By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
A week ago, America’s citadel of democracy—the People’s House—was set upon by marauders. Donald J. Trump sent them there.
On January 6, while the House of Representatives and the Senate were meeting in joint session, beginning their work on counting the legitimately certified Electoral College results of the 2020 election, Trump was rallying his mob behind the White House. In his one-hour-and-eleven-minute vitriolic rant, he all but threatened Vice-President Mike Pence if he didn’t “do the right thing”—that being to overturn the Electoral College votes; called the press “the enemy of the people;” and shouted, “We will never give up. We will never concede…all of us here today don’t want to see our election stolen by emboldened radical Democrats… and stolen by fake news media…that’s what they’re doing, and what they’re doing—it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft. Our country has had enough. We won’t take it anymore. We will stop the steal!” The chant from his crowd: “Fight for Trump. Fight for Trump.”
Then the President sent his hordes to the Capitol where they overwhelmed the Capitol Police, broke into the Capitol building from all sides, and tried to hunt down and kill Vice-President Pence for betraying Trump, as well as Minority Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Those leaders, and House and Senate members, escaped to secure locations only just as this gang of domestic terrorists was breaking through the doors into the House and Senate chambers.
Some of the invaders were carrying Trump flags or Confederate flags on poles that could be used as weapons or battering rams. Some were carrying zip ties that could be used as handcuffs on congressional members. Among the raiders were a mixture of Proud Boys, QAnon crusaders, gun activists, and other right-wing white supremacist agitators who appeared to be organized and prepared with inside information permitting them to navigate the labyrinthine halls of the Capitol in order to locate the offices of those they were hunting. A number of federal and state officials, including Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, have since said that some of these marauders were trained former police and military members, suggesting an organized, coordinated operation.
Any half-way perceptive observer would have known this was coming. Trump has been building towards this coup attempt for four years and, more systematically, for the last several months. He was claiming a Biden win would be fraudulent even before the 2020 election took place. A coup was clearly Trump’s contingency plan if he lost the election. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear should have known that. Anyone who has ever seen how Trump operates or has read of how coups develop in other countries should have recognized this kind of attack was in the offing. It is impossible to believe that federal law enforcement did not.
So where was the protection for our duly elected representatives as they went about their work in the Capitol? Where was the law enforcement that should have been out in strength standing at the ready for them? Where were the tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash bangs used so liberally against peaceful protesters after George Floyd’s murder by the police in May?
WHY WAS LAW ENFORCEMENT OUTNUMBERED?
Those organizing protest events in the District of Columbia are usually required to meet numerous protocols. The organizers of the D.C. protest against police brutality that took place early June of last year had to get a permit well in advance. Their route had to be approved. They had to have a contact person for relevant federal agencies. They had to post a huge insurance deposit, and clean up the sites afterwards. They followed all of these protocols and still were met with an overwhelming show of force. Yet Trump’s overwhelmingly white supporters were permitted to wreak mayhem on the Capitol and freely walk away from it. Were these many requirements waved for Trump’s supporters? And if so, with what intended purpose?
Some analysts have focused on the stark difference in federal treatment of the mainly peaceful protest against police brutality and this event featuring many white supremacists with Nazi-emblazoned T-shirts and Confederate flags. Understandably, these analysts have put the difference in treatment down to race, arguing that is an example of white privilege. But the concept of “white privilege” suggests this is an issue of unequal treatment and letting white people do whatever they like because they are white. While racial hatred was part of why the June protesters were violently treated while the recent rioters were allowed to roam freely, one must suspect something deeper and even more sinister. The reason given by the Capitol Police for failure to make arrests—that they were overwhelmed and had too few officers—has merit. So, the big question is: why were they understaffed?
The Federal and District governments have coordinated to handle rallies, demonstrations, and marches for longer than the 40-plus years I’ve lived in the District of Columbia. Together, they have regularly provided sufficient law enforcement to control crowds in the millions, let alone the mere 30,000 or so reported here. In fact, during the Bush years—even when there was no event occurring—on my lunch hour walks past the Capitol, I sometimes saw agents in tactical gear with assault rifles guarding the outside of the building.
Given the predictably volatile nature of Trump’s “Save America” rally, and Trump’s clear intent to stir trouble with his false claims of election fraud, it is a puzzlement that the 2,000-officer Capitol Police force—overseen by Congress, not Trump—placed only 500 officers on duty during the Congressional joint session. It is highly unlikely that all of those 500 were positioned at the Capitol building. The lack of personnel had to be a decision, not a lapse. Who made that decision and why must be investigated.
The initial lack of National Guard assistance was, at first, unfairly laid at the feet of the District of Columbia’s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, apparently a convenient scapegoat. The morning after the attack, NPR’s “Morning Edition” said that Bowser wanted the D.C. police to take the lead, that although she requested help from the D.C. National Guard prior to the event, she did not want them armed and only wanted their show of force to be minimal.
