President Biden Remembers January 6th, Challenges His Predecessor’s Lies and Looks Ahead

Here’s most of the president’s speech, delivered at the Capitol this January 6th (the video is available here):

To state the obvious, one year ago today, in this sacred place, democracy was attacked. Simply attacked. The will of the people was under assault. The Constitution, our constitution, faced the gravest of threats.

Outnumbered in the face of a brutal attack, Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard and other brave law enforcement officials saved the rule of law.

Our democracy held. We the people endured. We the people prevailed. 

For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election; he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol. But they failed. They failed.

. . . I’m speaking to you today from Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. This is where the House of Representatives met for 50 years in the decades leading up to the Civil War. It is on this floor where a young congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, sat at desk 191.

Above him — above us — over that door leading into the rotunda is a sculpture depicting Clio, the muse of history. In her hands, an open book in which she records the events taking place in this chamber below. Clio stood watch over this hall one year ago today, as she has for more than 200 years. She recorded what took place. The real history. The real facts. The real truth. The facts and the truth that . . . you and I and the whole world saw with our own eyes. . . . 

Close your eyes. Go back to that day. What do you see? Rioters rampaging. Waving, for the first time inside this Capitol, the Confederate flag that symbolizes the cause to destroy America. To rip us apart. . . .  The mob breaking windows, kicking in doors, breaching the Capitol. American flags on poles being used as weapons, as spears. 

Fire extinguishers being thrown at the heads of police officers. A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers. Dragged them, sprayed them, stomped on them. Over 140 police officers were injured.

We all heard the police officers who were there that day testify to what happened. One officer called it “a medieval battle” and that he was more afraid that day than he was fighting the war in Iraq. They’ve repeatedly asked since that day, how dare anyone, anyone, diminish, belittle or deny the hell they were put through? We saw with our own eyes. Rioters menaced these halls, threatening life of the Speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the Vice President of the United States of America.

But what did we not see? We didn’t see a former president who just rallied the mob to attack sitting in the private dining room of the Oval Office in the White House watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours.

Police were assaulted. Lives at risk. The nation’s Capitol under siege. This wasn’t a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people; they were looking to deny the will of the people. They’re weren’t looking to uphold a free and fair election. They were looking to overturn one. Then weren’t looking to save the cause of America. They were looking to subvert the Constitution.

This isn’t about being bogged down past. It’s about making sure the past isn’t buried. That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth; they face up to it. . . . 

We are a great nation. My fellow Americans, in life there’s truth and tragically there are lies. Lies conceived and spread for profit and power. We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here’s the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.

He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest, than America’s interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.

He can’t accept he lost even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost.

That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He’s done what no president in American history, in the history of this country, has ever, ever done.

He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people. While some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it, trying to uphold the principle of that party, too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes. . . . 

So at this moment, we must decide: What kind of nation are we going to be?

Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are are going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation.

The way forward is to recognize the truth. To live by it. The “Big Lie” being told by the former president, and many Republicans who fear his wrath, is that the insurrection in this country actually took place on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Think about that. Is that what you thought? Is that what you thought when you voted that day? Taking part in an insurrection? . . . Or did you think you were carrying out your highest duty as a citizen and voting?

The former presidents’ supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see election day is the day of insurrection and the riots that took place here on January 6 as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.

Here’s the truth. The election of 2020 was the greatest demonstration of democracy in the history of this country. More of you voted in that election than have ever voted in all of American history. Over 150 million Americans went to the polls and voted that day, in a pandemic, some at great risk to their lives. And they should be applauded, not attacked.

Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it. Not to strengthen and protect our democracy, but because the former president lost instead of looking at the election results in 2020, and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes. The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic. And frankly, it’s un-American.

The second “Big Lie” being told by the former president’s supporters is that the results of the election of 2020 can’t be trusted. The truth is that no election, no election in American history has been more closely scrutinized or more carefully counted.

