WASHINGTON (CN) — It's been one year. One year since a noose and gallows stood outside Congress. One year since police found two pipe bombs on Capitol Hill. One year since five people lost their lives amid the chaos. One year since a mob supporting the former president stormed the seat of America's government, intent on overturning a democratic presidential election. One year since the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Over the course of that year, more than 700 people have been arrested, a House committee has begun investigating the attack, and criminal charges have been brought against members of former President Donald Trump's administration for icing that panel out of information.
As ever, though, political lines have complicated the country's bid for justice. The very name, Justice for Jan. 6, was adopted in September 2021 by a group that opposes the prosecution of those who participated in the insurrection.
Those in favor of prosecution, on the other hand, say the charges should not end with the people who stormed the Capitol. They want more charges brought against any members of the Trump administration or Congress who egged on the attack or failed to intervene when they had a duty to, and they want bipartisan voting rights legislation at the federal level to revive faith in American elections.
But whether Jan. 6 is spoken of as a mere political protest or the day American democracy stood just one vice president away from its collapse differs greatly between Republicans and Democrats. That framing is important, experts say, because without course correction it could put the country on a path of increased polarization and contested elections for years to come.
Followers of the ‘Big Lie’
Of the more than 700 people charged criminally for participating in the attack, 150 people have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from illegally parading inside the Capitol to obstructing an official government proceeding — in this case, the certification of President Joe Biden's 2020 election win.
Robert A. Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago specializing in international security affairs and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, said the prosecutions hold significance because the intent of the crimes was not merely to destroy property.
"It's important to keep in mind what happened on Jan. 6 was not simply trespassing or ordinary criminal behavior breaking windows, vandalism of the U.S. Capitol. It was an effort to stop the certification of a duly elected President of the United States," Pape said.
Those who broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6 were motivated by the "Big Lie," an unsubstantiated and roundly contradicted narrative espoused by the Republican Party and disseminated by Trump that Democrats had stolen the presidency through sweeping voter fraud.
That this conspiracy lives on one year after the deadly attack on Jan. 6 signals the mere prosecution of those who stormed the Capitol may not be enough of a response to the insurrection, according to David Schultz, political science professor at Hamline University and election law expert.
"What you would normally hope in a criminal justice system is that you do that kind of a mass prosecution, give that many sentences, maybe that serves as a deterrent," Schultz said. "But I don’t think that’s going to be enough here because these people were like the street-level indications of a really divided America."
All the Way to the Top
Definitions of justice often focus on punishment and deterrence as ways to signal that behavior cannot be accepted and should be prevented in the future.
In the case of Jan. 6, Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute of Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University, said the prosecutions of people who participated in the attack are largely about punishment. To work toward preventing similar attacks and a well-rounded conception of justice, however, Clayton said action needs to be taken against people in power who allowed the insurrection to happen.