On Wednesday, supporters of Donald Trump pushed through police lines, stormed the U.S. Capitol, smashed windows, broke open doors, and went prowling through the halls with flexi-cuffs seeking congressional hostages. In the following hours and days, Republicans have expressed shock at this totally unexpected event, and Trump-appointed Pentagon officials have stated that the violence was “beyond their wildest dreams.” But Republicans have had over four years to understand exactly who Donald Trump is, what he is capable of doing, and who his followers are. Law enforcement officials at every level had not only a very good idea of the scale of this event, but the amount of violence it would bring.
The nation may be shocked by the visuals of what happened on Wednesday. People wearing horned helmets, T-shirts with Nazi slogans, and waving Confederate banners through the halls of Congress, made some draw parallels to the sacking of Rome by barbarian hordes. However, two days after this spontaneous event, the thing that’s become most clear is that it wasn’t spontaneous at all. It’s not just the culmination of everything Republicans have been doing for decades, it’s also an event that was launched, intentionally, as an insurrection against the United States.
Trump has been laying the groundwork for this moment from the beginning
Trump’s encouragement of violence from his followers goes back to before he began occupying the White House. That includes encouraging people to beat up protesters at his rallies, calling for and then deploying active military forces to face immigrants seeking asylum, praising Nazi marchers at Charlottesville who were complicit in the murder of a peaceful protester, and repeatedly making threats of violence against Black Lives Matter protesters and others. Trump has made it absolutely clear to his followers that violence—including deadly force—is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged.
Even if Trump had lost in 2016, he had already prepared his supporters to use violence as a means of overturning the results of the election. The same claims of election fraud and polling fraud had already been laid then, because Trump expected to lose. And the same calls for his supporters to carry out violent response and “monitor” the polls with armed poll-watchers had prompted the nation for widespread violence that was only halted by Trump’s surprising win.
Trump positioned officials to clear the way for violence in Washington, D.C.
Immediately after the election, Donald Trump began replacing Pentagon officials—and not just any officials. Trump explicitly replaced those officials who were directly responsible for the deployment and disposition of forces that protect the capital. Included in his targeting were those who had objected to the use of active military to attack peaceful protests over the summer.
Over the summer, Trump brought in unidentified forces including riot squads from the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals—none of them trained in dealing with civilian protests—to push back against peaceful marchers from Black Lives Matter following the police murder of George Floyd. In addition, Trump officials lead the Park Police, Secret Service, and others in what was frequently referred to as massive overresponse to small numbers of nonviolent protesters. All the while, Trump equated violence with “law and order” and used claims about shadowy antifa forces to justify going into cities over the objections of mayors and governors.
Through his time in the White House, Trump has tested the boundaries of using military forces—active military, National Guard, and irregular forces—to control civilian populations. It’s clear that he understands exactly where the controls for that power are located and exactly how requests for assistance can be met, or thwarted.
Trump’s November moves at the Pentagon now look like express preparation for exactly the moment that came on Wednesday.
Trump planned Wednesday’s event expressly to intimidate Congress
The placement of the event on Jan. 6 was, without any doubt, meant to intimidate representatives and senators during the count of the Electoral College vote. Trump meant this event to encourage objections to that vote—he said as much during the rally just before the assault. It’s clear from phone calls made by Rudy Giuliani that Trump wanted his supporters in Congress to object over and over, generating the maximum possible delay. And it’s clear from Trump’s own statements that he hoped to force Mike Pence into taking action beyond the law, forcing the ceremonial count to end without declaring Joe Biden the winner and pushing the next steps back into the courts.
The howling mob Trump unleashed was terrorism in its purest sense. They were meant to cause terror. To Congress. To interfere with the transition of power.
The event in Washington was designed to be violent, and it was funded by dark money
Trump was pleased with the numbers of attendees at his rally on Wednesday, and he certainly wasn’t turning away his normal crowd of racists, xenophobes, nationalists, and christianists. But this event was expressly built to attract those who Trump had already told to “Stand by,” including the Proud Boys and other Nazi groups who were invited to Washington, D.C. for a “wild” event.
One day after Proud Boys and other white supremacists invaded Washington for a violent demonstration, Trump made it clear he wanted them back. "Big protest in DC on January 6th,” tweeted Trump. “Be there, will be wild!"
Despite the roughly $500 million that Trump has raked directly into his own pocket through fundraising over false claims of election fraud, Trump didn’t actually pay for or organize the rally that launched the insurrection at the Capitol. Instead, that money came from … Republican attorneys general.
The Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), a 501(c)(4) arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), helped organize the protest preceding the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol that took place on January 6, 2021.
Those who broke into the Capitol were not harmless clowns
While there were certainly plenty of people dressed in ridiculous costumes among the hundreds who invaded the Capitol building and the thousands who stood on the steps outside, none of them were harmless. Or funny. Included in the group were genuine Nazis, skinheads, militia members … and Republican officials.
And they made it clear that they were not there for a symbolic romp through the halls of Congress. They were there for Congress. Here are the words of one of those who invaded the House and Senate:
“Today the cowards ran as we took back the Capitol. They have it back now only because we left. It wasn’t the building that we wanted … It was them!”
How serious were they about capturing members of Congress and holding them hostage? Some of them were extremely serious.
This same crowd also constructed a gallows on the law outside, complete with steps and a ready noose.
This was not a spontaneous event, it was a failed coup
Planned for months, supported by new officials at the Pentagon, supported by big-money Republican donors, and cheered on by Trump supporters in Congress … this was not a spontaneous or unexpected event. It was a purposely staged event meant to disrupt the final stage of a U.S. election, throw the nation into chaos, and perhaps end with the televised murder of members of Congress.
As it was unfolding, Trump’s family was treating this exactly like what it was: something they welcomed and celebrated. The image of a gallows raised in front of the Capitol is on screen as Kimberly Guilfoyle dances.
They weren’t watching this event with disgust and shock. They were loving it. They were waiting for that moment when Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer might be hauled out to the roars of the crowd. They were waiting for blood. They were cheering for America to fall.
The only thing that wasn’t planned at this event … was failing. Trump didn’t anticipate that Congress would return to the building and complete the vote count. He didn’t think that Mike Pence would carry on naming Joe Biden as the victor. He didn’t anticipate that much of the American public would recoil in horror. Most of all, he didn’t expect that most of Congress would respond with anger rather than fear.
Donald Trump doesn’t just need to be removed. He, his family, and everyone involved in the planning of this event need to understand what it means to be on the losing end of a coup attempt.
But the first step is getting him out. Now.