Every legal challenge questioning the results in every court in this country that could have been made, was made and was rejected. Often rejected by Republican-appointed judges, including judges appointed by the former president himself. From state courts to the United States Supreme Court. Recounts were undertaken in state after state.

Georgia, Georgia counted its results three times, with one recount by hand. Phony partisan audits were undertaken long after the election in several states. None changed the results.

In some of them, the irony is the margin of victory actually grew slightly. So let’s speak plainly about what happened in 2020.

Even before the first ballot was cast, the former president was preemptively sowing doubt about the election results. He built his lie over months. It wasn’t based in the facts. He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth. He’s not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president.

Defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes. In a full and free and fair election. There is simply zero proof the election results are inaccurate. In fact, in every venue where evidence had to be produced, an oath to tell the truth had to be taken, the former president failed to make his case. Just think about this: The former president and his supporters have never been able to explain how they accept as accurate other election results that took place on November 3rd. Elections for governor, United States Senate, House of Representatives, elections in which they close the gap in the House.

They challenged none of that. . . . Governor, senators, House of Representatives, somehow those results are accurate on the same ballot. . . . The only difference: the former president didn’t lose those other races. He just the lost . . . his own.

Finally, the third “Big Lie being” told by the former president and his supporters is that the mob who sought to impose their will through violence are the nation’s true patriots. Is that what you thought when you looked at the mob, ransacking the Capitol, destroying property, literally defecating in the hallways, rifling through the desks of senators and representatives, hunting down members of Congress? Patriots? Not in my view. . . . 

You can’t love your country only when you win, you can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.

Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy. They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here out of rage. Not in service of America, rather in service of one man. Those who incited the mob, the real plotters who were desperate to deny the certification of this election, to defy the will of the voters. Their plot was foiled. Congress, Democrats, Republicans stayed. Senators, representatives, staff, they finished their work the Constitution demanded. They honored their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

Look folks, now it’s up to all of us, we the people, to stand for the rule of law, to preserve the flame of democracy, to keep the promise of America alive. The promise is at risk, targeted by the forces that value brute strength over the sanctity of democracy, fear over hope, personal gain over public good. . . . We’re living at an inflection point in history, both at home and abroad.

We’re engaged anew in a struggle between democracy and autocracy, between the aspirations of the many and the greed of the few, between the people’s right of self-determination and self-seeking autocrat. From China to Russia and beyond, they’re betting that democracy’s days are numbered. They actually told me democracy is too slow, too bogged down by division to succeed in today’s rapidly changing complicated world. And they’re betting . . .  America will become more like them . . . They’re betting America’s a place for the autocrat, the dictator, the strong man. I do not believe that. That is not who we are. That is not who we have ever been. And that is not who we should ever, ever be. 

Our founding fathers, as imperfect as they were, set in motion an experiment that changed the world, literally changed the world. Here in America, the people would rule. Power would be transferred peacefully . . .  

The former president’s lies about this election and the mob that attacked this Capitol could not be further away from the core American values. They want to rule or they will ruin, ruin what our country fought for at Lexington and Concord, at Gettysburg and Omaha Beach, Seneca Falls, Selma, Alabama. What were we fighting for? The right to vote, the right to govern ourselves. The right to determine our own destiny. . . . 

As we stand here today, one year since January 6 2021, the lies that drove the anger and madness we saw in this place, they have not abated. So we have to be firm, resolute and unyielding in our defense of the right to vote and to have that vote counted. . . . 

I did not seek this fight brought to this Capital one year ago today. But I will not shrink from it either. . . . I will defend this nation, and I’ll allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.  . . . This is not a land of kings or dictators or autocrats. We’re a nation of laws, of order, not chaos, of peace, not violence. Here in America, the people rule through the ballot, and their will prevails. So let us remember together. We’re one nation, under God, indivisible, that today, tomorrow and forever at our best, we are the United States of America.

So What Are We Going To Do About It?

