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An assault on this democracy demands answers

Only a 9/11 Commission-style investigation can provide a full accounting of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

An armed member of the National Guard outside the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 13, 2021, ahead of the fifth day of the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.ALYSSA SCHUKAR/NYT

Even as our nation longs to put the trauma of the January insurrection behind, and to move on and deal with the pressing issues of a pandemic, there can be no moving on until the full story is told and all the attacks’ instigators and accomplices are held accountable.

And that can’t happen until participants and witnesses are questioned under oath by an independent commission — a group beholden to no one and to no political party.

If there is a way to unite a deeply divided nation around a set of truths, it is to delve into what happened on Jan. 6 and the days and months leading up to it — to uncover all the facts, expose the guilty, and assure, to the extent possible, that the seat of government will never again be threatened.


Over last weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a letter to her Democratic members, introduced the idea of a 9/11-style commission “to protect our security.”

Referencing the interim report prepared by retired Army Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, assigned by Pelosi to assess Capitol security after the attack, the speaker wrote, “It is clear from his findings and from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened.”

It’s an idea this editorial board proposed back on Jan. 8 as a sort of “after action report” on the events leading up to the attack, how it might have been prevented, and who was complicit in inciting the riot aimed at overturning a lawful election and the peaceful transition of power.

In the intervening days — days in which more than 230 arrests have been made, new video released documenting the moments of horror and the full extent of the threat, and timelines drawn and redrawn — even more questions have emerged.


Some of those might have been answered in the course of the Senate impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump had it not been short-circuited by the decision of House impeachment managers not to call witnesses.

And while their decision might have made no difference to the outcome, the nation should have heard from Republican Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler about her conversation with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy — or better yet, from McCarthy himself. When telephoned in the middle of the riot by McCarthy, did Trump really say, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are” — thus proving Trump refused to do anything to stop the riot?

There must still be an accounting for delays in deploying the National Guard and for the failure of the Capitol Police to prepare for what turned into a bloody onslaught.

There is still no definitive answer to whether any members of Congress led possible surveillance “tours” of the Capitol ahead of the insurrection for those later involved.

Yes, the list of people an independent inquiry can and should put under oath is a long one.

The 9/11 Commission took a long-overdue look at the roots of international terrorism — and the ways in which the intelligence community was hampered by both laws and its own tradition of “stovepiping” intelligence that should have been shared. So, too, a Jan. 6 commission must take an equally hard look at domestic terrorism — and the ways in which white supremacists and militia groups have been allowed to grow and prosper.


The words of the 9/11 Commission ring as true today as they did then: “We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over time.”

The 9/11 Commission, created by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, took nearly 21 months to complete its work, which included more than three dozen recommendations for policies and legislation aimed at preventing the next attack. Pelosi is absolutely right that a Jan. 6 commission’s membership will be key — bipartisan, above reproach, and small in number (the 9/11 Commission had only 10 members), with an abundance of staff.

Most Americans want answers — answers they didn’t get from a truncated impeachment process. The right-wing extremists who inspired and carried out the attack are still here, and Congress should not assume that the outrage of Jan. 6 can’t happen again.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.