WASHINGTON – The fighting — so primitive and ferocious that one Capitol Police officer described it as “medieval” and another as a “trip to hell” — left more than 100 law enforcement personnel injured, some beaten with their own weapons.
Video cameras captured the violence live, with rioters clubbing officers with flag polls and fire extinguishers, even squeezing one between doors as he begged for his life.
Yet nearly a year after the Jan. 6 siege only about 4 in 10 Republicans recall the attack by supporters of then-President Donald Trump as very violent or extremely violent, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About 3 in 10 Republicans say the attack was not violent, and about another 3 in 10 say it was somewhat violent.
Their views were a distinct minority as overall about two-thirds of Americans described the day as very or extremely violent, including about 9 in 10 Democrats.
The findings reflect the country’s political polarization, with a false portrayal of the siege taking hold despite extensive footage that shows the ransacking of the building in harrowing detail. Trump and some allies in Congress and conservative media have played it down, falsely characterizing the attack as a minor civil disturbance.
It’s a view that is shared by many Republicans, though few go so far as to defend the rioters themselves.
“My understanding was that a lot of it was pretty peaceful,” Paul Bender, a self-described conservative from Cleveland, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “I’ve seen some video of the people just like marching in through a velvet rope.”
Bender, who said he didn't keep up with the news coverage, added, “There were certainly outlier people who were not peaceful and were breaking through the windows and stuff like that, but I wasn’t aware of overt violence.”
Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans who blame Trump for the Jan. 6 riot has grown slightly over the past year, with 57% saying he bears significant responsibility for what took place. In an AP-NORC poll taken in the days after the attack, 50% said that.
The uptick is seen among Republicans as well, even as relatively few think Trump bears significant responsibility. Twenty-two percent say that now, up from 11% last year. Sixty percent say he had little to no responsibility.
“I don’t believe that he actively was like promoting people to do anything other than a peaceful protest,” Bender, 53, said. “However, once things got out of hand, I think that it would have been appropriate for him to have reacted sooner, whether that was a statement or going on the radio or TV or whatever.”
The insurrection was the closing act of Trump's desperate effort to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden. After Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud were soundly rejected in the courts, he shifted his focus to the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6, publicly pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to stop Congress from naming Biden the winner. Pence did not have that power under the law, as the vice president’s function is largely ceremonial.
Trump promoted the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the attack, predicting it would be “wild,” and in a speech that day urged his supporters to “fight like hell” as Congress convened to certify the election results. The attack halted that process for hours as rioters occupied the building.
Still, while few Republicans blame Trump, Republicans and Democrats alike overwhelmingly say that the individual rioters had a great deal or quite a bit of responsibility for their actions during the riot.
“I think there were strong supporters of President Trump that were there, but I think the people that caused the attacks might not have been true Trump supporters,” said Mary Beth Bell of Jacksonville, Florida. “Because I know a lot of Trump supporters, and they see what happened on Jan. 6 as disgusting as I do.”
About 7 in 10 Americans also say a House select committee should continue its investigation of the attack, while about 3 in 10 say it should not.
Robert Spry, a Democrat in Kingman, Arizona, said the congressional investigation is crucial for getting at the truth.
“We need a comprehensive report of that day. It has got to come to light what those people did to police and to that building,” Spry said.
The 63-year-old, who used to vote Republican but now considers himself a conservative Democrat, said the protest-turned-attack appeared chaotic at first but the committee’s findings are making it “more and more clear that it was planned in advance.”
Forty-one percent of Republicans agree with Spry that Congress should continue to investigate, while 58% say it should not.
Bell said a federal investigation into what she saw as “a terrorist attack” is appropriate, but she objects to the way the nine-member panel has been conducting the investigation since July of last year.
“They’re not listening to all the information. I feel like it’s one-sided more or less than trying to investigate everything,” she said of the committee, composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi chose all the members of the committee after rejecting the choices of House GOP leadership.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democratic chairman of the committee, said it’s important for Americans to know that Democrats first tried to create a bipartisan commission with an equal number of members from each party. But Republicans in the Senate blocked it from passage.
“Only because Republican leadership failed this country did Speaker Pelosi have to step up and do what’s in the best interest of the country to make sure that we produce a committee that looks into the facts and circumstances of Jan. 6,” Thompson said.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,089 adults was conducted Dec. 2-7 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.