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer sounds a painfully loud alarm some don’t seem to hear:

. . . It sounded more like a plot twist from a really bad self-published political thriller than real life: A 38-page plan for President T____ to declare a “National Security Emergency” and seize ballots as part of a wider effort around Jan. 6 to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as [his] successor.

According to one slide from the presentation that T____’s top aide, then-chief of staff Mark Meadows, viewed and later turned over to congressional investigators, the president would endorse a bat guano-crazy conspiracy about Chinese interference in the 2020 presidential election as a pretext to declare all electronic votes invalid.

It’s the kind of transparently fake and utterly corrupt coup that you’d only expect to see in the type of less-developed country we used to call a banana republic. But as the Washington Post and other outlets reported this week, the wackadoodle plan for T____ to stay in office after losing an election, thus ending American democracy, was circulated on Capitol Hill just two days before 147 Republicans indeed voted against certifying Biden’s wins in key states.

I know, it seems kind of funny — this nerdy tech tool that Bill Gates and his Microsoft monolith acquired to propel regional sales meetings in Duluth instead being used in the plot to end the American Experiment after 245 years. But the quickening flow of leaks and new discoveries from the House committee probing the Jan. 6 insurrection is no laughing matter.

Even though it should have been obvious in real time — an angry mob, urged by T____ himself first to come to Washington on Jan. 6 and then to march on the U.S. Capitol, where there was a violent clash with police, injuring some 150 officers and killing five, thus disrupting Congress and the certification of Biden’s victory for hours — the new disclosures have brought into sharper focus what the president’s men knew and when they knew it. Jan. 6 was a far greater threat to American democracy than Watergate, or anything else that’s happened since the first shots at Fort Sumter. Now, the questions are becoming less about what we know, and more about … what are we going to do about this?

Last week saw a cluster of news stories — some coming from the slowly forward-moving House select committee — that continue to confirm greater White House involvement in Jan. 6 planning. This clearer picture also shows an escalating, increasingly desperate T____-led effort to block the fair and legitimate counting of the 2020 votes, from the courts to the corridors of Congress to, finally, the bloody barricades.

For example, a report that two of the Jan. 6 event organizers met privately with T____ in a White House dining room just two days before the insurrection should cement the idea that the events leading up to the fateful day were closely coordinated with the president and his inner circle — a point that was arguably already driven home by recent confirmation of a Jan. 6 “war room” run by close T____ associates at the Willard Hotel.

But other new what-the-heck disclosures about the events leading up to Jan. 6 are a reminder that there are still things we don’t know or fully understand. . . . 

The sum impact of these disclosures should pressure the House committee to both speed up the pace of its methodical investigation and also to hold more public hearings — the arena where the average voter is more likely to watch and understand the threat to the peaceful transfer of power that was posed on Jan. 6. In a perfect world, both the new bombshell revelations and high-profile hearings in the mode of 1973′s Watergate Summer would light a match under the Justice Department and deer-in-the-headlights Attorney General Merrick Garland.

High-stakes public hearings might also shake the Beltway inertia that the threat to democracy posed by the insurrection should take a backseat to other matters having more impact on voters’ day-to-day lives, including the never-ending pandemic and the economic aftershocks, good and bad. Many in the elite Washington media seem to have adopted the mantra that it’s time to move on from Jan. 6, especially since any coup ambitions were seemingly thwarted with President Biden’s inauguration. Some tried to tamp down the disclosure of the coup-plotting PowerPoint circulating among T____’s highest aides and congressional allies, arguing that the existence of the document isn’t “a hair-on-fire moment” for the American system.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that the originator of the PowerPoint plan appears to be a Texas-based retired Army colonel (who, interestingly, specialized in psyops) named Phil Waldron, who’d managed to first get his ideas and then himself woven into T____’s inner circle, including a close relationship with the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. . . . He told the Post he visited the White House multiple times in the days after the November 2020 election, met personally with Meadows and was part of those critical pre-Jan. 6 briefings on Capitol Hill. Waldron also said he met personally with T____ and “several Pennsylvania legislators” in the Oval Office last Nov. 25 . . . 

