S4, Ep. 10: A report, a prayer vigil, and a somber anniversary: Two years after January 6
The public conversation continues about Christian nationalism and the January 6 attack on the Capitol
Last week, our country marked the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection. On today’s podcast, Amanda and Holly share their reactions to the report released by the January 6 Select Committee at the end of 2022, including the lack of any mention of Christian nationalism and why that matters. Amanda and Holly also discuss the importance of Christian leaders providing an alternative witness to the Christian nationalism exhibited during the attack on the Capitol. And, they review how the insurrection still shapes our world and how it – surprisingly – doesn’t shape Capitol tours.
Segment 1 (starting at 00:50): The January 6 Report
Read the final report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol at this link.
We played a clip compiling three individuals’ statements during the January 6 hearings claiming the Constitution was divinely inspired: Greg Jacob, Rusty Bowers, and Rep. Liz Cheney. You can see Amanda’s Tweet of the video here.
You can read the comprehensive BJC/Freedom From Religion Foundation report on Christian nationalism and the January 6 insurrection at this link.
Click here to read the letter organized by BJC and Christians from Christian Nationalism to the January 6 Select Committee, asking them to investigate how Christian nationalism motivated and intensified the attack.
You can watch Amanda’s testimony before a House subcommittee in December at this link. Amanda and Holly discuss it in more detail in episode 9.
Amanda and Holly mentioned this article by Vera Bergengruen for TIME Magazine: Why a Group of Christians Is Fighting the Growing Threat of Christian Nationalism
Additional media coverage on the absence of Christian nationalism from the final report:
Despite ample evidence, Christian nationalism mostly absent from final Jan. 6 report by Jack Jenkins for Religion News Service
Christian nationalism conspicuously absent from January 6 report, featuring an interview with Amanda Tyler and MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez on the Alex Wagner Tonight program
Segment 2 (starting at 20:17): Contrasting images on the 2nd anniversary of January 6
Watch this short compilation of the two events on January 6, 20203, on the @EndChristianNationalism TikTok.
Segment 3 (starting at 28:45): Scrubbing the insurrection from Capitol tours
Amanda and Holly discussed this story from The Washington Post by Joe Heim: Official U.S. Capitol tour guides told to only mention Jan. 6 if asked
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Transcript: Season 4, Episode 10: A report, a prayer vigil, and a somber anniversary: Two years after January 6 (some parts of this transcript have been edited for clarity):
Segment 1: The January 6 Report (starting at 00:50)
AMANDA: Welcome to Respecting Religion, a BJC podcast series where we look at religion, the law, and what’s at stake for faith freedom today. I’m Amanda Tyler, executive director of BJC.
HOLLY: And I’m general counsel Holly Hollman. For this first episode of 2023, we’re going to take stock of the religious liberty challenge we see at this two-year mark since the January 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol.
AMANDA: Glad to be back with you after the holiday break and the beginning of a new year.
HOLLY: Happy new year!
AMANDA: Happy new year to you! As always, the turning of the calendar year is a good time to take stock of our work and what matters most as religious liberty advocates engaged in the public square.
HOLLY: It was a very busy year for BJC. We had plenty of material for this podcast, and of course, we ended the year with an episode talking about the recent congressional hearings in which you, Amanda, testified, representing BJC, before a committee. And as we often say at the end of our podcasts, we hope if you came to us because of Christian nationalism or these recent news events, that you’ll get to know us and the ways that BJC has been working for faith freedom for all since 1936.
At the time of that hearing, Amanda, back in mid-December — and then our podcast recording soon after that — we were waiting for the January 6 Committee report. I think as we discuss that, we probably should remind our listeners a little bit of the background of that report.
AMANDA: Sure. Well, in the wake of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, there was an effort to form a 9/11-style bipartisan commission that would investigate what led to and happened on January 6. But unfortunately, that bipartisan effort devolved when then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy opposed that bipartisan commission.
At that point, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi formed the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, but Leader McCarthy refused to appoint members in good faith to that select committee, so Speaker Pelosi seated two Republicans, Representative Liz Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger. Both of those Republican members participated over Leader McCarthy’s objections and were censured by the Republican National Committee for participating in the Select Committee.
