As someone who lived and worked through Jan. 6, 2021, I believe I have the authority to talk about the events of that day. I was in the White House, attended the Trump rally on the Ellipse, and watched and reacted to unfolding events throughout the day. I also recently honored the subpoena from the select House committee and testified under oath. Since then, I have been disappointed when certain members of the Committee have gone on national television to discuss closed-door testimony and release documents, including personal emails of the then-White House chief of staff.
Let’s address a few things upfront. Mob violence against law and order or any institutions should be condemned. This includes what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6. The American people recognize this, with just 13% of Americans approving of what happened that day. Notably, a solid majority of Trump supporters oppose what happened at the Capitol.
For that matter, what happened that day was not the only instance of violence in 2020, with Black Lives Matter activists over preceding months, and even the physical assaults during the final night of the Republican National Convention, to say nothing of the violent riots that literally set cities ablaze throughout the country the entire summer. All of this is wrong.
Was Jan. 6 a bad day at the Capitol? Yes. Was it an insurrection? No. It was a mob that spun out of control. The breach of the Capitol started almost 20 minutes before former President Donald Trump finished his speech on the Ellipse. The crowd I saw at the Ellipse was far from that unruly mob at the Capitol. They were people I had seen at previous Trump events, not the miscreants further down Pennsylvania Avenue. In over five years of Trump rallies, we never had one — not one — spin out of control. Part of the congressional investigation needs to be why the mob occurred and how it was allowed to breach security.
Unfortunately, after several hours of testimony and responding to the select committee’s Democrat-only panel of counsels (the chair reserved for the Republican counsel was vacant), I believe the select committee was more concerned with “getting Trump” than finding out what actually generated the riot and lessons to be learned from it. Instead, the current commission is proving to be nothing more than a political hit job. I have seen, been part of and read of past exceptional hearings, ranging from the Holloway Commission on the failed Iran rescue mission to the 9/11 Commission. Unfortunately, the current one does not even come close to those Commissions’ dignity or seriousness. The American people deserve better.
As I learned from years in the military, where we trained semiannually for riot control, once a mob breaches the line of security, you have “lost the fight.” This is why I was so impressed by the Secret Service at the White House during the riots there over the summer of 2020. They performed riot control operations flawlessly. The lines were never breached. The Capitol Hill Police’s conduct on Jan. 6, not so much. But no one predicted or saw the mob coming, which should be part of the congressional review. From my recent experience with the committee, it is not doing that.
For example, parts of the committee’s questions had nothing to do with Jan. 6. Instead, there were questions on presidential decision-making surrounding the Afghanistan withdrawal. The select committee is heading toward a pre-ordained conclusion from a hyper-partisan Congress: “Trump is bad.” What followed Jan. 6 was nothing less than martial law of Washington, driven not by intelligence but directives emanating from the speaker of the House. When most government agencies saw no further threat, Washington still lived as if an invasion was imminent. I saw the official law enforcement reporting. There was no imminent threat.
Americans’ right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances is protected in the First Amendment of our Nation’s Constitution. I served much of my life to protect that constitutional right. But there needs to be fairness, which means balance and dispassion in follow-on actions. That balance seems to be lacking today. It’s no wonder then that many Americans have tremendous misgivings about the work of this select committee while also agreeing that the actions at the Capitol were wrong.
I lived through divisiveness that many have not, from the riots in America’s streets protesting the Vietnam War to the killings of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately, much of this divisiveness today is driven by a polarized press. An element of the press is incredibly hostile to anything associated with Mr. Trump and feeds much of the division we see today. This group also pushed a fictional Russia-gate storyline related to the 2016 presidential campaign — a fabrication directly related to current international relations with Russia today. It is also misleading the nation. Nearly half (44%) of Democrats mistakenly believe Trump supporters approved of the assault.
I have an idea. Let’s focus on ideas instead of personality. What do we want this nation to look like? What is best for the American people? Study some history. You might be surprised that these situations have existed before. Don’t tear history down or reinvent it, but rather learn from it. If you don’t like what the other side is saying, you don’t have to agree. But you should study and determine for yourself what “truth” is. You might even be surprised. Don’t let others think for you.
Let’s look forward. Americans have always believed in a better future for themselves and their children.
• Lt. Gen.(Ret.) Keith Kellogg is s a highly decorated, retired three star general and currently serves as co-chair of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for American Security. He served as national security adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, and also served as the chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council.