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U.Va. Center For Politics holds virtual event to commemorate one year since U.S. Capitol storming

Larry Sabato, the event’s moderator and director of the Center for Politics, interviewed twelve speakers during the two and a half hour event

The conference was attended by roughly 2500 people.
The conference was attended by roughly 2500 people.

The University’s Center for Politics held a conference commemorating the one year anniversary of the storming of the United States Capitol Thursday. Select speakers discussed moving forward following the attack and the damage left in its wake. 

The virtual event, “The Shock of January 6: First Annual conference,” began at 6 p.m. and hosted 12 speakers including Senator Tim Kaine, Representative Liz Cheney from Wyoming and Katie Couric, Class of 1979 College alumna and journalist. 

The conference was attended by roughly 2500 people and was hosted by Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics. The Center, created in 1998, aims to promote democracy and politics across the world through events, education and publications. Sabato was seated in the Rotunda’s Dome Room while his participants joined virtually from their homes or offices. 

The insurrection occurred Jan. 6 and was led by supporters of former president Donald Trump who believed the results of the 2020 presidential election were false and supported by voter fraud. During the outbreak of protests, a joint session of Congress was in assembly to certify President Joe Biden’s win. 

Protestors were able penetrate the barriers surrounding the Capitol and made their way up the steps to eventually enter the building. Multiple police officers were injured, the building was damaged and five people lost their lives. 

Sabato began the event with his own comments about the severity of the attack. 

“If our republic is to survive, our democracy is to survive, then it is something we must never forget,” Sabato said. 

The first guest speaker to be interviewed by Sabato was CNN anchor Jim Acosta. In his career, Acosta has attended many Trump rallies as a way to connect with supporters of the former president. Sabato used this experience to ask Acosta about the possibility of presenting this radical faction of the country with the real facts. 

Acosta said he does believe it is possible to connect with people and show them the truth based on his conversations with citizens and supporters of Trump. 

“If the truth can be told in a penetrating way, I do believe we can get through that Trump fog that he puts out there,” Acosta said. “We can't be neutral in the face of outright racism coming from the president of the United States and outright lies coming from the president of the United States.”

Following the first interview, Sabato introduced his next three guests, which included Mary Trump, author of “The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal,” New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie and Tara Setmayer, former GOP communications director.

During this segment, Sabato posed a question to the group regarding the steps that need to be taken to prevent a future incident such as this one. Bouie responded by introducing the dual set of issues that are at play in the U.S. democracy. 

“I think that the problem and the issue is that the chief obstacles of moving to a different course are in part structural in terms of American democracy, and institutional in terms of the Republican Party,” Bouie said. 

He further elaborated on this by explaining that many Republicans rely on winning the presidency without the popular vote and instead through the electoral college. There have been four instances where the president won the electoral vote but not the popular vote, including Trump in 2016.

Additionally, Bouie said some Republicans fear that the changing demographics of the U.S. will make it impossible for them to win as younger generations appear to be more racially diverse. According to a PEW research study, nearly half of 6 to 21 year olds in the country are racial or ethnic minorities. Additionally, between 2000 and 2019, the Asian population grew 81 percent, followed in a close second by a 70 percent increase in the Hispanic population.

Later on in the conversation, Setmayer added that she does not believe there is hope for the Republican Party to become more mainstream. This was made clear for her when party leaders such as Senator Mitch McConnell did not attempt to stop Trump from claiming election fraud on the night of Nov. 3.

In terms of what the future could look like with more incidents such as the one that took place on Jan. 6, Bouie said he believes it may look much like the past where certain groups of citizens were unable to vote. 

“It's just something we're going to have to work through and push through, and attempt to maintain electoral democracy as much as we can,” Bouie said.

Continuing on in the program, Sabato brought on Dr. Larry Schack and Dr. Mick McWilliams, co-founders of Project Home Fire. The project, a part of the Center for Politics, provides survey and data analytics on varying political issues including opinions surrounding Jan. 6. 

The particular data provided by Schack and McWilliams consisted of a survey — conducted during the summer of 2021 — of 1000 people who voted for Biden and 1000 people who voted for Trump. Questions posed to the voters surrounded their opinions on the participants in the Jan. 6 event and their commitment to democracy.