HOLLY: It seems like that was so long ago and also just yesterday. Right? But that was back in June of 2021, just a few months after the attack when, you know, everyone’s experience was quite fresh. But the political wrangling about it, the kind of surprising political divisions about what happened that day were just beginning to take hold.
So over the course of more than a year, the Select Committee and its staff interviewed more than a thousand witnesses. They held multiple hearings that were live on multiple channels, including some in prime time. And they obtained millions of pages of documents. This resulted in the December release of full ‑‑ though redacted — transcripts, and then late in the evening of Thursday, December 22, the more than 800-page report.
AMANDA: And we’ll link to that report in our show notes, to the official government website that has the final report from the committee. I will admit, Holly, that I am still in the process of reading all those 800 pages of the report, but we thought it would be good here on the podcast to give some of our reactions to what was released right before the holidays.
HOLLY: The press, of course, reported the committee’s referral for prosecution. That was the big news of the day. There were four crimes specifically that the committee said were committed by the former president: one, obstructing an official proceeding; two, conspiracy to defraud the government; three, making knowing and willfully materially false statements to the federal government; and inciting or assisting in insurrection.
The report marked the culmination of the committee’s work. Of course, the committee could have continued, but the Republicans have said, no, it’s over; we’re in power now and the committee’s work is done.
AMANDA: And to put a punctuation mark on that, they’ve even taken down the committee’s website. That is gone, and so this report is important as the final say in what I think was really an impressive body of work that happened over these 17 or 18 months.
And before we get to the report itself, thinking back on those hearings and what stood out to us, because of our interest in Christian nationalism and understanding how Christian nationalism contributed to the insurrection, that was what I was specifically looking for in the hearings themselves. And so I was caught off guard when the only mention of Christian nationalism I found was some troubling rhetoric that sounded a lot like Christian nationalist rhetoric that we hear.
At the time, I tweeted a short compilation of these statements, where multiple witnesses and a member of the Select Committee, Representative Liz Cheney, talked about the divine inspiration of the Constitution. The clip is very short, so we’ll play it here.
MR. JACOB: (audio clip) I recall in my discussion with the vice president, he said, ‘I can’t wait to go to heaven and meet the framers and tell them, the work that you did in putting together our Constitution is a work of genius. Thank you. It was divinely inspired.’
MR. BOWERS: (audio clip) And it is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired – of my most basic foundational beliefs. And so for me to do that because somebody just asked me to is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.
REP. CHENEY: (audio clip) We also have been reminded what it means to take an oath under God to the Constitution, what it means to defend the Constitution. And we were reminded by Speaker Bowers that our Constitution is, indeed, a divinely inspired document.
AMANDA: You heard there first from Greg Jacob who was serving the Trump administration as the top lawyer for former vice president Mike Pence; then Rusty Bowers, the former speaker of the house in Arizona; and finally Representative Liz Cheney.
I wrote on Twitter at the time, “So far at the January 6 hearings, Greg Jacob, Rusty Bowers, and Liz Cheney have talked about the Constitution as ‘divinely inspired.’ Let’s hope for less of this rhetoric in upcoming hearings, especially when Christian nationalism helped drive and intensify the January 6 attack.”
HOLLY: I think that was worth pointing out. Again, you know, in normal times, we may not pay much attention to the use of such language. I know that sometimes people, particularly religious people, use religious kind of language loosely to mean a matter of great importance, a matter that they are committed to.
And I think when people say they are committed to the Constitution and it’s divinely inspired, some people are sometimes just loosely saying, you know, our country’s really important and we must protect it. But in this context, when we have just seen an attack on the Capitol, with people flying American flags alongside their Bibles held up and crucifixes and all of this Christian imagery, you know, I think it’s a good time to stop and think, Hang on a minute. You know, what are you saying? Yes. Our elected officials swear an oath, and that is the duty of officials to abide by the Constitution and that motivates them to speak out and do the right thing. But we don’t need to confuse that with the kind of religious language that is more appropriate for personal beliefs and devotion.