As crazy as Waldron’s claims of Chinese-led election tampering or his remedies of seizing paper ballots under a “national security emergency” might sound, it’s important to understand how close this plot came to succeeding. If days of hounding and pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to go along with the plan had worked, or if the subsequent violence had created a pathway for T____ to send in Army troops to seize control of the Capitol before Biden’s certification, America would have been plunged into . . . chaos.

The unsavory cast of characters that Team T____ was dealing with prior to Jan. 6 were the political equivalent of walking into a mobbed-up bar and trying to hire a hitman — to whack U.S. democracy. Hiring a hitman is considered a felony, even when no one is ultimately killed, and so is a plot to overthrow the American government, even if it fell short. It’s past time for Congress, Garland, the media and other key players to see this.

But there’s an even more important reason for the Jan. 6 disclosures to be seen and understood as the most important story in America right now: Bolstered by the lack of consequences so far for T____ and his inner circle, the coup attempt is ongoing. As the unpunished leader of a Republican Party that this antidemocracy ex-president has now spent six years bending to his will, T____ is currently leading an effort to change laws and remove any balky GOP officials who thwarted him in 2020 — to make sure he will be declared the winner in 2024, regardless of the reality-based vote count.

The New York Times reported this weekend that many believers in T____’s stolen-election conspiracy theories or even people who traveled to Washington on Jan. 6 are winning or the early favorites for a number of key vote-counting positions for 2022 and 2024, from the new judge of elections in the small town of Mt. Joy, Pa., to the powerful secretaries of state in the battlegrounds that cost T____ the presidency last year.

“This is a five-alarm fire,” Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s Democratic secretary of state, told the Times, adding: “If people in general, leaders and citizens, aren’t taking this as the most important issue of our time and acting accordingly, then we may not be able to ensure democracy prevails again in ‘24.”

Unfortunately, not enough people are acting accordingly. Any student of the last century of world history knows the seriousness of underestimating the rise of authoritarianism in far-flung precincts, that while the media is obsessing on the petty squabbles among, say, the Social Democrats, or the delusions of a decrepit ruling class, a madman who failed but learned from one aborted putsch is busy perfecting the second assault.

The only thing wrong with describing the PowerPoint for an all-American coup as a “hair-on-fire moment” is that the term is way too small to describe the existential threat that’s smoldering, unextinguished, in the rotting foundation of the United States and its increasingly haywire experiment. It’s been said before, but whatever you would have done in 1933 Germany or 1963 Alabama is what you are doing in 2021 America. We can speed up the hearings, put the biggest story on the front page, and arrest the coup plotters, or we can let the fire burn. The choice is ours.

The Point Is They Were Trying to Change the Results of an Election, Even If That Required Violence

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo discusses Rolling Stone’s new article about the January 6th insurrection and the congressional investigation into it:

. . . There seems to be some significant confusion about what’s actually in the report and what it means for understanding the event itself and the investigation into it. . . . Understanding this is very important for understanding the questions of accountability and legality stemming from the whole event.

First of all, I saw many reactions to the story yesterday which treated it as a sort of smoking gun about the involvement of a number of far-right members of Congress. But at least to my understanding this part of the report was not new. Not really new at all. There are basically three parts of the story that we can distinguish for these purposes. 1) The legal/executive power attempt to overturn the election, 2) the “Stop the Steal” rally aimed at pressuring Congress and then 3) the breach of the Capitol complex which happened when then-President T____ told the rally attendees to march on the Capitol complex. But we’ve known basically from the beginning that these members of Congress were involved in 1 and 2. This has not just come out in reporting since January 6th. It was fairly open at the time. Indeed, most of these members were either present or actually spoke at the rally.

To the best of my knowledge there’s nothing in the report that explicitly ties these members of Congress to the decision to storm the Capitol complex. There are many references to additional information the cooperating sources plan to provide. So perhaps there’s additional, specific information there. But here’s why this is important and important not so much about this report but for understanding the whole situation.

