Democracy On Fire: assault on Capitol Hill

The violent entry into the US Capitol on January 6th, and the clashes that followed, came as the US Congress prepared to certify Biden and Harris’ victory. According to Trump: “This is what happens when a victory is snatched from the patriots.”

In both the White House and Congress, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution was discussed, as was a second impeachment of this President — either of which would remove him from office. The House finally voted in favour of the impeachment of Donald Trump, with a vote of 233-205.

What happened on the night of January 6th in Washington, DC shocked not only the US, but the whole world. Capitol Hill in Washington, DC is the seat of the U.S. government, and home to the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Supreme Court. This grand institution was assaulted by Trump supporters, many of them heavily invested in a commitment to unlimited gun rights, white supremacy, and the Confederacy.

The protest did not arise out of nowhere. For the entire month of December 2020, Trump pushed his supporters to march on Washington, claiming that electoral fraud had stolen the election victory that rightfully belonged to him. His claim was demonstrably false. The only attempt at electoral fraud that had been identified was that of Trump calling Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 3rd, pressuring him to overturn the result of Georgia’s elections.

Despite this, Trump’s supporters — both outside and inside of the US Congress — have refused to recognize the victory of Joe Biden. This is the case with both Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. Hawley was the first to object to certification of the electoral result. Even the Missouri AG condemned the violence of the Capitol Hill events, but defended Trump’s action — even when he explicitly pushed for a civil riot. President-elect Biden has depicted Cruz and Hawley as part of what is being called the “Big Lie,”  a historical reference to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s former minister and proponent of the Reich’s propaganda.

Ted Cruz joined Hawley in criticizing Biden’s words. He eventually took a more defensive approach, refusing to consider any possible chance of his resignation and saying he has no regrets, despite the call from the Houston Chronicle for his resignation.

Still, Cruz and Hawley continued to repeat the Big Lie, falsely trying to discredit the official, democratic electoral result. Both are expected to make a bid for the presidency in the next election, using the current chaos and controversy to court Trump voters. The force of their mendacious claims, similar to those of Trump, in reiterating the lie louder and louder, show how easily American citizens — or at least Trump supporters — can be indoctrinated. When there is little opportunity for effective reality checks, and particularly when people have lacked a solid education (one of the scarring vacuums in today’s America), people tend to embrace their own single point of reference, especially if it conveys institutional meaning and status upon them.

Among the supporters and voters of Donald Trump, it is indeed possible to find somewhat “conventional” Republicans. Many Trump supporters, however, hold white supremacy and Q-Anon beliefs. While the position of supremacists is clear by its very name, the Q-Anon belief system is a bit more complicated. Many Q-Anon supporters embrace a complex of far-right conspiracy theories that include the belief that a cabal of Democrats embracing pedophilia, cannibalism, Satanism and child sex-trafficking are conspiring  against President Donald Trump — and that Trump is trying to unmask the international network within the international financial establishment, Hollywood, and the Democratic Party (including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Bush family).

Within the Q-Anon group, white suprematists are a small part of a bigger picture. The group consists mainly of supporters of far right politics, the NRA and gun rights, and religious fundamentalists.  Recently, they have also taken to heart a misguided statement from the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ensuring a smooth transition to “a second Trump administration.” In the wake of that incendiary statement, Trump supporters continue to refuse to recognize Trump’s defeat. But Pompeo’s statement is just the icing on the cake of a movement that was first registered and noticed in June 2020, when it was already forceful and operative.

The confluence of the various factions among Trump supporters erupted in the January 6th assault on Capitol Hill. And while the event has been labelled an assault, it is more appropriately called an insurrection, or an act of domestic terrorism

On that incredible evening, Capitol Hill became vulnerable for the first time since the attack of British forces in 1814, when the British tried to burn the Capitol after defeating the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg. Still, much of the US media has treated the January 6th Washington event as an assault, a riot, but rarely mentioning the words “domestic terrorism.” There is a sort of American reticence in acknowledging the fact that terrorism can happen also domestically, and not just coming from the outside.

With the major terror attack of 9/11, American legislation became more strict in terms of privacy and freedom of expression, and police and federal forces have been given much more latitude in entering citizens’ lives. However, given the current trends in US politics, we should not expect to see a new Patriot Act, or any similar legislation, following the events of the 6th of January.

According to a report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, white supremacists and like minded groups were responsible for 41 of the 61 terror attacks (i.e., 67%) that occurred in the first eight months of 2020. But both the US government and the US media have been reluctant to speak of those as acts of terror.

The attitude on Capitol Hill towards the Black Lives Matter movement has been very different.  After May 2020, turmoil rose in the US over the death of George Floyd, escalating protests all over the country. In response, on June 2, 2020, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington was literally besieged by the National Guard, and many non-violent BLM protestors were injured and arrested.

In the case of the January 6th siege of Capitol Hill, however, protesters easily breached the security and entered into the Capitol. The silence of Trump that accompanied the assault was broken only by Biden’s televised request that the exiting President direct a halt to the assault. 

This different attitude and approach to rioters — most of whom are white, male, and right-wing — is unfortunately indicative of two very different Americas. The arrest of 52 rioters this past week does not change that fact. Many people reasonably expect that the killer of George Floyd will not be acquitted.

The mandate of Trump may be over, but Trumpism is likely to endure. The Trump era was important in having shown a different face of America, one that had been blurred during preceding administrations.

But while many of President Trump’s supporters remain steadfast in their support of him, there are cracks in his institutional support.  In what seems an attempt to obscure their unconditional support of Donald Trump for the four previous years, two of his Cabinet secretaries, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, resigned after the Capitol Hill events. Unfortunately, this seems not to have been a bold decision based on ethical considerations, but rather a strategic move to avoid possible legal consequences following possible impeachment of the exiting President. 

In the early hours of January 7th, one day after the violent mob crashed into the US Capitol, the US Congress voted overwhelmingly to confirm the Electoral College vote and Biden’s win. This was despite the efforts of some Republicans to object to Biden’s wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

And on January 13th, Donald Trump was impeached for the second time — the first time in the country’s history that an American president has been impeached more than once. Ten Republicans joined House Democrats in impeaching the president for incitement to insurrection. The Senate trial will follow, at some date not yet determined.

It’s not clear, as of yet, the full extent of the legal consequences for Trump’s supporters for the recent events. That includes the January 6th rioters, as well as all those GOP policymakers who persisted in their false and incendiary claims of electoral fraud.