On Jan. 6, 2021, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran and pilot in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, spent six hours barricaded in his office with his gun, ready to defend himself against the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
A mob attempted to disrupt the session to count Electoral votes and formalize the election of Democratic President Joe Biden over former Republican President Donald Trump.
“There was a moment where I was like, ‘Man, there’s a real sense of evil,’ " he told Rolling Stone magazine about what was unfolding throughout the Capitol building.
Nearly a year has passed since that tumultuous day in American history and Kinzinger is one of two GOP lawmakers serving on the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the Jan. 6th Capitol riot. And, despite the time, Kinzinger said he still questions how far the national conscience has progressed from the chaos of that day.
The line has been clearly drawn in his mind between what is right and wrong. He said he is frightened the line is not as clear to some of his fellow Americans, who believe conspiracy theories that the FBI, or ANTIFA, or other groups were behind it and not Trump supporters.
Despite voting for Donald Trump in November, Kinzinger became one of his biggest critics in the days leading up to Jan. 6, and unapologetically so, afterward. He was one of 10 members of the GOP who voted in favor of Trump’s second impeachment, started the Country First Campaign to set a conservative agenda away from the former president’s politics and agreed to be on the committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack – all controversial moves within his own party, and even within his own family, in which 11 members sent him a letter accusing him of being a part of the “devil’s army.”
After being censured by at least three county Republican parties within his district, taking on criticism within his party and being drawn into a new district with another sitting GOP congressman, Kinzinger decided not to run for a seventh term in Congress.
On Wednesday, Kinzinger ended speculation of a statewide political run in Illinois and announced in a video he is “transitioning from serving just one corner of Illinois into fighting this new nationwide mission full time.” His communication director later confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday he would not mount a statewide run. She did not return an immediate message for comment with Shaw Media.
In a recent interview with Shaw Local News Network at his Ottawa office, Kinzinger reflected on the Jan. 6 insurrection and his role not only in getting to the root of how it transpired, but setting the record straight for future generations.
“On the one hand, it feels like it was yesterday, on the other hand, it feels like it was 10 years ago,” Kinzinger said of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“When I look back over the last year, I look back with a lot of disappointment. I initially thought there was no way that we don’t recover, look inward at this, and say ‘what went wrong?’ ‘That went too far.’ "
That’s why he says the Jan. 6 committee’s work is important.
The committee’s challenge is to gather all the information it can – texts, emails, depositions, testimony, all in the face of legal battles and delays, and figure out what went wrong, then write an accurate account for the history books.
In recent weeks, the committee has released bits of information, which Kinzinger described as just “tips of the iceberg.” Text messages from Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, were shared in December with the public, demonstrating the former president was being admonished to call off the rioters. Recently released text messages show Fox News anchor Sean Hannity reaching out to Trump and his inner circle with concerns about how the electoral count was going to play out.
The congressman said these items are capturing attention from not only the public, but also Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who opposed the formation of the Jan. 6 committee, but took notice of Meadows’ texts, saying “I do think we’re all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side, and it will be interesting to reveal all of the participants who were involved.”
“That’s a big deal and I think it shows he recognizes this is big as well,” Kinzinger said.
The committee’s challenge will be two fold, Kinzinger said. Capture the public’s attention, but also present it all before the end of the year. If the Republican Party regains control of the House in the November election – which he believes will happen – Kinzinger said the committee will be shut down.
The congressman said the goal is to conduct hearings presenting the committee’s findings by late summer or early fall.
Kinzinger said the scope of the investigation goes beyond finding out how Trump reacted in the days leading up to Jan. 6 and shortly after it. His bigger concerns are regarding the days before and after.
He acknowledges, even if evidence were to spell out clear wrongdoing, not everyone is going to change their mind on what happened.
“You can give some people, not everybody, all the evidence in the world and it won’t matter,” Kinzinger said. “So I look at it, and I go, this is going to be a longer battle. We’ll come to full accountability on the committee, but the change in the national conscience is going to take a long time.”
Further clouding matters, Fox News didn’t televise the committee report that made public the series of text messages to Meadows as the riot was unfolding. Kinzinger said there are people who consume only media to their political taste, and that makes having an open debate challenging.
“That’s why I think local media is so important, local TV, local radio, newspapers,” Kinzinger said. “The more they can relate local news events to what’s happening with the country through local stories, that’s important.”
Kinzinger said the country wasn’t far from a massive crisis on Jan. 6.
Recalling a Senate clerk grabbed the paper electoral vote ballots before the insurrection, he said there wasn’t a clear direction on what the country would have done next and how local officials would have reacted if states had to re-certify their results had the ballots been destroyed or lost.
He believes the country needs to reflect on what transpired Jan. 6 and change course.
“I think we will hit a point, short of a change of course, where we are fully incapable of actually functioning and competing with other countries as a country,” Kinzinger said.
Barbara F. Walter, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, serves on a CIA advisory panel called the Political Instability Task Force, which studies the likelihood of civil unrest in other nations. She published a book this month called “How Civil Wars Start,” outlining an argument for why the U.S. is vulnerable to a Civil War, using the same parameters the U.S. uses to analyze other nations.
When asked about the potential of a Civil War, Kinzinger said he doesn’t foresee it in a military sense, or anything like the one that pit the North versus the South. He also said talk of one is best avoided, because it shouldn’t become the narrative.
“What I worry about is when we make friends based on politics, which to me is actually the most asinine reason to be a friend with somebody and we don’t learn other perspectives and we dehumanize the other side, violence is the next logical step,” he said. “I truly am worried about at least a collapse of what we have today.”
What gives him hope?
“I am completely confident this is the right thing to do,” he said of the Jan. 6 committee’s work.
The committee’s findings, he said, will set the tone for how the next generation talks about Jan. 6, learns about it and remembers it.
“In 5 or 10 years when kids are in school,” he said, “they are going to learn about that report, they’re not going to learn about the conspiracies.”