The Assault on the Capitol: Trump’s Foot-Soldiers Attack Representative Government and the Legislative Branch

Donald Trump is engaging in a seditious crusade against the US government while neglecting his presidential duties.  Wednesday, he incited supporters to march on the Capitol, where they smashed windows, trashed the building, and beat a police officer to death.  They terrorized lawmakers intent on affirming Joseph R. Biden’s lawful election to succeed him as the next president.

Americans must face and tackle how fundamentally radical and seditious Trump’s machinations are.  He is using the cover of the executive office to wage an ongoing campaign against representative government, Congress, and any fellow Republican, from the vice-president on down, who dares to speak out or break away.  Ever since taking office, but increasingly since the Republican senate acquitted him of impeachment charges last February, Trump has steadfastly implanted an ideology of hate, intolerance, and grievance in his followers’ minds.  This ideology involves labeling fellow Americans as enemies and dangerously “wrong” liars, who must be opposed because they threaten Donald J Trump and his supposedly righteous campaign to stay in power.  Members of the legislative branch, who are doing their Constitutional duties, he dismisses and demeans as “weak” and “corrupt.” Ditto honorable state officials who won’t do what he wants.

Trump has consistently proclaimed these lies and methodically popularized them through tweets, speeches, and interviews.  Since early November, he has continued to insist that he won the presidential election. (It was “a sacred landslide.”)  He has never conceded defeat nor admitted lying.  His doublespeak continues, and will continue after he leaves the presidency. (Even in what some regard as his concession speech, Trump never admits losing, nor acknowledges the legitimacy of Biden’s victory.)

Trump’s core followers completely believe the false narrative he tells.  They believe that the Democrats and Joe Biden stole the election; that massive election fraud occurred (particularly in urban areas of swing states with lots of black voters); and that Trump is the rightful victor.  Trump preaches that his followers are “the true Americans,” and that if his people do not “take back the government,” through violence if necessary, corruption will reign, and the greatness of the US will disappear for good.

What we saw of the assault on the Capitol in real time was superficial.  Initial footage, much of it filmed at a great distance, failed to convey how nasty, violent, and intentional part of the crowd really was.  In some of the early videos, we saw protestors strolling aimlessly through the Capitol, documenting their innocent-seeming transgressions with selfies, whooping like children.  We saw guards opening barricades to allow “protestors” to flow past.  Some Capitol Police chatted and posed with rioters, showed them courtesies, or stood around doing nothing.  In contrast to the savage response the peaceful BLM protests elicited in the capital this summer, police applied a double standard Wednesday, giving a gingerly, kid-glove treatment to the mainly white crowd. Black Capitol police officers later complained that their superiors did little to prepare for what they privately knew would be, not a peaceful protest, but a violent assault.

As more footage has begun to circulate, and more bits of news come together, can we appreciate how deliberate, pitched, and murderous the incursion really was.  Trump’s “army” was handicapped in that it had been warned against carrying firearms in DC, and those who marched on the Capitol were mainly unarmed.  Nonetheless, members of the crowd carried cruder weapons, such as flags and staffs.  Some had flash-bangs or zip ties for binding people.  Some had ear-pieces and two-way radios; others had maps of the network of tunnels under the buildings.  Two bombs were planted around the perimeter of the Capitol, but police found and defused them before they went off.

Though there appears to have been no coordinated plan of “attack,”  elements of the crowd battled fiercely to break into the building by climbing through windows, bull-rushing officers, and battering the heavy reinforced glass of the main entrances and House Chamber.  Trump’s forces beat and trampled one officer on the Capitol steps; he later died.  Another policeman was pummeled nearly to unconsciousness, as a phalanx of rioters pressed to get through a sliding door.  

Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran traveled across the country to take part in the assault on Congress, tried to climb through an opening into the door to the House Chamber that armed police officers were defending. She was shot in the neck and later died. She is just one example of a large subversive population who will follow Trump to the death, falsely believing that they are serving a noble and patriotic cause.

Inside, the Senate and House were ignorant that the Capitol Building was being overcome and assailed.  They were engaged in debate when suddenly security officers ushered the Vice President and the House Speaker out.  The senators, too, were quickly cleared and moved to safety in an undisclosed location.  On the House side, some congressmen and women were trapped inside on the main floor of the chamber and in the balcony when the rioters began ramming the doors from outside.  Security officers barricaded the door and drew their weapons to defend it, as the remaining MCs were evacuated.  Staff and some representatives who were not in the chambers were instead trapped in a lockdown in their offices for hours.  Only later did Congress have an opportunity to reckon with the grave danger latent in the massive assault.  

There are now speculations about “a crowd within the crowd,” a highly militarized and well-equipped group intent on gaining access to the chambers, destroying the Electoral Votes, kidnapping or executing lawmakers, or forcing them to overturn the election under threat of harm.  Recall that before Christmas, Donald Trump met with the leader of the Proud Boys at the White House, and that many members of this violent supremacist organization were visibly active in Wednesday’s crowd.  It may take a few days for senators and House members to recover, but when they do they will realize how close they were to being killed, captured, or otherwise victimized.

Traumatic though it was, Trump’s open insurrection against the legislative branch was merely an opening salvo.  Thugs leaving the building were heard to say “this is just the beginning,” and “next time we come back we will be armed.”  Donie O’Sullivan of CNN, heard many in the crowd lingering around the Capitol saying they were proud of what they had done.  Videos are circulating in various backrooms of the internet, priming Trump’s forces to renew their violent assault on January 20, Inauguration Day.  One hopes the threat of renewed violence against Congress and the institutions of government will galvanize Republicans and Democrats to join together against Donald Trump and his treachery.

Image by Mike Maguire, from this source.

 

Paris the First Armistice Day

Black and white photograph of a crowd celebrating the end of WWI in Paris.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in the year 1918, World War One, which had ravaged Europe for four years, officially stopped.  The Germans and their allies and the French and their allies finally opted for peace, though, out on the front, soldiers continued firing at one another with a peculiar intensity, as though ignorant of or indifferent to the momentous armistice that had taken effect that morning.  They were too numb, too habituated to fear and violence, to stop; and the thought that they would survive where so many had fallen was one they resisted with fury, with imperative force.  The prospect of living beyond their lost comrades filled them with dread and agony.  Only at night did the firing cease.  The exhausted warriors still unscathed sat around log fires (an unprecedented luxury), trying to absorb the fact of silence, to meditate on the implications of peace.

In Paris, crowds paused to stare up at photographers, their faces expressing many shades of emotion: jubilation, relief, fatigue, insouciance, confidence, diffidence, stoicism, distraction, perdurance, and the kind of camaraderie that victory spawns.  American troops, certain that their efforts had made all the difference, peppered the crowd with their innocent swagger.

A somber crowd in Paris on November 11, 1918, the end of WWI

On the margins of the celebration, grief and a kind of dazed stupor showed on many faces.  A woman veiled in mourning glided past a knot of blithely carefree young ladies. Four years’ combat had culled France’s population of 900 soldiers each day.  Most French citizens in this picture were likely to have lost one or several loved ones, for, of all the French forces that were mobilized, 18 percent of soldiers and 22 percent of all officers died.  At the Armistice, myriad French families remained filled with grief, pain, fear, and uncertainty.  Were their sons, brothers, lovers, husbands, and friends, who had been called to the front, still alive?  Whether the men still absent were dead, injured, missing, or alive might remain undetermined for an unbearably long time.  The unprecedented violence of this gruesome war inflicted grave wounds on European civilization.  Its poisonous consequences blighted the globe for decades, sowing grievances that outlived even World War Two.