More information continues to emerge about the events of Wednesday. They point to a broader conspiracy than it first appeared. Calls for Trump’s removal from office are growing. The Republican Party is tearing apart. Power in the nation is shifting almost by the minute.
[Please note that information from the January 6 riot is changing almost hourly, and it is virtually certain that something I have written will be incorrect. I have tried to stay exactly on what we know to be facts, but those could change.]
More footage from inside the attack on the Capitol is coming out and it is horrific. Blood on statues and feces spread through the building are vile; mob attacks on police officers are bone-chilling.
Reuters photographer Jim Bourg, who was inside the building, told reporters he overheard three rioters in “Make America Great Again” caps plotting to find Vice President Mike Pence and hang him as a “traitor”; other insurrectionists were shouting the same. Pictures have emerged of one of the rioters in military gear carrying flex cuffs—handcuffs made of zip ties—suggesting he was planning to take prisoners. Two lawmakers have suggested the rioters knew how to find obscure offices.
New scrutiny of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally before the attack shows Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), Don Jr., and Trump himself urging the crowd to go to the Capitol and fight. Trump warned that Pence was not doing what he needed to. Trump promised to lead them to the Capitol himself.
There are also questions about law enforcement. While exactly what happened remains unclear, it has emerged that the Pentagon limited the Washington D.C. National Guard to managing traffic. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested support before Trump’s rally, but the Department of Defense said that the National Guard could not have ammunition or riot gear, interact with protesters except in self-defense, or otherwise function in a protective capacity without the explicit permission of acting Secretary Christopher Miller, whom Trump put into office shortly after the election after firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
When Capitol Police requested aid early Wednesday afternoon, the request was denied. Defense officials held back the National Guard for about three hours before sending it to support the Capitol Police. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, tried repeatedly to send his state’s National Guard, but the Pentagon would not authorize it. Virginia’s National Guard was mobilized when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the governor, Ralph Northam, herself.
Defense officials said they were sensitive to the criticism they received in June when federal troops cleared Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters so Trump could walk across it. But it sounds like there might be a personal angle: Bowser was harshly critical of Trump then, and it would be like him to take revenge on her by denying help when it was imperative.
Refusing to stop the attack on the Capitol might have been more nefarious, though. A White House adviser told New York Magazine’s Washington correspondent Olivia Nuzzi that Trump was watching television coverage of the siege and was enthusiastic, although he didn’t like that the rioters looked “low class.” While the insurrectionists were in the Capitol, he tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” Even as lawmakers were under siege, both Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were making phone calls to brand-new Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) urging him to slow down the electoral count.
After Trump on Wednesday night tweeted that there would be an “orderly” transition of power, on Thursday he began again to urge on his supporters.
With the details and the potential depth of this event becoming clearer over the past two days—Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, Virginia, tweeted her support, and state lawmakers as well as Republican attorneys general were actually involved—Americans are recoiling from how bad this attempted coup was… and how much worse it could have been. The crazed rioters were terrifyingly close to our elected representatives, all gathered together on that special day, and they were actively talking about harming the vice president.
By Friday night, 57% of Americans told Reuters they wanted Trump removed from office immediately. Nearly 70% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s actions before the riot. Only 12% of Americans approved of the rioters; 79% of Americans described the rioters as “criminals” or “fools.” Five percent called them “patriots.”
Pelosi tonight said that she hoped the president would resign, but if not, the House of Representatives will move forward with impeachment on Monday, as well as with legislation to enable Congress to remove Trump under the 25th Amendment. The most recent draft of the impeachment resolution has just one article: “incitement of insurrection.” As a privileged resolution, it can go directly to the House without committee approval.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has no interest in further splitting the Republicans over another impeachment, or forcing them onto the record as either for or against it. Timing is on his side: the Senate is not in session for substantive business until January 19, so cannot act on an impeachment resolution without the approval of all senators. It can take up the resolution then, but more likely it will wait until Biden is sworn in, at which point the measure would be managed not by McConnell, but by the new House majority leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY). A trial can indeed take place after Trump is no longer president, enabling Congress to make sure he can never again hold office.
Whether or not the Senate would convict is unclear, but it’s not impossible. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), for one, is so furious she is talking of switching parties. “I want him out,” she says. Still, Trump supporters are now insisting that it would “further divide the country” to try to remove Trump now, and that we need to unify. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led the Senate effort to challenge Biden’s election, today tweeted that Biden was not working hard enough to “bring us together or promote healing” and that “vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart.”
Trump, meanwhile, has continued to agitate his followers, and today began to call for more resistance, while users on Parler, the new right-wing social media hangout, are talking of another, bigger attack on Washington.
Tonight, Twitter banned Trump, stating: “we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” As evidence, it cited both his claim that his supporters would “have a GIANT VOICE long into the future,” and his tweet that he would not be going to Biden’s inauguration on January 20. Twitter says that Trump’s followers see these two new tweets as proof that the election was invalid and that the Inauguration is a good target, since he won’t be there. The Twitter moderators say that “plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”
Twitter also took down popular QAnon accounts, including those of Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his former lawyer Sidney Powell, who is having quite a bad day: the company that makes election machines, Dominion Voting Systems, announced it is suing her for defamation and asking $1.3 billion in damages. After taking down 7,000 QAnon accounts in July, Twitter continued by today taking down the account of the man who hosts the posts from “Q.”
While Twitter officials might well be horrified by the insurrection, the ban is also a sign of a changing government. With the election of two Democratic senators from Georgia this week, the majority goes to the Democrats, and McConnell will no longer be Majority Leader, killing bills. Social media giants know regulation of some sort is around the corner, and they are trying to look compliant fast. When Twitter banned Trump, so did Reddit, and Facebook and Instagram already had. Google Play Store removed Parler, warning it to clean up its content moderation.
Trump evidently couldn’t stand the Twitter ban, and tried at least five different accounts to get back onto the platform. He and his supporters are howling that he is being silenced by big tech, but of course he has an entire press corps he could use whenever he wished. Losing his access to Twitter simply cuts off his ability to drum up both support and money by lying to his supporters. Another platform that has dumped Trump is one of those that handled his emails. The San Francisco correspondent of the Financial Times, Dave Lee, noted that for more than 48 hours there had been no Trump emails: in the previous six days he sent out 33.
This has been a horrific week. If it has a silver lining, it is that the lines are now clear between our democracy and its enemies. The election in Georgia, which swung the Senate away from the Republicans and opens up some avenues to slow down misinformation, is a momentous victory.