On Wednesday morning, a group of Republican lawmakers stormed the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or “SCIF,” where members of the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs Committees were deposing a witness as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Led by Representative Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman seen previously peddling the conspiracy theory that George Soros is bankrolling migrant caravans from Central America, between 25 and 30 of them occupied the room for several hours in protest, with several asking to be arrested. (None of them were.)
The stated reasons for their demonstration were as follows: House Democrats, led by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, are holding secret hearings about impeachment and cutting Republicans out of the process. In reality, proceedings like Wednesday’s deposition have been neither secretive nor exclusive to one party. The hearing was not public — as is customary when sensitive or classified matters are being presented, including during Bill Clinton’s GOP-led impeachment trial in 1998 and 1999 — but Republicans who sit on the three committees mentioned above are more than welcome to attend, as many have.
Reality was beside the point, though. The actual goal for Gaetz and company was to create the false optics of victimization. The Republican sit-in was designed to convey to the public a dynamic that pitted marginalized conservatives against the powerful Democratic Establishment — an image strikingly at odds with the reality that they’d undertaken it to protect the president of the United States, on behalf of a political party that controls the White House, the Senate, the majority of governorships and state legislatures, and, in all but name, the U.S. Supreme Court.
Crucially, they sought to accomplish this by co-opting the imagery of civil-rights protest: the occupations, sit-ins, and arrests that marked the American Indian Movement and the fight against Jim Crow recast as a refuge for powerful white men desperate to preserve their power. Even beyond Wednesday’s demonstration, this fictitious inversion of the actual power dynamics that animate American political and social life is a centerpiece of the conservative political project — a movement that would deflate if its adherents ceased to believe that they were victims constantly under attack.