AMANDA: Yeah. And this confusion, this merging of the political and the religious, is exactly the hallmark of Christian nationalism that, unfortunately, we saw in the rhetoric of these witnesses and Representative Cheney.
I will remember that from these hearings, because of my particular interest. But, I think the other witness that most stood out to me in the hearings was Cassidy Hutchinson and some of her shocking testimony of kind of what happened in the White House while the attack was going on.
And what I will remember her for is her bravery, how it took this young woman, early in her political life, a tremendous amount of courage to stand up and tell the truth about what happened that day. This was an act that her boss, Representative Mark Meadows who was the chief of staff, was not willing to do. Of course, the president was not willing to do. But we saw a lot of political and personal courage from Ms. Hutchinson.
HOLLY: I was also struck by Sarah Matthews, the young communications staffer, that gave testimony, and in my mind, the way I saw her was someone who, you know, very ambitious and committed to their political cause and their side, but then drew the line because of the violence and drew the line on the clarity that the president’s inaction was making things worse.
She actually said that the president’s tweet, President Trump’s tweet, about Mike Pence, you know, happening at the time that the insurrection was going on was like pouring gasoline on the fire. And that was enough.
And, you know, I ‑‑ many people can fault her and many people who worked in the Trump administration for failing to stand up and failing to do the right thing, but we all have to acknowledge that people get caught up in things and to appreciate when they do see what’s so deadly dangerous and to stand up to it. I know that was her last day in office. She left that day when she saw that happen.
And, Amanda, apart from remembering the things that struck us that we talked about in the office and we continue to talk about as we continue to react and hope for better things for our country, we had some direct interaction with the committee through reports and letters.
AMANDA: That’s right. So in February of 2022, BJC, along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, released a report that is the most complete accounting of Christian nationalism and the role that it played in intensifying the attack on the Capitol on January 6. And soon after we released that report, we were contacted by staff from the Select Committee, asking us to submit an expert statement to the committee — asking us and others who worked on the report — to submit expert statements to the committee on Christian nationalism and January 6.
And the letter that we were asked to submit was specifically from representatives of Christians Against Christian Nationalism, that the committee thought it would be useful to have Christian voices explaining how Christian nationalism contributed to the attack on the Capitol.
HOLLY: And from what we know about the role Christian nationalism played or that’s evidenced during the events, you know, it certainly could have been included in the report, but it was not. The final report did not have any discussion of Christian nationalism. And, Amanda, we’ve talked a little bit about that, but I think our listeners would be interested in how you see that.
AMANDA: Well, I think it was disappointing, because we knew it wasn’t for lack of information. We knew that the committee was aware of the work that we had put together on Christian nationalism and January 6 and had explicitly sought that out from us.
So it did feel like it was a decision not to include it in their final report. And there are a number of reasons, which we have talked about in the past, even on this podcast, about why that might be, about hesitation, perhaps, to wade into these issues. But we believe it would have been helpful and appropriate for the Select Committee to recognize its impact.
HOLLY: And I think, Amanda, the way I’ve heard you talk about it before is that it’s really difficult to have a full understanding of what happened that day without a full understanding of Christian nationalism. And I think that speaks to me and to many people, particularly with regard to what I can say is, you know, if there’s an average person that got caught up in the events of January 6 — meaning that we know there are all different levels of involvement and culpability for what happened.
So putting aside for a minute those that were most involved in planning events and decked out with their paramilitary equipment and clearly came for violence, putting those aside for a minute, what would lead so many people to even walk alongside that action and to not turn away but to keep marching forward and think that it was okay to proceed into the Capitol? And I think that’s where the effects of Christian nationalism really come in, to how it added in to people’s political fervor.
So it was conspicuously missing, but at the same time, we know that Christian nationalism was a problem long before January 6, and it is a complex and insidious problem and one that affects many aspects of our democracy and culture, and we certainly aren’t dependent on the January 6 committee’s report for our work standing up against Christian nationalism.
AMANDA: That’s right. And, you know, the work of the Select Committee is not just a historic exercise. It’s not just telling a story of what happened at one point in time, but it is trying to get to the root causes so it doesn’t happen again.