But Bowser has no jurisdiction over the Capitol or its grounds, or any other federal land or buildings within the District. Responsibility for protecting those are divided between a variety of federal police agencies—the Capitol Police, Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, and others. Therefore, Mayor Bowser only requested D.C. National Guard members to assist the District in policing nonfederal parts of the District. It was certainly appropriate for D.C. to take the lead in those limited areas.
The District also lacks any direct control over the D.C. National Guard. Since D.C. is not a state (it should be), its National Guard is controlled by the president or the official to whom he has delegated his authority—in this instance, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller. Miller was appointed to replace fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper six days after Trump lost the 2020 election. (Esper’s apparent sin had been acknowledging that active-duty military troops should not be deployed within the United States and that his accompanying Trump to his photo op after violently clearing peaceful protesters away had been improper.)
Bowser had no authority on her own to order the Army National Guard to the Capitol. Nor could she authorize District police to enter and act on federal property unless federal entities requested it.
When the havoc broke out, Bowser asked that the D.C. National Guard’s authority be expanded to permit it to protect and restore the Capitol. Miller’s Department of Defense denied her request. However, when a request was made for help from the D.C. police, the District immediately sent its police force to assist in saving the Capitol. Bowser has noted that D.C. rescued the Congress while its citizens are still denied any voice in that body.
In addition, during the melee inside the Capitol, Steny Hoyer, the House Majority leader and representative of Maryland’s 5th district, called Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, desperately asking him to send in Maryland’s National Guard. Hogan was more than willing, but could not send his National Guard troops across the border into the District of Columbia until he had approval from the Secretary of Defense, and the Department of Defense repeatedly denied him authority to do so. Eventually, approval was granted, but far too little, far too late—especially for the Capitol policeman who was killed or the some 50 officers who were injured.
Add to these denials of requests for help and delays, the fact that Mayor Bowser and her police chief are the only ones who have given any public briefing. They did so on the day of the attack. By contrast, as of the afternoon of the following day, the Chief of the Capitol Police had not yet even contacted Speaker Pelosi. Eventually, Defense Secretary Miller issued a comment stating that the violence was “reprehensible and contrary to the tenets of the U.S. Constitution,” and strongly condemned “these acts of violence against our democracy.” But Miller also passed blame for the lack of a National Guard presence to the Capitol Police, stating that they had not made a request prior to the event. This, of course, does not explain Miller’s persistent delay in approving deployment of the National Guard when the Capital Police did make the request.
These many deviations in the usual handling of protest events, especially when the possible dangers of this one had to be known, raises the question of whether there was orchestration at high levels of government to make sure that the Congress would be left unprotected and the invaders would have few obstacles to entry. It also raises the question of whether someone within the Capitol provided information concerning logistics of office locations and so on.
THE CRIMINALS AND THEIR CO-CONSPIRATORS
Throughout his 2016 campaign and his four years in office, Donald Trump has used classic fascist techniques in an attempt to ensure his continued possession of power. He has told crowds at his rallies to beat people up who disagreed with him. He has tried to sic them on any journalists that criticized him. By saying that there were good people on both sides after the white supremacist/Nazi action in Charlottesville, he signaled to domestic terrorists that he was their man. In his September debate for the 2020 election, he addressed the neo-fascist Proud Boys directly, instructing them to “stand back and stand by.” Standing by for action is exactly what they did, going into action to cause mayhem at a November pro-Trump rally in the District and figuring prominently in this attack on the Capitol as well.
Since Trump lost the election, he has had Rudy Giuliani and other minions conduct a propaganda campaign hammering away at the false voter fraud claim despite innumerable recounts proving there was none, and at least 60 court cases rejecting his attempts to get the election overturned. Trump has also tried to strong-arm officials in a number of swing states—Georgia’s Republican governor and secretary of state being the targets of his most notorious efforts—to “find” just enough votes to overturn valid election results and throw the win to him.
But on January 6, Trump went even further, directly and repeatedly committing sedition; that is, inciting his followers to rebel against the duly elected government of the United States.
Trump was aided in this sedition by Rudy Giuliani, who exhorted the thousands of pro-Trumpsters at the President’s “Save America” rally to conduct “trial by combat” of lawmakers as those lawmakers prepared to vote to certify the Electoral College results for Biden.
Republican Representative from Texas Louie Gohmert also called for violence, although his incitement preceded the President’s rally by a few days. When his frivolous lawsuit to force Pence to overturn the presidential election was rejected by the courts, Gomert said to the right-wing news organ, Newsmax, “Essentially, the ruling would be: ‘You have to go to the street and be as violent as Antifa, BLM.’”
After Trump’s followers rained down destruction on the Capitol, Biden called upon Trump to calm them. Trump’s response? His usual double message, suggesting the hordes go home, but applauding their terror through the words, “We love you. You’re special.”
When pressured to endorse a peaceful transfer of power, Trump recited by rote that there would be an “orderly transfer of power,” but simultaneously continued to challenge the outcome of the election, saying, “I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to make America great again.”
These three people in particular—Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Louie Gohmert—should be prosecuted for their direct calls for violent overthrow of the elected government of the United States.
