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Gov. Ron DeSantis downplays Jan. 6, says it wasn't an insurrection but a 'protest' that 'ended up devolving'

The idea that Jan. 6 'was a plan to somehow overthrow the government of the United States is not true,' DeSantis says
Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference at the Celebrate Freedom Foundation Hangar in West Columbia, S.C. July 18, 2023.
Posted at 5:14 PM, Jul 21, 2023

NEW YORK — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday downplayed the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol, saying it was not an insurrection but rather a "protest" that "ended up devolving, you know, in a way that was unfortunate, of course."

DeSantis, speaking in an interview on the podcast of comedian Russell Brand, said the idea that Jan. 6 "was a plan to somehow overthrow the government of the United States is not true, and it's something that the media had spun up."

The violent attack by a mob of supporters loyal to then-President Donald Trump was fueled by lies that the 2020 election was stolen. Rioters stormed the building in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's election victory, breaking windows, fighting police officers and forcing lawmakers and former Vice President Mike Pence to flee for their lives. Nine deaths were linked to the attack, including four officers who later died by suicide.

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"If somebody is honestly doing an insurrection against the U.S. government, then prove that that's the case and I'll be happy to accept it, but all you’re showing me is that there were a lot of protesters there and it ended up devolving, you know, in a way that were unfortunate, of course. But to say that they were seditionists is just wrong," said DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who was campaigning in Utah on Friday.

Six Oath Keepers, including the group’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, were convicted of seditious conspiracy over the course of two trials for what prosecutors said was a plot to stop the transfer of power from Trump to Biden. Former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio and three other members of that extremist group were convicted of the seditious conspiracy charge in May.

They were convicted on the Civil War-era charge, which requires prosecutors to prove people conspired to overthrow the government, for orchestrating a weekslong plot that culminated in the attack.

More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Over 600 of them have pleaded guilty, while approximately 100 others have been convicted after trials decided by judges or juries. More than 550 riot defendants have been sentenced, with over half receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from six days to the 18 years Rhodes received.

More than 250 people have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement who were trying to protect the Capitol, including more than 85 accused of using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer.

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DeSantis, in his comments Friday, also said it was “ridiculous” how much money was being provided for the U.S. Capitol police in the wake of the attack.

The Florida governor is now challenging both Trump and Pence for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Trump, who has praised the rioters as "patriots," broke the news earlier this week that he has been informed he is a target of the Justice Department's investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, including the events leading up to the Jan. 6 attack.

Pence has denounced Trump over Jan. 6, saying that the former president endangered his family and everyone else at the Capitol that day and that history will hold him accountable.

DeSantis comments are in line with other Republican supporters of Trump who've minimized the attack to varying degrees. DeSantis has been seeking to appeal to Trump supporters as he campaigns for the White House, often portraying Trump as having failed to follow through on his own policies.

The Florida governor has made similar comments in the past dismissing that the attack was an insurrection, saying at a January 2022 news conference that it was "an insult to people" to call it an insurrection when "nobody has been charged with that."

At a campaign event in June in New Hampshire, DeSantis said he "didn't enjoy seeing" what happened on Jan. 6 but said, "We've got to go forward on this stuff. We cannot be looking backwards."

Earlier this week, DeSantis criticized Trump's actions on Jan. 6, saying, "He should have come out more forcefully," but questioned whether Trump's behavior was a crime.