AMANDA: And there are continuing threats to our democracy right now, and so it is incumbent on all of us to think, I believe, of the Select Committee’s report as the starting point, but it’s an investigation that continues for all of the American people. And I was pleased to have the opportunity from Select Committee member, Representative Raskin, to provide testimony on Christian nationalism for his subcommittee.
I think that provided the congressional forum to have this conversation, even if it wasn’t in the report itself. And that testimony did come to the attention of a reporter at TIME magazine named Vera Bergengruen who covers extremism for TIME, and she wrote a piece that was released right at the end of the year that featured the work of Christians Against Christian Nationalism and that TIME did put out again on January 6. So just because it’s not in the report doesn’t mean it’s not in the public conversation.
HOLLY: That’s right. We obviously weren’t the only ones who thought that Christian nationalism had been exposed sufficiently as an aspect of that day to be in the report and were kind of surprised by it, so that sort of spurred news coverage on the lack of coverage of Christian nationalism ‑‑
AMANDA: It’s so meta.
HOLLY: — in the January 6 report itself. That’s right. For our perspective, I think we are committed to this fight, and we’re going to continue to oppose Christian nationalism and work against it in ways that are not directly connected to January 6. Our advocacy — which began long before January 6 — against Christian nationalism does not depend on any particular description of the events of January 6. It was just another way that people learned about Christian nationalism when they saw these stories about, Why wasn’t Christian nationalism, you know, addressed in the committee’s report?
AMANDA: So maybe we should be thanking the committee. Maybe there would be less attention if they had mentioned it.
HOLLY: Yeah. What if it was just lost in the 800 pages? Exactly.
But there were some nice news stories that came out of that. We can link to our show notes. Some good coverage by RNS about the committee’s report and Christian nationalism’s absence from the report. But also, Amanda, you were live on MSNBC, the Alex Wagner Tonight show right after the committee’s report.
AMANDA: That’s right. Alicia Menendez was covering for Alex Wagner on her show and wanted to discuss the absence of Christian nationalism in the report. So that was an opportunity to talk live to more than a million Americans about this topic, and I think that that is what’s important. At the end of the day, what is most important is that more people understand what Christian nationalism is, that they learn to spot it, that they can distinguish it from Christianity, and that we can address it so it doesn’t continue to be a continuing threat to American democracy.
HOLLY: So we will put a link to that coverage in our show notes, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to give that a look.
AMANDA: And so even though the Select Committee’s work is done, the Select Committee has been disbanded, there’s continuing repercussions, of course. I mean, we know that several members of the committee either did not run for reelection or lost their reelection bids, in part because of the polarizing nature and how this work became partisan.
We also saw in the very recent saga of must-see TV on C-SPAN last week when the new Republican majority took days to elect their new speaker, the continuing force and power of the leaders of the pro-Trump election denial crowd and how that small but powerful faction of the Republican Party holds tremendous power in the new Congress.
And finally, we saw on the world stage a copycat attempt at overthrowing the government of Brazil, just on January 8, so two days after the anniversary. It was very chilling to see scenes from another country that looked very reminiscent of what we experienced on January 6.
HOLLY: All of these events just underscoring that this story is not over.
Segment 2: Contrasting images on the 2nd anniversary of January 6 (starting at 20:17)
HOLLY: Part of the ongoing impact of January 6 is that when we look at it, we have the strong visual story that we saw in the paper. We saw it live, unfolding on TV, but people think of January 6 and often might see these images of the awful events that day. We often see the Christian symbols that were present that day, and, you know, those images, I think, continue to impact people, maybe how they see the insurrection, and for some people, maybe how they see Christianity.
That’s a big concern for us, because we know those pictures do have an effect on people. And we are concerned about any images that confuse a political movement with Christianity.
But there were several events on this second anniversary that the media covered, and some of them were much more positive depictions of American democracy, pictures of people honoring those that were involved in defending the Capitol on January 6, honoring all of the elected officials who did the right thing, events that were inspiring nonviolent activism, efforts to continue to secure voting rights, and those who were praying for our country, remembering that day.
One image that I was glad to see in the media that provided a direct counter-message was the image of Christian leaders holding a vigil at dawn on January 6.
