Tonight, the bipartisan congressional committee charged with investigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection begins its public hearings, giving us a first glimpse of the results of its yearlong investigation. In advance of the hearings, Republicans have been waging a publicity campaign seeking to delegitimize the committee and convince the public to view its work as just another partisan skirmish. 

North Carolinians shouldn’t buy the spin: they should watch the hearings for themselves, live and in prime time, and then decide whether the committee’s work has merit.  

Having spent most of my professional life working in and around the U.S. Capitol, I’ll never forget the visceral sense of outrage and dread I felt watching violent insurrectionists descend on the heart of American democracy. Yet as traumatic as January 6 was, we know now that it was not an isolated event: it must be understood in the context of everything that came before it and everything that has come since. 

Well before November 7, 2020, Donald Trump and his allies were sowing doubts about the integrity of the election, laying the groundwork to challenge the results, and girding their supporters for a fight. When it became clear Trump had lost, they engaged in a coordinated plot to overturn the will of the voters, using every tool at their disposal. They filed more than 60 lawsuits and pressured the Department of Justice to intervene. They cajoled state elections officials. They tried to appoint bogus electors. They repeated, over and over and over, the pernicious lie that the election was stolen. 

This was not the desperate flailing of a defeated politician. It was a concerted strategy to overturn the election, laid out in memos, briefings, PowerPoints, and text messages that have since come to light. 

The strategy culminated on January 6, in an effort to disrupt the counting of electoral votes by Congress—an effort supported by nearly 150 Republican legislators, against the backdrop of a violent insurrection that came shockingly close to succeeding.  

But if January 6 was a culmination, it was also a blueprint. In the seventeen months since, Trump and his allies have been systematically weakening or removing the barriers that prevented their plan from succeeding in 2020. Uncooperative elected officials have been defeated or forced out of office. Election deniers are being aggressively recruited as poll watchers to challenge future election results. And—at last count—at least 14 states have enacted legislation making it easier for their legislatures to politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections, and another 19 states are considering it. 

That is why the work of the January 6 committee is so crucial–not just to ensure accountability for an attack against our country, but to protect our country against future attacks. And while all Americans should be paying attention, the hearings should be of particular interest to North Carolinians for several reasons.  

Seven of the eight Republicans in our state’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives voted to overturn the 2020 election results–and were thus complicit in the insurrection, directly or indirectly. A former member of the delegation, Mark Meadows, is at the center of the Committee’s investigation as Trump’s chief of staff.

But the committee’s hearings also matter for North Carolina because of what they might prevent. Thus far, our state has largely avoided the wave of election subversion legislation that has swept through other states such as Georgia and Tennessee–thanks in part to Governor Cooper’s veto and in part to the fact that our elections are run by a professional, non-partisan staff governed by a bipartisan board. 

Now imagine it’s 2024 and Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly, a majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson at the top of the ticket. Would they be able to resist the pressure to do exactly what their counterparts in other states have done? 

So what happens this week in Congress–and in the weeks to come, as the Department of Justice and other law enforcement authorities consider criminal prosecution for those involved–will have profound implications for our state and our nation. I urge all North Carolinians to tune in. 

Asher D. Hildebrand is an Associate Professor of the Practice at Duke University. He served previously as Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. David Price (D-NC). 

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