I've not written earlier about new congressman Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia's 9th Congressional District.
As a resident of Jackson County, he is hyper-local, one of the very few people from the county to serve in Congress. (Jackson County native Hiram P. Bell served as 9th District Congressman in the late 1800s, but he had moved to Cumming to practice law and no longer lived in Jackson County during his tenure.)
As a new member of Congress, I wanted to give Rep. Clyde time to find his footing before discussing his politics or policies. New public officials generally deserve some time to get a grip on their new position before being put under a public microscope.
But Rep. Clyde's comments during a recent Congressional hearing cannot be ignored.
Nor should they.
During a recent hearing about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Clyde, a Republican, declared that the attack was not an "insurrection," saying that is a "boldfaced lie."
Even more eye-popping, Clyde compared some of the rioters to "normal tourists" at the Capitol.
Here's what he said: “Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos, pictures. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”
Not surprisingly, Clyde's comments created a firestorm of controversy. Democrats pounced quickly and even some of his fellow Republicans condemned his comments.
Political comedians like Steven Colbert gave Clyde a pretty good punch on their talk shows. Clyde quickly became a meme, a joke, an example of what critics claim is wrong with the Republican Party.
For his part, Clyde claimed that his comments were "taken out of context."
In one statement, he said: "My recent comments in a serious Oversight hearing investigation pertaining to a single isolated video have been continually and outrageously misconstrued by a dishonest media looking to characterize 75 million conservative voters as domestic terrorists."
So it's the media's fault.
Yeah, right. You don't like the message, blame the messenger.
Here's the truth: It was Clyde, not the media, who took things out of context about Jan. 6.
His comments about TV footage showing people walking peacefully through the Capitol on Jan. 6 has a kernel of truth. There were some people there that day who got caught up in the mob mentality, went into the Capitol and didn't hurt anyone or destroy any property.
But for Clyde to just focus on that narrow aspect of a much larger event is him taking events out of context. He conveniently chose to ignore the TV footage that showed rioters using crowbars to violently break into the Capitol.
Were they "tourists" too?
Some 140 Capitol officers were injured that day. One rioter was shot and killed. Clyde himself helped block the door to the House as rioters battered and chanted outside the chamber. The Senate chamber was breached by rioters.
No, the media didn't distort Clyde's comments or take them out of context. Clyde is the one who distorted events by attempting to downplay what really happened.
As for Clyde's comments that the riot really wasn't an "insurrection," well, he's wrong.
Clyde pulled out two dictionaries to define "insurrection" and said the riot at the Capitol didn't fit that term.
But it does. Reading comprehension must not have been Clyde's strong suit in school.
An insurrection is a violent uprising against a government.
That's what happened on Jan. 6.
A mob of Trump supporters, some of whom were violent, broke into the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the Nov. 3 election that Trump lost. Their goal was to disrupt, perhaps stop, that process in an effort to overturn the election's results.
That clearly fits the definition of "insurrection."
Clyde's Orwellian attempt to redefine the word is shameful.
All of this is part and parcel to a movement by some Republicans, including Clyde, to rewrite history by downplaying the seriousness of what happened on Jan. 6.
He was joined in that effort by neighboring 10th District Congressman Rep. Jody Hice. Hice also downplayed the events of Jan. 6 by focusing on the riots following the George Floyd incident last year and by saying the events of Jan. 6 needed a "a thoughtful and nuanced examination."
What does that mean?
Clyde also used the word "nuanced" in defending his comments: "...we must occasionally address uncomfortable, nuanced details..."
A mob violently attacked the U.S. Capitol as the nation watched on television — we all saw it — there was nothing "nuanced" about it.
Here's a thought experiment: What if instead of Republican Trump supporters, it had been a mob of Black Lives Matter protestors who breeched the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of a U.S. Election. What would Clyde and Hice be saying about that?
We all know the answer: Both congressmen would be calling for a full investigation. They would be screaming about the need for law and order and there would not be anything "nuanced" about their rhetoric.
If a group of Black men and women had rioted and violently broken into the Capitol carrying BLM flags, Clyde and Hice would be foaming at the mouth.
But since it was just a bunch of white men and women carrying Trump flags, well, they're just "tourists" in Clyde's view.
Which is to say, Clyde's comments were nothing more than political pandering.
He's just playing to his mostly white, conservative district, trying to curry favor for re-election by tacitly embracing the lie that led to the insurrection.
It was the Big Lie fostered by Trump that motivated the mob to come to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 — the lie being that the Nov. 3 election had been "stolen" by Democrats.
A lot of people in Clyde's district still believe that lie, although it's false and isn't supported by a shred of evidence.
By downplaying the insurrection, Clyde is giving sustenances to the Big Lie, cultivating it as political talking point for his own future.
I've lived through a lot of national tragedies during my life: The assassination of JFK, the upheaval and violence surrounding the Vietnam War, Watergate, Iran, the Gulf Wars, Sept. 11, the Great Recession and more recently, the Covid pandemic.
All of those things had profound impacts on our nation, but none posed an existential threat to the survival of our democracy.
The Jan. 6 insurrection was such a threat. It is the most serious threat to our democracy in my lifetime — and I think an argument could be made that it is the most serious threat to our nation since the Civil War.
The number of rioters on Jan. 6 were small compared to the overall population of the nation and they didn't succeed in stopping the election certification.
But that mob's view of American politics runs much deeper than the Jan. 6 numbers suggest. Millions of Americans are sympathetic to the rioters and to their cause of attempting to overturn an election.
The Jan. 6 rioters were traitors to our rule of law, to our political traditions and to our democracy.
I never thought I'd live to see the day when a sitting U.S. Congressman, one from my own district no less, would downplay a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol Building by comparing traitors to "tourists."
Rep. Clyde makes a big deal about his service in the Navy and his willingness to defend the U.S. Constitution.
Maybe he does love America, but Rep. Clyde has a choice to make:
He can be loyal to the Constitution, or he can be loyal to the mob that attempted to overthrow it.
He cannot be loyal to both.