Dissecting the Capitol Hill Insurgency

GELFAND’S WORLD--The big story, as of Monday, January 11, 2021, is the proposed second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, which has been introduced by SoCal congressman Ted Lieu.

This story is embedded within the larger story of Donald Trump's Big Lie, -- you know, that the election was rigged -- as discussed by historian Timothy Snyder of Yale University. And linked to the big lie is one core story of the past two decades, the increasingly widespread belief that the news media are not to be trusted. 

But I would suggest that the biggest story of all is the image that the American people got of the Trump supporters as they engaged in breaking and entering, pillaging, vandalism, and threats to life and health. More importantly, they expressed themselves to each other (as we have now seen on social media) and to the news media, and they proved to be full of an almost indescribable hatred for all things not Donald Trump and not allied to their own brand of armed militias. To them, the rest of us are to be scorned and hated. 

We have documentary evidence (I'm using the term literally) of the mob going after reporters and even showing their hatred by stomping on their equipment. CNN documents some of those events here. The story includes a shot of a sign attached to a wall saying "Murder the Media." 

And mostly, they showed themselves to be of almost unbelievable gullibility, because they believe in their own line wholeheartedly. They can't seem to understand that 81 million people really did go to the polls in the November election, really did vote for Biden and Harris, and really, really despise Donald Trump. 

I missed some of that story at the time, because the video from inside the capitol building (as I interpreted it) showed people just lounging or milling around. This didn't look like a well-planned coup attempt, and even Timothy Snyder (cited above) remarked on that same point. But there were others among the rioters who apparently were clearer and even more malicious in their thinking, and hoped to actually stop the congress from doing its job. 

It was reader and commenter John Mattis who pointed out to me that there was a lot of advance planning that went into the attack. Since that time, the news media, social media such as Twitter, and online discussion sites have helped to unravel much of what happened. In particular, social media has been useful in helping to identify some of the vandals who were seen and caught on video in the capitol building. Some of the more unsavory appearing characters have been identified and arrested, including the man who had his feet on Nancy Pelosi's desk. There were also a couple of men who went into the capitol building with the kind of zip ties used to handcuff prisoners, a symbolic threat if nothing else, but perhaps a tangible threat at the time. 

Speaking of those zip ties, it is now clear that at least for some of the attackers, there was the idea that they would capture members of the congress and mete out punishment

At first glance, it seems like the authorities failed to prepare adequately for such attempts. But at least one high ranking member of the capitol policing authorities mentioned that these sorts of threats come all the time, so there wasn't necessarily an impetus to raise the level of their defenses in the weeks prior to January 6. The other argument one might make is that the authorities did have safeguards in place, in particular the ability to spirit members of congress off to safe locations, simply because these precautions are always in place. The fact that they had to evacuate the congress even as the rioters were approaching the doors of the House chamber must, however, have been a surprise. 

The other story, at least for some of us, is just how craven and despicable the Republican congress has become, at least when it comes to the more than a hundred who voted to overturn Biden's election. This dirty deed will resonate for decades. 

The events of the day, as they gradually became clearer 

As I wrote last Thursday, the big story of the decade may have been the conversion of a once-confederate state, Georgia, to the state which has now sent an African American man to the United States Senate. If nothing else, this symbolizes changes which have been too slow in coming, but at least are showing some movement. 

But as the hours went by last Thursday (and incidentally, past the copy deadline for this online newspaper), the story of what really went on during the capitol riot began to come more clear. Out of an enormous mass of data and not a little speculation, a story has begun to emerge that forces me, your humble correspondent, to reconsider my earlier remarks about the takeover. As the evidence accumulates, it is becoming clearer that the intent was insurrection, in the sense that the rioters hoped to force the congress -- in some way that only their fevered imaginations would understand -- to reverse the decisions from many states which gave Joe Biden the electoral college victory. 

But the real criminal guilt, if it turns out to be true, goes much higher up and would be truly historic. It's analogous to the treachery of Benedict Arnold, except that Arnold was only a military officer, and not the top leader. 

Whether the complicity goes all the way up to Trump, there is an increasingly convincing argument that the ability of the police to protect the capitol was suppressed. One congressman even suggests directly that there was some sort of inside job, as you can read here.  

As the evidence builds, the role of the president in fomenting the mob and instigating an insurrection will be investigated. The most serious question is whether the president realized what he was doing in convincing the mob to attempt the takeover of the capitol building. If there is solid evidence to this effect, such as testimony from his staff, then the senate would have more than enough reason to convict the president of a high crime. 

Much of this story will emerge in the coming weeks as the congress does its own investigation. 

In any case, there is now a solid description of the day of the attack, almost minute by minute, that was published by the Washington Post. You can read it here. The story linked here is particularly useful because it has a number of internal links to the sub-stories of the day, such as detailed descriptions of how the mob managed to defeat the capitol police initially, to what happened inside the capitol building and how the members of congress were whisked off with only minutes to spare before the senate chamber fell to the aggressors. 

It wasn't until later in the day and even until Thursday afternoon that the serious toll of deaths and injuries began to come clear. With the later suicide of a capitol policeman, the death toll for the event is now six, including the policeman who was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. We were also referred to other deaths that were not explained clearly, although there are reports of one demonstrator who died after falling and being trampled by the crowd during the initial incursion. 

We can lay these deaths directly on Donald Trump, and we can imagine that a senate trial on the impeachment will be forced to consider them too.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net)