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Stateside Podcast: Understanding the Jan. 6 Hearings

Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol
Tyler Merbler / Wikimedia Commons
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"Trump has only asked me for two things– He asked for my vote and he asked for me to come on Jan. 6.”
Roseville resident Robert Schornack

On Thursday, June 9, a hearing was conducted by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. This hearing saw committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) present new video footage, including testimony from former Attorney General William Barr and Ivanka Trump. The Select Committee is set to have hearings throughout the summer.

But this is not the first time that Congress has investigated threats to the United States. It has happened five times; most notably during the Watergate scandal in 1973.

Jennifer Selin, who is the co-director of Wayne State’s Carl Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy’s Washington D.C. Office recently wrote an article about the five other times Congress has put on these investigations.

At the start of the hearing, Thompson spoke about the U.S. and its past divisions. Selin said she thought his speech set the tone for the investigation becoming an historic inquiry — as something that will go down in American history.

Historically, hearings have had lasting impacts. Selin said the 187 congressional investigations into the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, still has echoes today. During this time Democrats questioned whether the lynching, rapes, and systematic violence committed by the hate group even happened in the first place.

“[T]he Democrats wrote a report that actually legitimized the KKK’s actions in undeniably racist language,” Selin said. “Then segments of the public began to adopt that language and those ideas that were contained in that minority report and reiterated by Democratic members of Congress for decades to come.”

Hearings have the potential to change minds, which in turn can put political pressure on legislators to enact change.

“So the one thing that these public hearings can actually do is get people talking about this stuff at the dinner table," Selin said. "And the more discussion about this there is, the more likely it is that we could have some sort of change with respect to false narratives.”

Selin also said that the hearings are important for the reason that they bring transparency and accountability to the government.

“I think that the hearings are important in several respects, even if immediately afterwards, we don’t see something really tangible, such as a big piece of legislation that fixes all of the world’s problems,” Selin said. “Hearings legitimize our democracy.”

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Dan Netter joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2022 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Social Relations & Policy.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Radio in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the Summer of 2020.