But the Republicans in the Senate and House who have challenged the certification of Electoral College votes they know to be legitimate are also culpable. There can be no doubt that their challenges are in bad faith when those votes have been counted and recounted numerous times, and the challenges rejected in at least 60 court cases.
Terrorists often have both military and political wings. The political wing always claims that it has nothing to do with the acts of the military wing. But it is, nevertheless, the propaganda arm of that military wing. The senators and members of the House challenging the certification are propagandists in aid of Trump’s attempted coup. Their speeches objecting to certification even after the attack on the Capitol legitimize the insurrectionists, and make these senators and members of Congress co-conspirators. Without proof of more direct involvement, there is likely no legal recourse against them, but some kind of action must be asserted to prevent them and discourage others from undermining our democracy.
Likewise, McConnell’s initial refusal to permit the Senate to consider the House’s impeachment articles before Biden becomes president would ensure that Trump could continue to instigate more coup attempts or other mischief during his few remaining days in office. But now McConnell reportedly favors impeachment.
WHERE DO WE STAND NOW?
At least 20,000 National Guard troops, including those from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, are now being deployed in the District and will remain for up to 31 days. Their support is meant to deal with any attacks that come during this period before Trump is out of office and Biden is inaugurated.
Some of the domestic terrorists who attacked the Capitol have been identified and arrested. Hopefully, more will be apprehended. They could face a variety of charges ranging from unlawful entry on Capitol grounds, entering a restricted government building; and injury to property to more serious charges like possession of a deadly weapon, carrying a gun inside the Capitol building, murder, conspiring to cross state lines to commit their crimes, and sedition.
As to President Trump, the House has now passed a resolution asking Vice-President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. Under that amendment, Pence and the Cabinet could remove Trump from office. Meanwhile, the House has impeached Trump a second time.
In addition, Representative Cori Bush has introduced legislation to expel from Congress Republicans who have incited violence against the United States. And Representative Jamaal Bowman is introducing the COUP Act to investigate how the domestic terrorists were able to breach the Capital.
A number of those in Trump’s cabinet and Administration are suddenly jumping ship, resigning or disclaiming him, pretending to an ethical core they do not possess. Perhaps they hope to avoid sinking with him. Or perhaps they are trying to avoid having to publicly decide whether to remove Trump from office under the 25th Amendment, if Pence ever finds the nerve to invoke it. Many of Trump’s former cronies, like Bill Barr and John Kelly, are speaking out against his incitement as well—all of them the proverbial rats deserting the sinking ship.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Even now, the coup-mongers have begun their disinformation campaign, claiming it was Antifa masquerading as the right wing. Like good little Nazis, they are trying to minimize what happened. And like good little Confederates, they cast themselves as the romantic heroes of the event.
Trump’s Pentagon, finally emerging from its silence, is calling the attempted overthrow of the American government a “First Amendment protest.”
And already, the domestic terrorists are openly planning their next attack on Trump’s behalf, for January 17.
The FBI is warning that there will be armed protests in the capitals of all 50 states.
We must get through this period up to Biden’s inauguration intact. But then, to stop these attacks on our democracy from happening in the future, a price must be paid. And it better be a big one. And it better apply not only to those who broke into the Capitol building or carried weapons, or plotted to take hostages and kill Pence, Pelosi, and Schumer or killed others there. It better include Trump himself and any of his henchmen whose crimes can be proved.
The actions the House is taking are a good beginning. But there are those, some with a good will, who even now are talking of how the nation is divided, how we need to listen to each other and find common ground. After this open, physical attack on democracy, that approach is appeasement ever as much as Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler. You can’t reason with people who refuse to honestly reason with you. They will only perceive your overture as a weakness they can exploit to their advantage. You can’t reason with a mob. If you try, it will be a very short one-way conversation. And you don’t listen to those trying to launch a fascist coup. You STOP them.
To stop them, we must cease being conciliatory. The Justice Department absolutely must investigate and prosecute every leader in Trump’s Administration who has committed a crime during the last four years. We can’t successfully move forward as President-elect Biden longs to do if we don’t deal strongly with the crimes President Trump, his cronies and his mobs have committed.
In the past, we’ve always been persuaded by the enablers of criminals to just move on, move forward to work together, to find common ground—usually their ground. When Nixon attempted his theft of democracy, he was pardoned without even a trial, and we just moved on, letting him rejoin society with a rehabilitated reputation. When the Republican majority in Bill Clinton’s Congress obstructed his agenda, we found common ground by moving the country to the right. When George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove used lies to invade Iraq, extra-judicially detained people, and claimed, “We make our own reality,” we did not seriously challenge them. And when Dick Cheney openly embraced the concept of the unitary executive theory (according to David Gergen’s interpretation: the view that Congress works for the President’s Executive Branch, not co-equally with it), Congress did not resist. These and other appeasements are how we got where we are today, on the precipice of dictatorship. When we just move on, we let the fascists and white supremacists retreat under their rocks and bide their time until it is safe to come out and try again. If we do that, I guarantee there will be a next time. And soon.
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.