Keep in mind that on the national level, Republicans are losers. Only once in 30 years has the party won the popular vote on the way to the presidency. Small wonder. The GOP stands on the wrong side of every important social and demographic trend re-shaping this country.

They could choose to confront that challenge by strategizing ways to appeal to the rising new electorate. Or, they could do what they’ve been doing: work overtime to energize their old electorate. Scare them half to death by telling them how they’re being victimized by “critical race theory,” “cancel culture,” “radical wokeism” and every other piece of scary-sounding jargon they can manufacture or inflate. Embrace a strategy of sophistry and gaslights, suppress votes, push the Big Lie and the bigger contempt for democratic norms.

Last week’s resolution was right out of that playbook. But even at that, the statement was chilling.

Not because it provided fresh, albeit superfluous, evidence of Republican estrangement from objective reality, but because it implicitly endorsed political violence, even normalized it. And while Donald Trump does that on a regular basis, one is hard-pressed to recall when it has ever been stated in print by the party’s administrative leadership.

The distinction matters. It makes this moment feel like a Rubicon decisively crossed and renewed political violence more likely than not.

“We’re gonna drag motherf—–s through the streets,” declares one man on a Jan. 6 video newly released by the Justice Department. “Cut their head off!” he cries, this “ordinary citizen engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

Imagine what he’d say if he was a violent insurrectionist out to burn the country down.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.