Polizzi spent the rest of the week hunched over a laptop at her parents’ house in New Jersey: “Immediately we were getting incoming from other people: ‘What about this person?’ ‘What about this person?’ ‘What about this person?’” she said. The list set in motion a full-time effort inside the DLCC to identify Republican legislators who attended the insurrection and “call them out” — an old-fashioned name-and-shame campaign. They wanted the lawmakers who had supported a historic assault on democracy — the state reps and delegates and assembly members who had either attended the “Stop the Steal” rally, swarmed past police barricades, or in at least one case, entered the Capitol itself — to be deemed intolerable by their own.
Eight months later, as the Jan. 6 congressional committee struggles to enforce witness subpoenas, and with all but a few members of the GOP dismissing the investigation as a partisan exercise, it is easy to forget those first few hours and days when such a response not only felt feasible, but likely. “We honestly thought that it was possible that some of these folks actually would at least face consequences or step down,” Polizzi said.
Over the month that followed, the DLCC set aside a modest sum to run digital ads about the insurrection in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Michigan — “Republican legislators fanned the flames. Some were even there,” the narrator says over images of destruction. As the campaign grew, expanding to any state lawmakers who propagated claims of a “rigged election” or lobbied the courts to overturn the race, the DLCC’s two-person research team sifted through local news clips, through “Stop the Steal” hashtags on Twitter, through signatures on legal briefs and letters to Congress. They collected email responses to an “insurrectionist” tip line and the video footage assembled and dissected by the obsessives who became known as Sedition Hunters. Ernest Bailey, a young researcher on staff compiled the names in internal spreadsheets.
In the end, the list grew to 21 lawmakers who fit the DLCC’s broad definition of “insurrectionist” — everything from attending the rally to joining the demonstrations on Capitol grounds — and another nearly 600 who promoted “Stop the Steal” rhetoric or signed letters or briefs calling to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Based on the current count of state houses across the country, the DLCC’s group represented more than 15 percent of all state-level Republican lawmakers.
And nothing happened.
As of this month, the only Republican legislator to step down is Derrick Evans, a West Virginia delegate who live-streamed himself entering the Capitol while shouting “We’re in! We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” He resigned after he was arrested on Jan. 8.
Rather than shaming Republican state lawmakers out of office, Democrats found that many of the names on the list avoided pushback from party leaders in their state, grew their political platform and online following, and in at least three cases are now running for statewide office under the banner of former President Donald Trump and his lies about election fraud.
“In terms of seeing any difference on the ground,” Polizzi said, “the only thing that we can point to is awareness of who these legislators are, but I don’t think that it has changed Republicans one iota.”