You could call it many names: terrorism, sedition, anarchy, rebellion, insurrection. But I prefer a single word over all others: treason.
On January 6, 2021 supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building, overwhelming the comparatively small Capitol Police force. They broke windows, ransacked offices, and engaged in horrific acts of violence. All to disrupt the democratic processes of our country and install their leader as president. Watching it on TV, you’d be forgiven for not understanding the full scope of the events that took place. But in the days following, it became blindingly clear that what transpired was nothing short of one of the darkest days in American history.
It began that day, January 6, with a rally. One nearly stretching from the south lawn of the White House to the Washington Monument. Billed the “Save America” rally, it was held to protest the largely ceremonial counting of the electoral votes. Crowds started to gather as early as 6 a.m. to hear President Trump speak. He wasn’t scheduled to talk until 11 a.m., but there were other speakers to satiate the energetic crowd until the President showed up.
The excitement was building, and it finally reached its climax with President Trump himself taking the stage, with songs like “Macho Man” playing in the background, the irony of the moment seemingly lost on the crowd.
Most notably perhaps, his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani spoke at around 8 a.m., urging the crowd to embrace “trial by combat” to fight the “fraudulent” election results. The President’s children also helped kick off the rally, expounding similar rhetoric to Giuliani, referring to the election as “stolen,” prompting the nearly 30,000 strong crowd to chant “fight for Trump.” The excitement was building, and it finally reached its climax with President Trump himself taking the stage, with songs like “Macho Man” playing in the background, the irony of the moment seemingly lost on the crowd. The President’s remarks were brief, but the message was nothing new: “the election was stolen” “there was no way we lost,” etc. However, between his unfounded claims of voter fraud, the president decided to introduce a surprising new foe: Mike Pence. Hardly an hour later, at the Capitol, gallows would be constructed, and the President’s supporters would be calling for the hanging of the Vice President.
Rarely does a president face dissent from his vice president, though on January 5, it came out that, in defiance of the President, Mike Pence would not object to the electoral count in congress (it should be noted that the Vice President has no authority to do so anyway). This elicited calls from the President in his speech for the Vice President to “do the right thing,” effectively hinging the success or failure of his movement on the “courage” of the Vice President and provoking a fiery response from the crowd. This sentiment quickly snowballed into one of anger as the Trump supporters began marching towards the Capitol, the President nowhere to be seen, despite telling the protestors he would march with them, calls to “hang Mike Pence” reverberating through the crowd.
At around 1:00 p.m., the protestors had descended upon the Capitol, beginning to engage with the sparsely dispersed Capitol Police. By 1:30 p.m., the domestic terrorists (no longer protestors) had breached security and were roaming around the building, looking for anything they could do to disrupt democracy. By this time, the images began to roll into major news networks, and they were nothing short of horrifying. Terrorists proudly flying Confederate flags walked freely through our nation’s Capitol building, an international symbol of freedom and democracy. The closest the Confederates ever got to flying their flag in the Capitol was about six miles away at the Battle of Fort Stevens in the summer of 1864. No longer.
This is perhaps the most symbolic image of the day: did our democracy come within one cabinet of falling?
One of the most poignant images shows a handful of Capitol police officers, guns drawn, defending the House chambers from the terrorists, a hastily moved cabinet blocking the door and the Trump supporters from entering. This is perhaps the most symbolic image of the day: did our democracy come within one cabinet of falling?
As bleak as it looked in the moment, the aftermath of the attempted coup at the Capitol revealed so many more chilling details. Pipe bombs found planted at the DNC and RNC headquarters. Trucks filled with guns and bombs parked near the Capitol. Protestors found to be carrying high-powered rifles with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Five people dead. The most grisly of which being the man who was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. He was a Capitol Police officer, and member of the New Jersey National Guard, deploying twice to serve his country. To think a man like him, a loyal servant to a grateful nation, would be beaten to death by people who called themselves “patriots,” is unimaginable and appalling.
The storming of the Capitol on January 6th was not fully precipitated by the preceding rally; right-wing chatter indicated that planning had been going on since December 18, when President Trump tweeted “big protest in D.C. on Jan. 6. Be there and be wild!” QAnon and far-right groups took his message seriously, and plans for “the revolution” began to formulate. Calls for blood, civil war, and violence permeated conservative sites across the internet. Had President Trump and his GOP colleagues not purposely spread election disinformation, the attack on the Capitol would likely not have happened, as the source of the protesters’ anger was voter fraud, and the source of voter fraud is the imagination of Trump and his sycophants.
Another dimension of the shocking events of January 6 are the discriminatory symbols prominent in the crowd. You had flags of the “3 percenters,” a far-right militia group, Confederate flags, symbols of the Proud Boys, and many individuals wearing deeply anti-Semitic clothing. One man was pictured with a shirt that said “6mwe,” meaning “6 million wasn’t enough” referring to the six million Jewish holocaust victims. Another was seen wearing a black shirt with a skull and crossbones that said “Camp Auschwitz,” and under it “work brings freedom,” the English translation of the words on Auschwitz’s gate, “Arbeit macht frei.” A hangman’s noose was also constructed, an unmistakable symbol of the segregation-era lynchings of Black Americans.
It must also be noted, and is abundantly obvious, that the event that transpired on January 6 was a security failure of monumental proportions. I’m sure many of us have seen action movies such as White House Down, or Olympus Has Fallen, where terrorists take control of an important building like the White House or the Capitol, and one person saves the day and rescues the president, blah blah… And we always shrug off the implications of such a movie, as how could anybody ever take over the White House or the Capitol building? That’s certainly what I thought, before I turned on TV on January 6th.
To see someone in a MAGA hat waving a Confederate flag waltzing through Statuary Hall and the Senate chambers, without a care in the world, is perhaps the most infuriating thing I have ever seen. Juxtapose this with the overwhelming D.C. police response we saw at the summer BLM marches, and you are left with nothing but confusion. Where was the National Guard? In the summer, they lined the streets with tear gas and assault weapons for BLM protestors, where were they at the Capitol? Why are there videos circulating online of police letting protesters in and taking selfies with them? The latter question I can’t answer, but the former I can.
Logistical confusions combined with departmental hesitancy to stay out of politics, following the debacle at Lafayette Square over the summer, resulted in a less than adequate mobilization of security forces. The experience was slightly different for the Maryland National Guard, who quickly assembled upon hearing the situation, yet were stonewalled for “quite some time,” according to Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan. It is understandable that D.C. law enforcement was not perfect, but to see our Capitol being desecrated and Capitol Police overrun— when it was abundantly clear that there was going to be a large protest—is unconscionable.
They could’ve seen a president foster a peaceful transfer of power, work with his successor, and heal a divided nation. But they won’t.
When future historians look back on that day, what will they see? They could’ve seen a president foster a peaceful transfer of power, work with his successor, and heal a divided nation. But they won’t.
They will see a president tell domestic terrorists “we love you,” and “you’re very special.” They will see a president who willfully fomented insurrection and watched it on TV instead of trying to stop it. And they will see a president become the first in American history to be impeached twice.