If we’re looking for a specific smoking gun where [Republican congressmen] Paul Gosar or Mo Brooks says, “Hey, once you get there, storm the barricades and beat up the cops who try to stop you and take the members of Congress hostage” we’re all being way too literal about what happened here and basically making an argument in advance that lets most of the key players off the hook.

The big plot was to overturn the results of the election. The President and his congressional allies were working on that at the[Department of Justice] and in Congress. They also planned a big rally in the Capitol to menace and overawe members of Congress. They got them riled up at the rally and then literally told them to march on the Capitol. They knew there were various rightist paramilitaries in that crowd – Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, etc.

They knew they had told them that Congress was stealing the election from T____ and that they should go to Capitol Hill and make them stop. My best guess is that people like T____ and Mark Meadows didn’t want to know all the details of precisely what was going to happen once the mob got to the barricades. But that’s really always how these things work.

We already appear to have reporting that Bannon knew and was trying to foment the kind of siege that actually occurred. And we can see pretty clearly that this was the plan because the reaction to the storming of the Capitol complex from folks like Bannon and indeed T____ himself wasn’t dismay or outrage but glee. That’s what they were looking for. This remains perhaps the most important part of the whole investigation: the period of hours in which T____ gleefully watched his supporters try to hunt down the members of Congress and indeed T____’s Vice President and refused efforts to calm the situation or order federal troops to stop the assault on the Capitol.

The defenders of the Jan 6th insurrection want to argue that the rally was just like any other example of Americans exercising their right to peaceful protest. No different from the March on Washington or the Women’s March in the first days of T____’s presidency. The only problem was when individuals decided to break down the barricades and … well T____ and Paul Gosar and Mo Brooks … well, that wasn’t their fault. Who could have predicted, etc.?

To the best of my knowledge this report doesn’t change the facts on this basic issue. But we are fools if that’s what we’re looking for. Or if that is the standard we’re applying to this inquiry.

As America Changes, Reactionaries Will React

A political scientist at the University of Chicago seems to have confirmed something the January 6th insurrectionists had in common (in addition to the obvious factors, like being fans of the former president):

The Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST), working with court records, has analyzed the demographics and home county characteristics of the 377 Americans, from 250 counties in 44 states, arrested or charged in the Capitol attack.

Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters we have surveyed in the past. They typically have no ties to existing right-wing groups. But like earlier protesters, they are 95 percent White and 85 percent male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties. . . .

By far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists’ backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges. . . .

All 36 of Texas’s rioters come from just 17 counties, each of which lost White population over the past five years. Three of those arrested or charged hail from Collin County north of Dallas, which has lost White population at the very brisk rate of 4.3 percent since 2015.

The same thing can be seen in New York state, home to 27 people charged or arrested after the riot, nearly all of whom come from 14 blue counties that Biden won in and around New York City. One of these, Putnam County (south of Poughkeepsie), is home to three of those arrested, and a county that saw its White population decline by 3.5 percent since 2015.

When compared with almost 2,900 other counties in the United States, our analysis of the 250 counties where those charged or arrested live reveals that the counties that had the greatest decline in White population had an 18 percent chance of sending an insurrectionist to D.C., while the counties that saw the least decline in the White population had only a 3 percent chance. This finding holds even when controlling for population size, distance to D.C., unemployment rate and urban/rural location. It also would occur by chance less than once in 1,000 times.

Put another way, the people alleged by authorities to have taken the law into their hands on Jan. 6 typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest.

CPOST also conducted two independent surveys in February and March . . . to help understand the roots of this rage. One driver overwhelmingly stood out: fear of the “Great Replacement.”

Great Replacement theory has achieved iconic status with white nationalists and holds that minorities are progressively replacing White populations due to mass immigration policies and low birthrates. Extensive social media exposure is the second-biggest driver of this view, our surveys found. Replacement theory might help explain why such a high percentage of the rioters hail from counties with fast-rising, non-White populations. . . .