When posed with the statement — “the people who occupied the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, should be applauded because they were mostly patriotic Americans trying to right the wrong of the 2020 presidential election being unfairly stolen from Donald Trump by massive election fraud” — 52 percent of Trump voters and only 10 percent of Biden voters at least somewhat agreed.

The data showed that roughly 60 percent of both groups believed that the country is less of a representative democracy than one that serves the wealthy members of society. 

“What we have identified is that there are 40 million Biden and Trump voters combined who choose persuasion and compromise over conflict and confrontation, who embrace the idea that government can and should work for people and who want government to proactively address issues that polarize our politics,” Schack Said. 

The next guest hosted by Sabato was Miles Taylor, co-founder of the Renew America Movement and author of the 2018, originally anonymous, New York Times Article criticizing Trump. The Renew America Movement aims to provide voters of all political orientations with the information on candidates that they need to make well-rounded decisions. In his interview, Taylor provided statistics on candidates currently running for office. 

The statistics included that at present there are 24 individuals running for office who participated in the Jan. 6 event, 50 QAnon connected people — a conspiracy theory that believes Trump is in the process of preventing Satan worshiping pedophiles in the government — running for federal office and at least 75 candidates running for Congress who believe that the Presidential election was stolen.

“If the election were held today, we do think we would see more of these fringe conspiracies promoting candidates elected to Congress than fewer and that's our concern, and that's why we want to launch this public education project,” Taylor said. 

Following the statistics provided by Taylor, Sabato introduced Jonathan Karl, ABC News Chief and Washington Correspondent. Karl stated that the attempt to overthrow the election results of Nov. 3, 2020 was a much closer call than many people realize. 

“There were a number of places along the way, where if it weren't for the actions of a few individuals, I think things could have been much worse,” Karl said. 

Specifically, Karl noted that it is unclear who would have the authority to stop former vice president Mike Pence from making a decision about electoral balance. One role of the vice president includes acting as the President of the Senate — as a result, Pence participated in certifying the election results on Jan. 6. He was put under pressure from Trump to overturn the Nov. 3 election, but ultimately did not.

Next, Chris Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Couric joined Sabato to discuss disinformation and misinformation.

“Misleading information and outright falsehoods are being ingested and spread with abandon fueled by anger and algorithms and as we saw that really laid the foundation for so many of the [Jan 6.] events,” Couric said. 

Krebs added to Couric’s comments by remarking that false information is nothing new. Mis and disinformation developed along with human language but has only just begun to create large scale issues. The majority of the country’s population has access to a digital device and as a result social networks, which have contributed to the spread. 

“It's only accelerated recently, due to the internet and due to the various platforms we have available,” Krebs said. 

The next participant, Kaine, was present in the Capitol during the Jan. 6 protest. Sabato asked him about the emotions he experienced during and after the event. Kaine noted that he was immensely angry following the attack and only months later was he able to truly determine the route of that anger. 

During his career Kaine worked as a civil rights lawyer and as a result saw a lot of inequality. However, he commented that as a white man he had not experienced it firsthand. 

“For about four or five hours on Jan. 6, 2021, I felt for a brief period of time what it was like to be disenfranchised,” Kaine said. 

Kaine furthermore added that the events of Jan. 6 proved to be an epiphany for him about democracy. 

“It was a stress test of our democracy that we barely survived but haven't yet passed,” he said. 

Finally, Sabato showed a recently recorded interview with Cheney as she was unavailable on Thursday evening. She is one of only two republicans, the other being Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, participating in the The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol — established in June to investigate the attack on the Capitol. 

During the interview, Cheney expressed that there is an effort underway for supporters of Trump to take office, specifically following the 2022 and 2024 elections, and voters must see the importance of electing officials committed to democracy. 

“You look at some of the endorsements you've seen President Trump make in places like Michigan — local level, county level state level offices — to put people in place who have an allegiance to Donald Trump instead of to the Constitution and to the electoral process and system,” she said. 

Finally, Cheney expressed the hope that she has been given by young people in her state and the country who want to get involved in the political process. “I believe that politics, fundamentally, is about citizens influencing our government and that it is a good thing, and it's a very important thing,” Cheney said.