More than 1,000 Americans in positions of public trust acted as accomplices in Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election result, participating in the violent insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January or spreading the “big lie” that the vote count had been rigged.
The startling figure underlines the extent to which Trump’s attempt to undermine the foundations of presidential legitimacy has metastasized across the US. Individuals who engaged in arguably the most serious attempt to subvert democracy since the civil war are now inveigling themselves into all levels of government, from Congress and state legislatures down to school boards and other local public bodies.
The finding that 1,011 individuals in the public realm played a role in election subversion around the 2020 presidential race comes from a new pro-democracy initiative that will launch on Thursday on the anniversary of the Capitol assault.
The Insurrection Index seeks to identify all those who supported Trump in his bid to hold on to power despite losing the election, in the hope that they can be held accountable and prevented from inflicting further damage to the democratic infrastructure of the country.
All of the more than 1,000 people recorded on the index have been invested with the public’s trust, having been entrusted with official positions and funded with taxpayer dollars. Many are current or former government employees at federal, state or local levels.
Among them are 213 incumbents in elected office and 29 who are running as candidates for positions of power in upcoming elections. There are also 59 military veterans, 31 current or former law enforcement officials, and seven who sit on local school boards.
When the index goes live on Thursday, it will contain a total of 1,404 records of those who played a role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. In addition to the 1,011 individuals, it lists 393 organizations deemed to have played a part in subverting democracy.
The index is the brainchild of Public Wise, a voting rights group whose mission is to fight for government that reflects the will and the rights of voters. Christina Baal-Owens, the group’s executive director, said that the index was conceived as an ongoing campaign designed to keep insurrectionists out of office.
“These are folks who silenced the voices of American voters, who took a validly held election and created fraudulent information to try to silence voters. They have no business being near legislation or being able to affect the lives of American people,” she said.
The project has been set up with legal advice from Marc Elias, one of the most influential election lawyers in the US who was Hillary Clinton’s top counsel in the 2016 presidential campaign and who successfully led Joe Biden’s resistance to Trump’s blitzkrieg of lawsuits contesting the 2020 results. Elias told the Guardian that the index was needed urgently to avoid history repeating itself in 2024 or beyond.
“We are one, maybe two elections away from a constitutional crisis over election subversion,” he said. “If we don’t recognize who was behind the attempt to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, then next time we will be less prepared and it may succeed.”
Elias said he saw the index as an example of the kinds of robust action progressives need to take to combat an unprecedented wave of anti-democratic legislation emanating from Republicans in the past 12 months. While Trump had reshaped the right to be laser-focused on elections and winning at all costs, Democrats are spreading their energies thinly between a number of causes of which protecting democracy was just one, he said.
“The central theme of the Republican party today is undermining free and fair elections. Under Trump that has become a credential within the party, and we can’t let those folks win without a fight because if we do we lose our democracy.”
The individuals recorded on the index who are already in public office include the 147 members of Congress who objected to the certification of the 2020 election result. The list also names many elected officials in state legislatures across the nation, including states like Arizona that were ground zero for Trump’s efforts to steal the election from Biden.
Jake Hoffman, a lawmaker who represents Arizona’s 12th district, wrote to fellow Republicans a day before the Capitol insurrection urging them to pressure then vice-president Mike Pence into blocking Biden’s victory. “Vice-President Pence has the power to delay congressional certification and seek clarification from state legislatures in contested states as to which slate of electors are proper and accurate,” Hoffman wrote, reflecting a theory embraced by Trump that has been thoroughly rebutted.
The week before the insurrection, 17 Arizona state lawmakers wrote to Pence urging him to “block the use of any Electors from Arizona” despite multiple counts by then establishing that Biden had won the state by more than 10,000 votes. Among the signatories was Mark Finchem, a member of the Arizona House of representatives who was present at Trump’s “stop the steal” rally in Washington on 6 January and who is now vying to become Arizona secretary of state – the top election official who oversees the presidential count.
Among the 59 individuals on the index with military backgrounds is Christopher Warnagiris, who in June became the first active-duty member of the armed forces to be charged in relation with the Capitol assault. Despite facing nine counts of assault and violent entry, he has been permitted to continue serving within the training and education section at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia.
Public Wise has drawn on a number of public information sources to compile the index, working in partnership with other pro-democracy groups who have added specialist skills. The partners include American Oversight, a non-partisan organisation that has used freedom of information laws to extract information from government agencies that exposes participants in the big lie.
“The goal is to build up a holistic picture so that nothing can fall through the cracks and no one can slip away,” said Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight. “We ask: who is this cc’d on this email? What handle is this on a social media account? If we can connect the dots we can ensure accountability can be brought to bear.”
Evers said that the most chilling revelation of the research was that the 6 January insurrection was inspired by an ideology that was supported by people in power. “State legislators in Arizona were involved in the run-up to January 6 and after January 6 used their positions to drive the big lie. That feels cancerous – the attack on democracy has the backing of political, and even governmental, infrastructure.”
One likely charge leveled at the new index by rightwing individuals and groups is that it is a form of “cancel culture”, designed to silence anyone airing uncomfortable views. Baal-Owens dismisses any such criticism.
“Our call to action is about voting, not doxing,” she said, pointing out that no private information is included on the index. “The call to action is not to show up at this person’s house or chase their child to school, but to allow every registered voter to have an educated way to cast their vote.”
The groups behind the index hope that it will alert voters to the anti-democratic actions of people running for elected office. The value of such a record, they believe, would increase exponentially were the Republicans to take back control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections, leading almost certainly to an abrupt halt in congressional investigations into the events of 6 January.