What really happened on Jan. 6 when the Capitol was stormed? Without a 9/11-style commission, we probably will not know, but a consensus will form eventually from the bits and pieces we all pick up from the various investigations and media stories. Here’s my take on what happened.
About a thousand attended the rally. They were there to do two things: support Trump himself and to pressure the Senate to throw the vote of the 2020 election to Trump.
Most of the crowd was peaceful and gave Trump, as he said, “a lot of love.” This portion of the crowd behaved like tourists and did not see their pressure on the Senate as an attempt to thwart the will of the people as expressed in Biden’s win.
It’s unclear if they thought the Senate would actually stop the electoral college vote. So many conspiracy theories were floating around shouting that Trump would never leave office or that Vice President Mike Pence would refuse to count the votes that it’s murky what individual beliefs were. The rhetoric of the speakers however was definitely clear. The language they used was designed to arouse the emotions of the crowd and to spur them to action.
Whether the majority of the crowd believed the conspiracy theories or not, a large group, about 500, of them did. Their beliefs were expressed in banners, slogans and ultimately action designed to make those conspiracy prophecies come true. They came prepared to hang Mike Pence, murder Nancy Pelosi, AOC and other Democrats. If they could have destroyed the electoral college votes they would have. Their actions were an attack on our democracy pure and simple.
It is unclear again where the line between the two groups can be drawn. In a book titled “Frankly, We Did Win This Election” by Michael Bender, the last year of former President Trump’s presidency is traced. It’s not just the actions of advisors and officials at the White House that concerns the author. He follows a group of people who call themselves the “Front Row Joes.” They attend as many of Trump’s rallies as they can. Attendance at 50 or more entitles you to membership in the “Front Row Joes.”
This is former President Trump’s base. They have found a home in supporting Donald Trump. They text between rallies, provide rides for one another, offer emotional support in times of crisis. They believe every word he says. They are convinced that the election was stolen from Trump. Most of the “Front Row Joes” had a front row seat at the rally in Washington, D.C. At least one of them made her way inside the Capitol after the doors were opened.
One of them who made it inside is quoted as saying, “We weren’t there to steal things. We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.”
She was appalled by the actions of the militias who rampaged through the Capitol, but she was disappointed when President Trump posted a video telling people to go home.
“We were supposed to be fighting until the end,” she said (page 377). She now believes that the rioting part of the rally was caused by people who wanted to discredit Trump. She also believes she did the right thing in physically trying to stop the Senate from counting the electoral votes.
Trump’s role in all this is controversial, to say the least. He helped organize the rally. He issued public invitations to attend. His speech was inflammatory but all political speeches are inflammatory. The key question was whether he knew how the 500 in the crowd would respond. Even if he didn’t aim his speech at the 500, it is clear that his base took his words to heart. They believed the Big Lie.
We all saw what happened that day. It’s on video. The what is not in question. Without a bipartisan 9/11-type commission, it is unlikely we will ever resolve the nuances of the event. We’ll debate what to call it; we’ll point fingers; we’ll investigate. The common understanding of 1/6 will evolve over time.
One thing is clear, however. If those Trump supporters had actually stopped the count of the electoral college votes and handed the presidency to him, Donald Trump would have taken it. That’s the dictionary definition of a coup.
Dr. Jane Elza, Ph.D., retired, is a resident of Valdosta.