Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday compared Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine to the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, continuing a pattern of establishment opinion leaders using unsupported generalization and flights of rhetorical overkill about the chaotic scenes of that day to stigmatize their domestic political opponents as a violent and disloyal fringe of anti-democratic extremists.
Schwarzenegger’s invocation of last year’s riot at the Capitol came during an impassioned online message to Russians, urging them to ignore the Kremlin’s “propaganda and disinformation” justifying its unprovoked war against Ukraine.
“I hope you will let me tell you the truth about the war in Ukraine and what’s happening there,” said Schwarzenegger. “No one likes to hear something critical of their government. I understand that. But as a longtime friend of the Russian people, I hope that you will hear what I have to say.”
The former governor of California then brought up Jan. 6, appearing to draw a moral equivalence between the Capitol riot and Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“May I remind you that I speak with the same heartfelt concern as I spoke to the American people when there was an attempted insurrection on Jan. 6 last year, when a wild crowd was storming the U.S. Capitol, trying to overthrow our government,” Schwarzenegger continued.
In the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol breach, Schwarzenegger called the riot an insurrectionist attack on democracy, comparing it to Nazi acts of violence during World War II.
“You see, there are moments like this that are so wrong, and then we have to speak up,” the actor and former champion bodybuilder said Thursday, referring to Jan. 6. “This is exactly the same with your government.”
Schwarzenegger then explained how the Kremlin has lied to the Russian people in portraying its invasion of Ukraine as a righteous act rather than a war of aggression. He went on to highlight how Russia has bombed hospitals and other civilian targets across Ukraine, leading to accusations that Russian troops are committing war crimes.
The violence has forced more than three million people to flee Ukraine, according to the United Nations. Almost two million Ukrainians have been internally displaced. Russia invaded less than a month ago.
The Jan. 6 portion of Schwarzenegger’s powerful message to the Russian people is the latest example of a divisive meme that has been embraced over the last 14 months by pillars of the anti-Trump political and media establishment — from President Biden to the small, media-friendly coterie of never-Trump Republicans. They have frequently described those involved in the Capitol riot, those supportive of legal fair play and humane treatment for Jan. 6 defendants, and even those who continue merely to question the results of the 2020 presidential election as insurrectionists and threats to American democracy.
The FBI was unable to find evidence that the Jan. 6 riot was a coordinated insurrection, despite months of investigating the matter.
However, several individuals arrested for their alleged involvement in the Capitol riot have said the FBI, Justice Department, and federal prison officials under the Biden administration violated their civil and constitutional rights. The vast majority weren’t accused of carrying a weapon, assaulting law enforcement, or destroying property — let alone trying to “overthrow our government.” Many didn’t even enter the Capitol building.
Christopher Worrell, for example, was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in the Capitol riot despite never entering the building. In October, a federal judge found D.C. Jail Warden Wanda Patten and D.C. Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth in contempt of court for refusing to turn over records related to the care of Worrell, who suffers from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had a broken hand. The judge referred the matter to the attorney general “for appropriate inquiry into potential civil rights violations of Jan. 6 defendants, as exemplified in this case.”
A judge granted Worrell pretrial release in November with conditions such as home detention and restricted use of electronic devices.
More recently, Matthew Perna committed suicide last month after being arrested and slapped with a felony charge for his role on Jan. 6, despite just taking pictures of the scene. Federal prosecutors dragged out the judicial process for over a year with delays and postponements, and Perna was potentially looking at a years-long sentence, according to journalist Julie Kelly.
Perna’s family wrote in his obituary that he died of a “broken heart,” adding, “His community (which he loved), his country, and the justice system killed his spirit and his zest for life.”
In total, more than 750 people have been imprisoned for Jan. 6-related crimes without a trial. Earlier this month, the first Jan. 6 defendant to stand trial, Guy Reffitt, was found guilty on all counts against him.
Federal prosecutors aren’t the only ones using the insurrectionist label. Since the Capitol riot, Democrats have launched a campaign ahead of the 2022 midterm elections to label and disqualify Republicans who supported efforts to challenge the 2020 election as insurrectionists.
On Thursday, Democratic Party activists filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding Wisconsin Republicans Sen. Ron Johnson and Reps. Tom Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald be barred from the 2022 ballot for spotlighting abnormalities in the 2020 election process and their alleged attempts to interfere with the congressional certification of the results.
Earlier this month, a judge blocked an effort to disqualify Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) from running for reelection by labeling him an insurrectionist.
Labeling one’s political opponents as a traitor, insurrectionist, or even a domestic terrorist extends beyond Jan. 6.
Last week, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) accused former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) of treason. “Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda,” he tweeted. “Her treasonous lies may well cost lives.”
Romney was responding to Gabbard’s claim on social media that there are “25+ US-funded biolabs in Ukraine, which if breached would release & spread deadly pathogens to US/world.”
Gabbard asked Romney to “provide evidence that what I said is untrue and treasonous” or “apologize and resign from the Senate.”
Turning to the executive branch, recent reports indicate coordination between the Justice Department and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) concerning potential investigations into parents who protest mask mandates and the teaching of critical race theory in the classroom for engaging in “domestic terrorism.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security, put out a “National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin,” which cited “false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19” as forces fueling “domestic terrorism.”
Perhaps most infamously, when Donald Trump was president, many of his critics accused him and his aides of being “stooges” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of colluding with Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
In 2019, following a lengthy investigation, then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded there was no Trump-Russia collusion, undermining the narrative pushed relentlessly by Democratic lawmakers and media allies for the preceding two-plus years.