AMANDA: Yes, Holly. Those images are from an event that we at BJC and Christians Against Christian Nationalism organized with Faithful America, the sunrise vigil and prayer for our democracy, where we invited Christian leaders and leaders of Christians Against Christian Nationalism to join us for prayer.
So I opened the prayer circle, gave a short introduction about why we were there, and then those gathered would offer up to a one-minute prayer as they were called to do so to commemorate the anniversary.
HOLLY: Yeah. It was a beautiful opportunity for those leaders to come together and mark that day. And I’ll note that it also was good to see, just as a reminder of religion in the public square, you know.
Quick legal point here: Religion has not been thrown out of the public square. There is a Free Exercise, Free Speech, and we would say religious liberty right to bring your religion into the public square.
Now, this was not a rally. There are rallies with religious people of all different stripes that we see here in the nation’s capital and in so many different kind of forums that happen all the time, but it’s important that we point that out. Of course, religious people, like others, are welcome in the public square.
It reminds me of one of those points that we made very clear in Christians Against Christian Nationalism that affirms the rights and responsibilities of all Americans to be engaged in the public square. So while this was not a rally, it was an example of public expression of religion that very clearly reminds people that religion has not been stripped from the public square.
AMANDA: And I made that point explicitly, that we were there as Christian leaders, claiming a right to the public square that is equal to people of all faiths and those that don’t claim a faith tradition, that we don’t have a special place in the public square, but that there is room for all of us.
And we know there’s room for all of us, and just to your legal point, you know, we applied for a permit. We went through the process, and we were exercising our rights to be there. And I think that that is an important reminder that goes against some of the harmful rhetoric that’s out there.
HOLLY: That’s right. And this specific event, I thought it looked like a particularly appropriate, beautiful way for Christian leaders to come together and mark that day.
AMANDA: And during that short time of prayer, some of what we heard were prayers for our democracy, prayers that we overcome divisions in our society, that we not have the kind of violence that we saw that day repeated. We did call out Christian nationalism as a distortion of Christianity and something that threatens democracy but also leads us away from our faithful walk with Jesus.
We prayed for the people who suffered trauma that day, people who were there that day and were back at work in the Capitol on January 6 and for whom that anniversary bears special and very personal meaning, including the Capitol police, the legislators, the staffers, and their families who fear for them. And, of course, we prayed for those who lost their lives that day and for the families and friends of those people who continue to suffer.
One of the quotes that was paraphrased by a couple of the leaders that day was Abraham Lincoln’s — again a paraphrase — that we pray not that God would be on our side but that we would be on God’s side.
HOLLY: Well, Amanda, I know you described it to me as personally meaningful, and the pictures certainly showed a somber event and one that I think was very responsible as far as use of a public witness and marking that day. And, you know, one of the effects of having that event and using your public witness in this way is that the media did take note, and they covered this.
And it was in clear contrast not only to those images that we see and are haunted by from January 6, but it was especially good to see because also on that day — we did not know this — but there was an actual kind of political/religious rally not far away from where you gathered a little bit later, near the steps of the Supreme Court, where you had the ‑‑ I guess they were the election denier, pro-January 6 insurrectionists gathered, and many of them with their Christian symbols that they were waving.
AMANDA: Yeah. There were, you know, Christian words or invoking God on their signs. There was religious music that was blaring. It was a very confused picture, again this merging of American and Christian identities on display, again also continuing to perpetuate election lies. And we will link in show notes to a short compilation showing the contrast between these two public events in a TikTok.
So this is also a good time for us to let listeners know, Holly, that you can now follow the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign on Instagram and TikTok. The handle for both platforms is @EndChristianNationalism, and you will find the TikTok –and hope that you will follow [email protected] on TikTok and Instagram for continuing updates.
And that first TikTok video caught the attention of a lot of people. It went viral and has ‑‑ already has more than 400,000 views in just these early few days after the event.
HOLLY: I think it’s because it was such a welcome image in contrast to so much of what we’ve seen.
