Law

After Jan. 6, threats and disinformation take hold across the U.S.

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On the day after, the right side of Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha MendozaClose A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6.’s face burned painfully where pepper spray and other chemicals had seeped into her pores. She could still picture the enraged faces of those who had attacked her and her colleagues under the Capitol dome. Some had worn fatigues like the ones Mendoza donned as an Army soldier stationed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

That day, the United States had weathered a faceless attack orchestrated covertly from beyond the country’s borders. This time, Mendoza had faced a very different enemy: fellow Americans, many of them wrapped in red, white and blue, inflamed by a sitting president.

Mendoza waited in her office at the headquarters of the U.S. Capitol Police for news she did not want to hear. Capitol Police bike patrol officer Brian D. Sicknick, who had collapsed hours after responding to the riot, lay in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital. The 42-year-old had suffered two strokes, destroying the tissue at the back of his brain.

Just after 9:30 p.m., the call came. Sicknick had gone into cardiac arrest. He was gone. Mendoza rounded up other officers and headed to the hospital.

Near midnight, when it was time to remove Sicknick’s body, Mendoza and her fellow officers lined a hallway leading to a rear loading dock. They saluted as he rolled past, toward a van that would take him to the medical examiner’s office. Mendoza ordered the convoy first to drive by the Capitol.

Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, voted to certify Joe Biden’s win in the Arizona county. In June 2020, he had greeted President Donald Trump when he visited Phoenix. (Erin Patrick O’Connor and Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post; Caitlin O’Hara for The Washington Post; Shealah Craighead/White House)

Two thousand miles away, in the western suburbs of Phoenix, Clint HickmanClint HickmanClose As chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in 2020, the longtime Republican resisted Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. woke up late on Jan. 7 in a house that was not his own.

After a grueling year as chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the Republican had eagerly handed off his gavel at a long-planned ceremony on the morning of Jan. 6, only to arrive home to find two sheriff’s deputies waiting in an unmarked car in his driveway.

Their tone was urgent: You shouldn’t be home tonight, one said.

“It’s not that bad,” Hickman responded. As chairman, he had faced threats and a large protest outside his home after he and the board had certified Joe Biden’s win in the county in late November.

Key findings
  • Republican efforts to undermine the 2020 election restarted immediately after the Capitol attack
  • False election claims by Trump that spurred the Capitol attack have become a driving force in the Republican Party
  • Trump’s attacks have led to escalating threats of violence
  • First responders are struggling with deep trauma

The deputy asked whether he had been listening to the news. There are massive protests in Washington, the deputy said. They’ve broken into the Capitol.

Hickman had to see for himself. Following his wife into the house, he looked at the scenes on the television and blanched. If President Donald Trump’s supporters were willing to attack the Capitol, who knows what they might do on a residential street in Phoenix. He and his wife rounded up their three children and relocated to a relative’s house, where he stayed up late, watching until Congress confirmed Biden’s victory.

Morning had come, and Maricopa County was quiet. Hickman was unsure if the threat had passed. He called his family farm. He wouldn’t be coming in to work today.

(Washington Post photos; video by Ray Whitehouse for The Washington Post)

As their flight began its descent toward Denver on the night of Jan. 7, Salud Carbajal and Joe Neguse were on edge.

In nearly every seat, in every row, it seemed to the two Democratic congressmen, the other passengers were decked out in pro-Trump clothing. We’re surrounded by insurrectionists, Carbajal thought.

As the lawmakers headed back from Washington to their districts — Carbajal to the central California coast and Neguse to Boulder — they wore casual clothes, masks and winter coats. They did not display their congressional lapel pins, though they stood out from their mostly White fellow passengers in other ways: Carbajal had emigrated from Mexico as a child, and Neguse is the son of Eritrean immigrants.

The atmosphere on the plane was charged. Then a chant began, a few voices at first.

“F— Biden! F— Biden!”

Louder and louder it grew, as others joined in. The lawmakers sat stunned.

“F— Biden!”

“F— BIDEN!”

The plane touched down. As Carbajal waited for his connecting flight to California and checked his phone, his dismay turned to fury: Officer Sicknick was dead.

The violent insurrection aimed at thwarting the democratic transfer of presidential power quickly became known by its date: Jan. 6. But the forces that drove Trump’s supporters into the halls of the Capitol did not fade after that day.

Listen to threats collected by The Post

Warning: This audio clip contains profanities and explicit language.

Trump declined to address The Post’s findings about the spread of violent rhetoric. Instead, spokesman Taylor Budowich accused the media of failing to examine the 2020 election, leaving it “up to the people to seek the truth.”

After Jan. 6, Trump would emerge emboldened, bluntly threatening those who did not share his obsession with last year’s vote and positioning himself to retake the White House in 2024.

Most ominously, a deep distrust in the voting process would spread across the country, supplanting a long-standing acceptance of election results. That shift would shake the foundation on which the American experiment was built — the shared belief that the nation’s leaders are freely and fairly elected.

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