Westerners condemn the ‘big lie’ as it feeds off the region’s deep-rooted extremism
On Thursday, the first anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, Edwin Lyngar spoke at a rally in downtown Reno. He condemned the siege on the U.S. Capitol and continued attempts by Trump-aligned Republican officials to undermine the 2020 presidential election. He also urged the crowd to remain vigilant in defense of democracy.
“We all want to crawl back to our couches, watch some television, drink a beer, pet our dogs, do yoga. I do all of these things. I love them. But we cannot retreat,” Lyngar said. “Saving democracy will take effort, discomfort and rage.”
Evangeline Elston traveled from her home in neighboring Lyon County to join the crowd. She’s a registered Democrat in a deep red, rural district.
“People are so divided and so pissed off at each other that I think it’s really a scary, dangerous time,” she said.
The Reno rally was part of a national day of action hosted by groups advocating for voting rights, including the nonpartisan Indivisible Northern Nevada. One year ago, an armed mob supporting former president Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress’s certification of Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election. President Joe Biden won that race by almost 7 million votes. Events were held on Thursday across the Mountain West and across the country.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, recounted on Wednesday how Trump laid the groundwork for the insurrection by trying to overturn the results. In the days before the attack, for example, the former president pressured Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” 11,780 votes for him. During pre-election speeches in Minden, Nevada, and elsewhere, Trump falsely claimed Democrats were “trying to rig the election,” and he’s stuck to that script since his loss.
Weiser called the attempts to keep Trump in office a “fundamental threat” to American democracy.
“The question of our time is: How do we view January 6th? How do we view attacks on the democratic republic itself?” Weiser said.
But many Republican officials in the West have embraced Trump’s “big lie,” reflecting his enduring grip on the GOP.
Adam Laxalt, Nevada’s former attorney general and current senatorial candidate, led a series of lawsuits seeking to get legally submitted ballots thrown on behalf of the Trump reelection campaign. The cases were all dismissed for a lack of evidence.
Still, election denialism continues to pay political dividends: More than 75% of Republicans reject the results of the presidential race, according to recent polling.
“The ‘big lie’ has become the litmus test in Republican primaries across the country,” said Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford.
But the pro-Trump misinformation campaign has also turned some voters off. King Dupree was at the rally in Reno. He voted for Trump in 2016, but not in 2020.
“I don't agree with Trump in a lot of things, especially how they tried to overtake the office and all of that. I don't agree with that,” he said. “If he wasn't so crooked about some of the things that he did, maybe he would have won again.”
Many of the Republicans pushing Trump’s lies have close ties to anti-government extremists in the West.
Accountable.US, a left-leaning watchdog group, released a report Thursday connecting the insurrection with earlier conflicts over ranching and mining on federal lands, beginning with the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s.
“The anti-public lands movement is a breeding ground for this type of animosity that helped supercharge the events of January 6 and contribute to them,” Accountable spokesperson Karl Frisch said.
Frisch says far-right politicians like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar were primed for the insurrection by their previous involvement with anti-government extremists.
In December 2020, Reyes signed an amicus brief in support of a Supreme Court case seeking to have votes thrown out in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He is also the former chairman of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, one of the sponsors of the so-called March To Save America that took place just before protesters stormed the Capitol.
The fund also sponsored robocalls urging Trump supporters to “march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal” in the days before the insurrection. After the day’s attack turned deadly, Reyes sought to distance himself from the group.
Years earlier, as the Accountable report details, Reyes intervened on behalf of Cliven Bundy when the government planned to auction the radical rancher’s cattle in Utah to help pay down the $1 million in grazing fees he refused to pay. Bundy and his sons gained a large following among the far-right after they organized a series of armed standoffs with federal agents in Nevada and Oregon.
Frisch predicts the growth of right-wing radicalism will continue in the leadup to midterm elections later this year.
“Because these two movements are so intertwined, I think we’re likely to see more of it,” he said.
Meanwhile, advocates like Lyngar support abolishing the Electoral College and eliminating the filibuster, which would allow Democrats to pass federal voter protections. He told the crowd on Thursday it was up to voters to put pressure on lawmakers for those changes to be adopted.
“We are the only thing standing between autocracy and Democracy in America, because a line has been crossed,” he said. “We must defend democracy because we're only one bad break from losing it.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The first photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.