Ginni Thomas and the Oath Keepers signal a dangerous new phase of January 6 apologia
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Ginni Thomas is sticking to the Big Lie, even when testifying before the January 6 committee. We still don't know her exact phrasing, but reports from members of the January 6 committee indicate that the right-wing activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated during her testimony last week the false belief that President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Whether or not she was sincere in this claim is hard to discern. She also told the committee she never speaks about her extensive political activism with her husband, a claim so implausible that it casts doubt on the truthfulness of anything she said during an interview in which she was not put under oath.

Telling the January 6 committee that you still believe the Big Lie may seem, on its surface, to be a really bad idea, but there may be a method to the madness here. After all, Ginni Thomas was deeply involved in Trump's attempted coup in 2020, as shown by a bevy of text messages to Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows and emails to swing state legislators urging them to throw out the results of the election. Unable to plead innocence, Thomas may have decided the better course of action is to argue that her actions were justified by a sincere belief in the Big Lie.

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Thomas is not alone in going this route. On Monday, opening arguments kicked off in the high-profile trial of Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the far-right Oath Keepers, who are accused of seditious conspiracy for their extensive role in organizing the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Like Thomas, there's just way too much text message and email evidence for the Oath Keepers to deny their actions or intentions. Instead, they're going to argue their behavior was justified by the belief that the election was stolen and that Trump told them to do it.

"Rhodes' attorney has said that his client will eventually take the stand to argue that he believed Trump was going to invoke the Insurrection Act and call up a militia, which Rhodes had been calling on him to do to stop Biden from becoming president," reports the Associated Press.

As Mike Giglio explained in the New Yorker, the defense strategy is to argue that the pre-planning of the insurrection "were not only legal" but "patriotic."

Even while the riot was going on, Trump and his allies were strategizing about how to spin the insurrection and the efforts to overthrow the election that preceded the violent assault on the Capitol. As insurrectionists were still battling Capitol police, the text message log from Meadows shows that both Trump advisor Jason Miller and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., were brainstorming lies that Trump and his team could tell to deflect blame. Miller suggested falsely claiming the rioters were "likely ANTIFA or other crazed leftists," a lie that ended up getting leveraged at various times by right-wing pundits over the next year and a half.

But the Trumpist line on January 6 has been slowly morphing from "it wasn't us" into "it was justified" for months now. The effort is led by Trump himself, who struggles to conceal his pride over January 6, which demonstrated his immense power over many of his followers. In recent months, and especially after the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago to retrieve classified documents Trump illegally removed, Trump has only doubled down on his unsubtle view that violence is a useful tool to get what he wants. He's escalating the threatening language and demonizing attacks on anyone he perceives as an obstacle to his power, a strategy no one can, in good faith, pretend isn't serious after January 6.

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Friday night, Trump did it again, releasing a diatribe on social media accusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of having a "DEATH WISH" and making a racist joke about McConnell's wife. As he usually does, Trump adopted a passive tone when talking about violence against his perceived enemies, pretending he's just "predicting" bad things will befall them and not that he's encouraging such things. At a Saturday rally, he also praised Thomas for continuing to back the Big Lie, furthering the "no regrets" messaging around January 6.

Taylor Greene was even less subtle at the very same rally. "Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings," she declared. The language she used was conspiratorial, with echoes of the QAnon conspiracy theory cult she is also heavily connected to. But the case she used to justify this false accusation appears to have been a drunken fight in North Dakota, which is not at all a sign that there's been some kind of "go" signal for Democrats to start killing Republicans.

The same, however, cannot be said of Taylor Greene's comments. On the contrary, speeches like hers should be understood as incitement to violence. As Mark Follman explained in the most recent edition of Mother Jones magazine, rhetoric like this is what "experts call 'stochastic terrorism,' whereby a leader vilifies a person or group in ways likely to instigate random supporters to attack those targets, while the instigator maintains a veneer of plausible deniability." Follman has been carefully documenting Trump's tendency to wish for violence or use of violence-excusing language, and the escalation in the past few weeks has been alarming.

Taken together, a disturbing picture is emerging: There's an acceleration both in intimations of violence and justifications for it. No doubt Thomas would deny that her reiterating a belief in the Big Lie contributes to an atmosphere of political violence, but there is no way around that fact. If you really do believe that democracy is being "stolen" by Democrats, then that justifies violence. Indeed, that's a huge reason the Big Lie was invented in the first place: to give a moral pretext to immoral efforts to overthrow the democratic system. The doubling down on the Big Lie by figures like Thomas and the Oath Keepers, in turn, suggests that Trump's biggest fans think it's still a useful tool to give cover to otherwise inexcusable actions.