Segment 3: Scrubbing the insurrection from Capitol tours (starting at 28:45)
AMANDA: Beyond marking the anniversary of the January 6 attack, we are continuing to see the impact of January 6, not just on the Capitol but on life in Washington itself. And one article that caught my attention came out on January 5 from The Washington Post. The title is “Official U.S. Capitol tour guides to only mention January 6 if asked.”
I was drawn by the title when I got my morning news digest for The Washington Post, and then I read the piece and was really disturbed, Holly, that this important historic event that happened at the U.S. Capitol just two years ago is being ignored by the official tour guides ‑‑
AMANDA: — that it robs these visitors to the U.S. Capitol, who come from not only all over the country but all over the world, of a meaningful learning experience by not mentioning it, and also that we don’t have a uniform story, that we can’t decide on a uniform story about what happened on January 6 because it has been so politicized and polarized by what’s happened in Congress over the last couple of years.
HOLLY: Yeah. For our listeners who didn’t know this, BJC’s headquarters are on Capitol Hill. We come to work every day, passing all the monuments and, you know, getting blocked by tour guides and tour buses. There are all kinds of private tours that are conducted in the city. No telling what kind of information ‑‑ I’m sure some good ones and some bad ones. But we would expect the official tours of the U.S. Capitol, that of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, to be able to tell a short, clear, factual story about that day’s events, because that is clearly part of the story of the Capitol.
AMANDA: And this piece from The Washington Post, the first time I had heard about this, so this is important journalism, and I think just drawing this to people’s attention hopefully will inspire some questions being asked of the Capitol Visitors Center and how we can better tell a more full story of what happened on January 6, that we don’t forget it, that the committee’s report is not the final say or what we hear about what happened on January 6 at the Capitol.
HOLLY: There’s going to be plenty of disagreement, as we know, politically about all the different causes of what happened that day and the implications of what happened that day, but it does seem odd to ignore that such a significant attack on the Capitol would not be an important part of the history of the Capitol, which is what people are getting when they sign up for a U.S. Capitol tour through the Capitol Visitors Center.
Of course, [there are] plenty of other places that people can learn about January 6, as we’ve been talking about in this episode. There’s a lot to learn. I don’t think by ignoring that, that people will forget the event. I’m sure some of the tours will ask questions and the tour guides will have to manage that. How do they handle the questions about what happened that day?
So maybe as we move forward and maybe more people read that story, maybe there will be a change to the official guidance for the tour guides there. In general, I think we continue to see some continuing evidence of January 6 with the security around the Capitol, about what it’s like getting in the buildings, as well as, you know, some opening of things. Of course, some of that is due to COVID where we saw a lot of the buildings also being shut down and fewer services. But they are gradually starting to open up, and we are very thankful for that, as well as thankful for all of those that continue to serve and keep these buildings and us safe.
AMANDA: And to continue that theme of gratitude, we wanted to say thank you again to our listeners for your support of this podcast and for our opportunity to bring these conversations to more people. We always include a link for those to donate to our programs in our show notes, and we noticed that people are using it to support BJC’s work in this program, so thank you.
For every nonprofit, the end of the year is a big fundraising time, and we are grateful to everyone who gave to BJC’s work for faith freedom for all. If you want to support that work and these conversations on Respecting Religion specifically, you can always visit our show notes and make a gift to BJC through that specific link. Your gifts allow us to do this podcast without any sponsored content, and we are so grateful.
HOLLY: That brings us to the close of this episode of Respecting Religion. Thanks for joining us for today’s conversation. For details on what we discussed, including links to the articles we mentioned and a link to donate, check out our show notes.
AMANDA: If you enjoyed today’s show, share this program with others on social media and tag us. We’re on Twitter and Instagram and YouTube at @BJContheHill, and you can follow me on Twitter @AmandaTylerBJC.
HOLLY: Plus you can email both of us by writing to Respecting R[email protected] We love hearing from you.
AMANDA: And you can see a full list of shows, including transcripts, by visiting Respecting Religion.org.
HOLLY: And we encourage you to take a moment to find out more about BJC and how we’ve been working for faith freedom for all since 1936. Visit our website at BJConline.org for a look at what we do and some of our latest projects.
AMANDA: And join us on Thursdays for new conversations Respecting Religion.