That Was No Simple Riot
The truth of an organized plot is coming into focus, laying waste to the lies still swirling around the January 6 attack
Let’s put aside the ludicrous Republicans determined to gaslight about the January 6 Capitol attack and call it a peaceful tourist event. For nearly a year, the plotters and other supporters have tried to hide behind the label of that deadly event as merely a riot, as if that day’s violent eruption could be reduced to spontaneous combustion by innocent people, as if these foot soldiers were not part of a bigger, organized plot—and as if these rioters, alone, should take the fall. Well, the last week of the House Select Committee and related reporting is shattering that lying obfuscation.
Let’s consider a few key points: We already knew that Donald Trump incited the crowd at his “Stop the Steal” rally, telling them at 1:10 p.m. to march to the Capitol, after asserting: “We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.”
But what of the 187 minutes—a full three hours and seven minutes—before this man finally urged the crowd to stop their rampage and go home? What exactly was he waiting for? The hanging of Mike Pence, as the chanting crowd urged? The kidnapping of Nancy Pelosi by the guy with the zip ties? The killing of Speaker Pelosi or other Democrats by the many insurrectionists who were viciously assaulting over 140 police officers?
We learned this week about a 38-page PowerPoint with multiple strategies to overturn the 2020 election and hold onto power. This was written by a retired US Army Colonel, Phil Waldron, who said he met with Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “maybe eight to 10 times” and briefed several members of Congress the night before the Capitol attack. One version of that PowerPoint—jammed with false claims of voter fraud and urges to declare a national emergency and seize paper ballots—was in Meadows’ possession on January 5. Last night Waldron, a 30-year Army veteran, was subpoenaed by the Select Committee.
We also learned from the Select Committee that there was a flood of incoming texts to Mark Meadows, pleading with him to convince Trump to stem the violence; these texts arrived during those 187 minutes when Trump sat in the White House glued to his TV and watched—surely savored—the violence and did nothing. Need evidence that Congressional Republicans and Fox News entertainers understood the gravity of the situation and grasped that Trump was the only one who could convince these violent attackers to stop the mayhem? Note a sampling of the texts pouring in, read aloud by Rep. Liz Cheney:
"Hey, Mark, protestors are literally storming the Capitol. Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?"
"We are under siege up here at the Capitol."
"They have breached the Capitol."
"We are all helpless."
"POTUS has to come out firmly and tell protestors to dissipate. Someone is going to get killed"
"Mark, he needs to stop this. Now"
And what of the Fox bunch and Don Jr?
"Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home...this is hurting all of us...he is destroying his legacy." (Laura Ingraham)
"Please get him on tv. Destroying everything you have accomplished." (Brian Kilmeade)
"Can he make a statement?...Ask people to leave the Capitol." (Sean Hannity)
"He's got to condemn this shit.” And later: “We need an Oval address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand." (Donald Trump Jr.)
Before the unanimous vote Monday night to hold Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for defying the subpoena to appear before the House Select Committee, Liz Cheney made it clear where she sees their investigation heading: “Mr. Meadows’s testimony will bear on another key question before this committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes?”
Her question matches the language of a specific criminal statute, 18 U.S. Code § 1512. It states: “Whoever corruptly…obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” Among this law’s definitions of official proceedings? “A proceeding before the Congress.” You know, something like a proceeding to certify a presidential election.
As necessary as is the committee’s focus on Trump’s legal jeopardy, the increasingly hot spotlight is fixing on Meadows and his key role in guiding Trump’s effort to overturn the election. And Meadows, a former North Carolina Congressman and co-founder of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus in 2015, turned to his old Freedom Caucus pals to do his boss’ bidding. This included Reps. Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, Scott Perry and Mo Brooks. As described in a deeply reported, just-published account about this “band of loyalists” by The New York Times:
“The men were not alone in their efforts—most Republican lawmakers fell in line behind Mr. Trump’s false claims of fraud, at least rhetorically—but this circle moved well beyond words and into action. They bombarded the Justice Department with dubious claims of voting irregularities. They pressured members of state legislatures to conduct audits that would cast doubt on the election results. They plotted to disrupt the certification on Jan. 6 of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.”
In three weeks, we will be experiencing the one-year anniversary of the deadly January 6 attack and the attempt to overthrow a legally, democratically elected government. If you were to just track the list of those charged and prosecuted, you would be left to believe that the main crimes were committed by those who breached the Capitol. You might even linger on the notion that this event was simply, albeit viciously, a riot.
But little by little, day by day, the net is widening, thanks largely to the work of the House Select Committee and the first rumblings that they are becoming more visible and vocal. In my most hopeful moments, I would say that we are on the edge of a precipice where it will be increasingly clear the “rioters” were foot soldiers in service to a much more vicious collection of criminals—a group of GOP extremists who were not only willing to watch people die, but rub their hands in glee over democracy’s demise.
As that picture comes into sharper relief, we must remain vigilant in insisting that the Department of Justice and its leader, Merrick Garland, do their job. That means holding accountable and prosecuting not only the guilty loyalists, but also the man who remains convinced that the law—and the values of American democracy—do not apply to him.
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Well put! May the perpetrators all receive 20 years and never see freedom again!
Thank you for spelling this out with such clarity! The stakes for us, for the values that once defined this nation, could not be higher.
AG Garland, are you listening?