Since the U.S. presidential election in November, Trump, and many of his ardent followers, has repeated false claims of a fraudulent election. Trump maintains that he actually won the election but that it has been rigged in Joe Biden’s favour. From double-voting to ballots from dead people, Trump has concocted a cavalcade of casuistic conspiracies in a cacophonous assault on democracy itself.
Trump’s rampant rhetoric and incendiary language over the past months eventually resulted an almost explosive crescendo on Wednesday; literally.
On Wednesday, the United States Capitol was besieged by legions of Trump supporters, consisting of far-right conspiracy group QAnon and White Supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys, who Trump told to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate in September 2020. Many saw this as a dog whistle to the Proud Boys, who revelled in the president’s remarks.
Trump spoke to the crowds at the rally, repeating his unsubstantiated claims of rampant voter fraud (only in the key states he lost though, of course), as he urged the crowds to “fight like hell”. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, later spoke to the crowd declaring, “let’s have trial by combat”.
What started as a rally then soon turned into a riot in the nation’s capital. The Trump supporters, sporting their MAGA — Make America Great Again, Trump’s famous catchphrase and continuing campaign slogan — hats and Trump flags, vandalised and invaded the Capitol building, where lawmakers were, at that very moment, in the process of certifying the Electoral College votes. This was the last step needed to officially cement Joe Biden as the next President of the United States of America.
Over the next few hours the rioters broke down barriers, scaled the walls of the Capitol, and broke windows, eventually succeeding in breaking into the building. Senators and Vice President Mike Pence were then evacuated from the building mere minutes before Trump sent a tweet chiding the Vice President for not attempting to, potentially illegally, overturn the election results.
The attack on the Capitol was intended to frustrate the Constitutional process of certifying the Electoral College votes, which it ultimately succeeded in doing. Additionally, two pipe bombs were discovered outside the Republican National Committee headquarters and the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Both were disposed of safely but such devices mean charges of terrorism may now be considered.
One of the more shocking images of the evening was that of one rioter carrying a Confederate flag into the Capitol building. The Confederate flag is seen as a symbol of Black slavery and deep racism. Stanford professor Sam Wineburg noted on Twitter: “Take this in: Never once, in the years 1860-1865, was this flag ever paraded in the halls of the American capitol.”
While the riots were in full swing, while pipe bombs were being laid down in the capital, and while the rioters looted, vandalised, and paraded the Confederate flag inside the Capitol, President Trump released a video calling for the rioters to leave. In the video he repeated his baseless claims that the election was fraudulent and the video had overtones of sympathy towards his riotous, violent supporters, saying, “We love you, you’re very special.”
Trump later attempted to make excuses for his supporters’ illegal behaviour stating on social media, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away.” Facebook and Twitter later removed the video and messages, and have since indefinitely suspended Trump’s personal accounts. However, many have decried these actions as too little, too late.
Trump’s attitude and sympathy toward the rioters on Wednesday are in stark contradiction to his previous combative stance towards the largely peaceful Black Lives Matters protests last summer. On May 29 2020, President Trump tweeted from his personal account the phrase, “Looting leads to shooting”. However, on Wednesday he seemed to be more supportive of the rioters, saying, “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt” and that they “have to go home now. We have to have peace.”
Many have called the president out on this change in attitude towards his own, largely White supporters, and the disparity between the police presence at Wednesday’s riot and peaceful Black Lives Matters protests in the summer.
The insurgency ended before the evening was over, and at 8 P.M. congress reconvened and certified the Electoral College votes, cementing President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ victory.
(The full timeline of events can be found here at USA Today).
After the riots, many in the public have called for charges of sedition against the rioters and against the President Trump himself, who many see as the ringleader of the riots. Trump has, since December 2020, been calling on his supporters to protest on January 6 2021, even going as far as to declare in one tweet, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, be wild!”
Seditious conspiracy, as defined in U.S. Law Title 18; Part I; Chapter 115; § 2384: “If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both.” (Cornell Law School).
Lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, which can transfer presidential powers to the vice president if the president is deemed unable or unwilling to perform his duties. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer remarked, “If the vice-president and the cabinet refuse to stand up, Congress should reconvene to impeach the president”.
Rep. Ilhan Omar has drafted articles of impeachment for “incitement of insurrection” and it was announced on Friday that the House will introduce them as early as Monday. On Twitter, Rep. Omar commented, “Monday isn’t early enough. The nation is waiting for us to respond ASAP.”
On Friday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the first Republican Senator to openly call for President Trump to resign from office. Sen. Murkowski told Anchorage Daily News: “I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage.”
A slew of resignations have been filed from White House staff since the riot over President Trump’s perceived incitement of violence on Wednesday and the months leading up to it. However, many in the public and in the media have expressed that resigning less than two weeks before the end of the administration feels like little more than self-preservation than an actual moral stance on the part of the staffers.
As of Friday evening five people have been confirmed dead, including one Capitol police officer. At least 82 arrests have been made so far and the FBI are continuing their hunt for more Capitol rioters.