We’ve heard a lot about the “Big Lie” these past few weeks, particularly since the Jan. 6 incursion into the Capitol.
It’s supposed to refer to anyone who has expressed the slightest doubt that the 2020 election was the most secure, well-run, legally sound and all-around gosh-darned fantastic general election this country has ever had.
Granted, some people took this “Big Lie” much, much further afield than mere questioning, but it’s a convenient way to tie conservatives to a propaganda term coined by Adolf Hitler.
There are hours upon hours of programming specifically dedicated to debunking the “Big Lie” — so don’t you fret, New Yorker subscriber.
However, in the nearly four years since the Charlottesville attack, there has been the “Persistent Lie” — the idea that then-President Trump called the white supremacists at the event “very fine people.”
It’s 2021 and we’re still on that, as evinced by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.
Lee, one of the senior members of the Democratic caucus, is the head of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. On Wednesday, she chaired a hearing called “The Rise of Domestic Terrorism in America.” Take a guess what kind of terrorism was discussed.
Here’s a hint: Antifa had nothing to do with it and the specter of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, loomed heavily over the room.
In fact, Lee made it clear she was having no truck with anyone who tried to bring up violence from the left. In her opening statement, she decried “attempts to equate white supremacy to anarchists, activists and other groups who are opposed to white nationalism and other domestic terror,” according to Breitbart.
“No, there are not good people on both sides,” she said, referencing Trump’s oft-mischaracterized statement.
Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, the ranking Republican on the committee, used his opening statement to highlight the hypocrisy, as well as the persistent lie, regarding Charlottesville.
Saying that domestic terrorism needs to be approached “with open minds and open eyes,” Biggs added, “we must acknowledge that all domestic terrorism is wrong.”
“It must not only be acknowledged but condemned. This includes domestic terrorism labeled as right-wing or left-wing. I fear that my colleagues on the other side will simply want to focus on right-wing domestic terrorism.”
Biggs noted that House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, called antifa “imaginary” last year and that citizen journalist Andy Ngo — a witness at the hearing — had been beaten and threatened by left-wing and antifa groups.
He then turned his attention to the “very fine people” lie that came after the attack that left counter-protester Heather Heyer dead and 28 others injured.
“That was evil and unacceptable,” Biggs said, while noting that “comments made today and other times since that point need to be put into perspective.”
He then played the video of Trump’s comments during the media briefing in 2017.
“If you reported it accurately, you would say that the neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville,” the former president said, according to a transcript from Vox.
“They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis. You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides,” Trump said in the video.
“You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of — to them — a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
“You had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally,” Trump continued.
“But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group too.”
And yet, the only words most people know from that news conference are “very fine people.” Many don’t remember what happened in Charlottesville, who was there, who died — any of that. Just three words: “Very fine people.” They assume he was talking about the very people he had just condemned.
That’s the power of the persistent lie.
It’s difficult to describe what happened in Charlottesville without touching on contentious ground.
Nominally, the event was supposed to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. However, the event became a meeting point for hyper-fringe alt-righters and white nationalist groups. Some people still legitimately thought they were showing up to protest the statue’s removal, the stated reason behind the protest in the first place. Hence, “very fine people.”
Unless you isolate that one sentence out of all context — “You also had some very fine people on both sides” — what Trump said wasn’t open to interpretation. And yet, the “very fine people” media briefing is seen by the index card-and-yarn left as being a wink and a nod to white supremacist groups that ended up starting a reign of terror.
That nexus of racism led to the Jan. 6 incursion into the Capitol — which was somehow directed by the then-president when he told the crowd to march peaceably to the Capitol.
Evidence? Who needs that piffle? But if you mention “very fine people” enough times, people begin to think there’s some kind of association there.
Four years on, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, like so many before her, erased all of the context surrounding Trump’s remarks that day because it behooved her to lie about him.
At least this time, however, Biggs was prepared to fact-check her on the spot.
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