DENVER — Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when thousands of people stormed the building in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
In the hours and days after that historic moment, condemnation came from both sides of the aisle. However, in the weeks and months that followed, that tough tone from some Republicans began to soften.
Questions began to emerge about who the insurrectionists were and what really happened. The criticism and reflection of that day have created a schism in parts of the Republican Party, with some on the far-right refusing to accept the results of the 2020 election while others try to reconcile the events of Jan. 6.
“It's disturbing to me that a year out now, the "Big Lie" persists,” said Naazneen Barma, director of the Scrivner Institute of Public Policy at the University of Denver. “What is happening now in Republican circles and president, former President Trump's circles is a continued attempt to recast what happened on the day itself to claim that it was a conspiracy of the government against Donald Trump.”
Barma has paid a lot of attention to what has happened in the year since the insurrection and says instead of that moment uniting the country as other major events have in the past, the riots have been more divisive than anything.
“What I think we're seeing is that Donald Trump has a stronger hold on the Republican Party than he did even at that time,” he said. “What it has done is sort of further divided the body politic and further contributed to the polarization of the Republican Party.”
It’s that division and partisanship that has caused former state lawmaker Cole Wist to begin to rethink his party affiliation. He sees the insurrection as an American tragedy and one of the darkest days in U.S. history.
In the year since, Wist has spent quite a bit of time online trying to dispel misinformation but says he’s tired.
“I've been a Republican for a long time. I was proud to serve as a Republican elected official. But I've tried to be a voice of reason over the last year since January 6,” Wist said. “I got to a place after a year of trying to encourage the party to change where I felt like no one was, frankly, listening to me. So, I made the choice to unaffiliate from the party.”
It’s been 1 year since Jan. 6, 2021. All downhill from there. Election lies, vaccine misinformation, making it harder to vote, excusing Jan. 6 thuggery, conspiracy theories galore.
I tried. I encouraged reason. I urged a pivot from Trump. I failed.
I’m out. #Unaffiliated
— Cole Wist (@colewist) January 4, 2022
Leaving the party to become unaffiliated was a difficult decision with a lot of mixed emotions, but Wist says he hopes it prompts a discussion about the direction Republicans are headed.
Behind the scenes, Wist says he was hearing from many other Republicans that they are just as frustrated and embarrassed about the "Big Lie" as he is. But publicly, he says he noticed his colleagues have largely stayed silent on the topic.
While Democratic leaders on a state and federal level from Colorado posted on social media on the Jan. 6 anniversary offering remembrances, their Republican counterparts have largely remained silent on the topic.
“It seems to me that what I see in the Republican Party today are folks that are largely making decisions based on fear, fear of losing an election,” Wist said.
Wist lost his election in 2018 and says he knows it’s not fun to lose but that it’s important for candidates to show that they respect the voice of the voters by accepting defeat.
Until the party as a whole accepts the truth and dispels misinformation around election integrity, Wist says he doesn’t believe Republicans will be a force in Colorado politics.
“It baffles me why we're still debating who won that election. That's never happened in the history of our country,” he said. “When we stop telling the truth, we're lost as a country.”
Others believe it’s important to work within the party on a way to move forward after the events of Jan. 6.
Sage Naumann is the communications director for Colorado Senate Republicans. Like Wist, both after the election and the insurrection, Naumann has been outspoken on social media, urging his fellow Republicans to accept certain truths.
Politically, Naumann says not much has shifted in the year since the insurrection, on both sides of the aisle.
“Both sides are still at each other's throats. Animosity is still as high as it's ever been,” he said. “Not much has changed, and that's a problem. We haven't had a moment where we've set ourselves down as Americans and said, 'How do we fix this?' It's both sides.”
Naumann points out that in Colorado, a group of Senate Republicans did come together on Jan. 6 to condemn the insurrection. He says they also condemned the violence and destruction outside the Colorado Capitol in the summer of 2020.
However, Naumann says national politics is different than what’s happening within Colorado, and that lawmakers on a state level have found ways to work together on COVID-19 funding and other important bills. He still believes that principled politics are possible, even in a hyperpartisan environment.
“There's a difference between standing your ground and having principles, and actually hating those across the aisle, actually believing that they're an enemy of the state," Naumann said. "That mindset is corrupting."
Nevertheless, Naumann believes it’s important for him and other Republicans to stay with the party they love and not allow those with extreme views to take over.
“I think that it's best that Republicans like myself stay, and we do what we can to present a Republican Party that is rational, reasonable, principled, for sure," he said. "But one that believes in rule of law, and that believes that our constitutional republic should continue to exist."
Naumann sees Jan. 6 as a warning for what could happen if civil discourse devolves.
He and Wist have different ideas for how to help the party move forward, but both agree that the events of Jan. 6 need to be remembered and hope this hyperpartisanship will change.