"You've got guns. Use them.": Lindsey Graham reportedly urged cops to open fire on January 6

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

This must be the first time that someone’s in political trouble with the right instead of the left for wanting to shoot rioters.

There’s no hard proof that Graham said this but I do remember that he was worked up on the evening of January 6, when Congress reconvened and he gave that floor speech about finally hopping off the Trump train. “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it,” he said. “From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president, but today, first thing you’ll see. All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.” That was a moment when Republican pols thought the political ground might be shifting beneath their feet, believing that even many of Trump’s admirers among the base would be horrified by what he had incited. Enough was enough.

But it wasn’t. The political class quickly realized that most Republicans didn’t care about January 6, which is why only 10 GOP votes to impeach materialized the following week. Graham slunk back abroad the Trump train not long after. Since then populists seem to have concluded that the insurrection was at worst misguided but not a big deal and at best Actually Good, which is why I’d guess Graham will deny ever having said this when he’s asked about it.

Imagine condoning the use of force to repel an enraged mob, some members of which were shouting that the vice president should be hanged as they proceeded through the Capitol.

The Senate and House leaders also had been evacuated by Capitol Police and taken to an undisclosed location, but many lawmakers remained in their chambers for a few minutes before they were led to safety in the Hart Senate Office Building. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham was irate that senators were forced to flee their own chamber. He yelled at the Senate sergeant-at-arms. “What are you doing? Take back the Senate! You’ve got guns. Use them.” The South Carolina senator was adamant. “We give you guns for a reason,” he repeated. “Use them.”

Would a shootout between a few hundred cops and a few thousand rioters have gone well for the police or for members of Congress? Senators probably had only a few dozen cops with them where they were hiding out, if that many. What would have happened if a gunfight had begun and then the police ran out of ammunition?

Not a great tactical impulse from Graham, but an understandable one given the peril he was facing. This bit from a new Matt Labash piece jumped out at me today:

Just two weeks ago, at a dinner party, when we got to discussing the events of January 6, a female friend of mine opined that Ashli Babbitt was a martyr, the woman who was shot dead by a Capitol policeman. He was the last line of defense between Babbitt and the raging mob tagging along behind her as she filed through a broken window to confront congresspeople who weren’t as convinced as she was that Trump was still the elected president of the United States. Since both the popular vote and electoral college, as well as over 60 court decisions, suggested otherwise.

I asked my friend what she thought would have happened if Babbitt and the angry mob had say, come face-to-face with octogenarian Nancy Pelosi. Would they have merely had a spirited chat about the merits of mail-in voting? Or did she think real violence might have occurred, as had been intimated by the same crowd who was chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Trump’s very own vice president, who, for once in his lapdog life, failed to fall in line? “I wish they’d have killed Nancy Pelosi,” she said. “And Chuck Schumer, too!” This friend of mine is otherwise a nice church lady, a woman of faith who I greatly admire. So she was kidding. I hope?

I hope. Revisionism about January 6 always circles back to the idea that the rioters weren’t actually dangerous, never mind the injuries they inflicted on the police. Most were guilty of nothing worse than trespassing in a public building that’s normally open to everyone, we’re told. The dangerous ones were Antifa provocateurs, dressed up like Trumpers to fool the public. The few Trump supporters who got rowdy were doubtless egged on by deep-state agents from the FBI. All of these mental gymnastics labor to minimize the threat, which is why Graham’s “use your guns” exhortation will be received by populists as some horrifically sinister overreaction.

But Labash’s question hangs in the air for anyone who watched that mob go berserk outside the Capitol, fighting their way in past police. What would they have done if they’d found Pelosi or Schumer or AOC or some other well-known villain from the left? What if they had found Pence? The question answers itself. We all understand how mobs behave. Lindsey Graham understands too. Everything else is noise.

I was going to end with a clip of Tucker Carlson’s comments about Graham last night but you can guess what he thinks. And if you couldn’t, you’d know that the many political axes nationalists like Tucker have to grind with more traditional Republicans like Graham would have led him to criticize Graham harshly even if he wasn’t invested in whitewashing the insurrection. Let’s end with this instead.