Planning for the January 6 assault on the US Capitol began long before the notorious rally at the Ellipse. Looking at only the Trump presidency we can see the preparation. First, Trump flattered the armed and violent, racist alt-Right. In one of history’s greatest waffles, Donald Trump said of the protesters and counter-protesters at the tragic 2017 Unite the Right demonstrations in Charlottesville that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Wrong: there were only “very fine people” on one side.
The Right took the hint. They were encouraged to protest more boldly. Once the Corona virus hit, armed protesters opposed to masking invaded the state capitol in Lansing and threatened the assembly and the governor of Michigan. In Portland and Kenosha, vigilantes, who claimed to be defending the police, killed marchers protesting the murder of Black suspects such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake. On January 6, extremist rioters entered the U. S. Capitol to disrupt the counting of electoral college votes. With his protesters still inside the building, but hearing widespread condemnation of the action, Trump finally told his supporters to “go home.” Then, echoing the welcome he gave to the violent right in Charlottesville, he added, “We love you, you are very special.” How chastened they must have felt!
On December 20, after the results of the 2020 Presidential election became clear, Donald Trump asked his faithful to gather in Washington precisely on January 6 — the day the electoral votes of all fifty states would be counted. He Tweeted to them: “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” So it is no surprise that his followers at the Ellipse obeyed when Trump ordered them to march to the Capitol “to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women.” Everyone knew what January 6 was to be. The Anti-Defamation League sent over a thousand notices to law enforcement itemizing overt statements culled from right-wing social media with plans for the coming violence. Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser requested the National Guard to keep order, but “someone” at the Department of Defense, in an act of criminal negligence, denied her petition. It is as if there was collusion between the invaders of the Capitol and those with authority over the building’s defense and responsibility for keeping the legislators safe. (Why does “collusion” keep cropping up in connection with D. Trump?)
Trump had pressured Pence to reverse the decision of the electoral college. Pence had refused. A mob was marching toward the Capitol. Because of sabotage from above, the Capitol Police were left shorthanded and unprepared for the confrontation. Besides, the marchers were strong advocates of police immunity and, in contrast to the Black Lives Matter protesters, they were white and many belonged to groups long connected to white supremacy. The ingredients for this disaster had brewed for a long time. The stench will linger. It’s imperative that the country not regard the invasion of the Capitol as an isolated, “one-off” incident. We must prepare for similar attacks at the Inauguration (if not in DC, perhaps in many state capitals) and thereafter, for the long term.
Dreams of attacking the government and fomenting civil war have animated right-wing thinking for a long time. Ronald Reagan had declared government “the problem” decades ago. The bombing attack of 1995 that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City was against the Federal Building and destroyed government offices. The NRA has for years argued that citizens need guns not to serve in a militia, but to resist “jack-booted thugs” from the government who would impose Washington’s will on a defenseless, subject population. Belief that there is a Deep State is evidence of a paranoid distrust of the most commonplace bureaucratic resources.
There are formal organizations who monitor the activities of hate groups. I support the Southern Poverty Law Center, but there are several others. The militias and hate groups they expose are no longer just camping in the woods and hiding under rocks. The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer came out in force this year in Kenosha and Portland. When asked about them during the presidential debate on September 29th, the President told them to “stand by.” Then on December 20, he summoned them to Washington. Since then, theories of non-existent conspiracies spawned by QAnon and similar fantastic propagandists have exacerbated tensions.
Whether Trump leaves office peacefully or not, the point is that he has orchestrated currents in our country that most of us thought were safely beneath the surface. They are not! Anti-Black, anti-immigrant, anti-Sanctuary, Anti-Semitic, Ku Klux Klan bearers of Confederate flags, white nationalist, male supremacy activists have been energized by Trump and his appeasers. These currents go very far back in American history. They will not be stopped by the inauguration of a new administration. Not all of this sentiment is equally extreme. But let’s remember how the word “liberal” has been made into a sneer, thus forcing liberals to call themselves “progressive.” Conservatives use “Democrat” as a slur, adjectivally, when they refer to the “Democrat Party.” Such liberties seep from conversation to ideology to hate and, as we saw on Wednesday, to violence.
The radical right no doubt thinks the left is capable of the same: that those on the left hate America, seek to establish Venezuelan socialism here, disregard racial boundaries, devalue faith, and want open borders. The right has developed a “mirror-reflex” that supports their own echo chamber. It’s the old school-yard taunt: “Oh yeah? Well, you’re one, too.” But it ain’t so. In today’s America, the level of hatred and the proneness to violence is asymmetrical — far greater on the right. It was there before Trump and will be there after he is out of office. We must be prepared for more of the same and not expect a sudden relaxation “just because” our new administration will be more sane. As Seyward Darby has observed, this is not a “last gasp” of Trumpism. The recently elected Republican delegate to the West Virginia House of Delegates, Derrick Evans, posted a video of himself participating in the invasion of the Capitol. He announced on Facebook, “Today’s a test run.”