Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde described the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol as a “normal tourist visit.” Then he doubled down on how the Trump supporters who smashed through the doors and windows walked through the building “in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes.” Because in Clyde’s world, tourists apparently smear feces on the walls, pee on the furniture, steal a few mementos, and leave behind over $2 million in damage. Clyde was far from the only Republican putting a “orderly” spin on a chaotic event: Sen. Ron Johnson sneered at the idea of “calling it an insurgency, because it wasn’t.” What it was, said Johnson, was a largely “peaceful protest.”
And there was one thing Johnson wanted to make absolutely clear when he dropped in to talk with right wing radio host: This was not, according to Johnson, “an armed insurrection.” That was before he went on to explain how white nationalists and militia members were not involved in the assault. Johnson wasn’t concerned at all, because the people who broke into the building “love this country” and, most importantly, they were white. “Had the tables been turned,” said Johnson, “and President Trump won the election, and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.” Black people are scary.
But in any case, the nation-loving white people who injured 140 police, erected a gallows on the Capitol lawn, chanted for the death of lawmakers, stole from both Congressional offices and the House chamber, and missed getting their chance to hang Mike Pence by a matter of seconds were peaceful, normal tourists; not rioting; and definitely not armed insurrectionists. We’re all agreed on that.
Except for Mother Jones, which reported on Thursday that at least three of the charges against those who invaded the Capitol include carrying a firearm, two were charged with using Tasers, at least eight more were carrying knives or Tasers, and a cache of weapons outside the Capitol included rifles, pistols, and a large supply of ammunition.
To be fair, Johnson already knew that some of the insurgents on Jan. 6 had rifles—or even bomb-making supplies—stored in their vehicles. That included a number of arrests in Washington, D.C. on both Jan. 5 and Jan. 6 of militia members in the downtown area. But since they didn’t actually carry those weapons through the shattered windows of the Capitol building, that didn’t count. But the evidence that Mother Jones reports from court filings shows that while others left their weapons stockpiled a block or two away, others did not.
And it’s not just court filings. Testimony before the House Select Committee included this testimony from Officer Daniel Hodges about the days surrounding the insurgency:
“Multiple gun arrests were made from January 5th through the 7th against those attending and likely had attended or planned to attend Donald Trump's gathering. Unfortunately, due to the course of events that day, we will never know exactly how many were carrying firearms and other lethal weapons.”
This testimony from Sgt. Aquilino Gonell:
“Some of the rioters had the audacity to tell me there was nothing personal, that they would go through me, through us police officers to achieve their goal, as they were breaking metal barriers to use as a weapon against us. Others used more menacing language. ‘If you shoot us, we all have weapons, we will shoot back, or we’ll get our guns. We outnumber you,’”
Multiple witnesses made it clear that just because people weren’t being arrested on the Capitol steps or inside the building with guns, it wasn’t because there were not guns. It was because the police were overwhelmed and trying not to turn what was already a violent riot into a shooting war. As Hodges stated, the gun recovery unit was “working the crowd” but was waiting “for the crowd to disperse before making arrests.” That was done specifically not to set the crowd off. But the size of the crowd and the scope of the threat made it impossible to attempt to disarm individuals in the middle of the event.
Officer Michael Fanone pointed out that the clubs, knives, Tasers, and chemical sprays carried by insurgents were “most certainly” weapons. But he also made it clear they were not the only weapons.
“With regards to firearms, I know that in the days immediately before the January 6th insurrection and January 6th itself, firearms were recovered by law enforcement from individuals in Washington, DC, who were believed to have been participants, or at least those who were planning to participate in the January 6th insurrection. And yes, those were firearms, handguns and such.”
Hodges made it clear that a fear of both guns and firearms restricted the actions of officers on Jan. 6 and made them fear what might happen when the guns came out of hiding.
“Like I said before, there were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms and a couple hundred of us, maybe. So we could not … if that turned into a firefight, we would’ve lost, and this was a fight we couldn’t afford to lose.”
The officers who were on the scene on Jan. 6 saw firearms along with other weapons. Firearms were being taken away from terrorists outside the Capitol area, where they were more isolated, but a few hundred police simply couldn’t disarm a 9,000-person armed crowd—and recognized that trying was a recipe for an even bigger disaster.
But it wasn’t just the police who saw those guns. As Mother Jones makes clear, members of the Trump mob also realized they were surrounded by guns.
One of those charged with carrying a handgun at the Capitol is Three Percenter militia member Guy Reffitt. Reffitt was one of many who took part in the assault wearing body armor and helmet. He wasn’t just armed, he was proud to say that so were many others. “The people that were around me were all carrying too,” said Reffitt. “I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress, as we tried to do. We went in, they scurried like rats and hid. That’s how it works.”
That’s the real face of the Jan. 6 insurgents, and a perfect explanation of their goal and mindset: They believed they had the right to take over Congress by force of arms. And they were thrilled that their actions caused Congress to halt proceedings and seek secure locations.
That’s how it works … in a violent, deadly, armed insurgency.