To ignore this movement and its potential would be akin to [the previous administration’s] response to Covid-19: We cannot presume it will blow over. The ingredients exist for future waves of political violence, from lone-wolf attacks to all-out assaults on democracy . . .

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post reacted to the study:

We’ve known for some time that many [Americans feel] a deep cultural anxiety, the sense that the world is changing in ways they don’t like and can’t control, and is leaving them behind. To a great degree, they’re right: Popular culture is far more diverse now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and in many ways it reflects liberal values. If you think it’s an abomination for people of the same gender to marry, TV is going to make you feel very uncomfortable (as will your own kids’ opinions, in all likelihood).

And if you’re a White person living in a town that is steadily becoming less White, just like the country as a whole? Many such people will welcome that diversity, but some will see it as a threat to their status.

Status is complicated. It comes not only from your income, the prestige of your occupation or the esteem of your neighbors. It can also come from the feeling that you and people like you are in charge. . . .

As someone who spent a lifetime chasing status, [Biden’s predecessor] understood that the feeling of status threat could be turned into a powerful political weapon. For instance: The point of insisting Mexico would pay for his border wall wasn’t that we needed the money, but that we’d regain status and potency by dominating and humiliating that country. Vote for [him] and that status and potency would be restored, he claimed.

It is almost impossible to overstate the role that the conservative media plays in creating and sustaining the feeling that White people’s status is under threat — and that the appropriate response is resentment and fear. The encroachments of liberalism are a daily drumbeat on Fox News and conservative talk radio, as is the message that everything you cherish is on the verge of collapse. You may have thought a “Happy Holidays” sign at the department store was just a seasonal decoration, but Fox will tell you it’s actually part of a war to outlaw your religion, so you’d darn well better get mad.

After the past couple of decades, we should understand that there’s almost nothing Democrats can do to diffuse those feelings of cultural displacement. Fox is gonna Fox, and [Republican] politicians . . . are going to see culture war rabble-rousing as their key to rising within the party.

The degree to which Democrats “reach out” to guys in Midwestern diners or try to show them “respect” by paying homage to their cultural markers won’t make a difference. . . .

The degree to which Democrats “reach out” to guys in Midwestern diners or try to show them “respect” by paying homage to their cultural markers won’t make a difference. . . .

That rage still burns, because the forces of societal change that feed it continue inexorably, and some people will always try to profit from it, politically or financially. That’s true even if conservatives find it harder to loathe President Biden than they did Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Unquote.

President Biden had his first cabinet meeting last week. The fact that the cabinet “looks like America” was a mark of progress.

Many of our neighbors would have been more comfortable if Biden’s looked like the Nixon cabinet in 1972. That’s not going to change any time soon.

On Cold, Slippery Ground at the Stupid Coup

According to the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, 40% of the people charged with crimes on January 6th are business owners or have white-collar jobs. Compared with previous rightwing extremists, relatively few of them were unemployed. Only about 10% had “identifiable ties to right wing militias or other organized violent groups”. Most were identified as “mainstream T____ supporters” (The Guardian).

Mark Danner tells what it was like outside the Capitol on January 6th. 

Harsh and gray dawned the day of the Stupid Coup, with a lowering sky of dense dark clouds, slippery muddy grass underfoot, and a stiff, unforgiving wind that kept the “Stop the Steal” flags flapping. Face-painted and brightly festooned pilgrims bearing banners—snarling T____ straddling a tank, pumped-up T____-as-Rambo brandishing a machine gun, grimacing T____ as motorcycle gang chieftain—milled about the archaic hulk of the Washington Monument looking like the remnants of a post-apocalyptic cult, with beefy bearded men in camo pants and Harley jackets, and women wearing red, white, and blue sweatshirts and draped in red “Make America Great Again” flags like Roman togas. And everywhere on hats and helmets and sweatshirts and pants was that double-plosive syllable he had spent his life affixing to buildings and airplanes and “universities” and steaks and vodka: “T____: NO BULLSHIT!” “FIGHT FOR T____!” “JESUS IS MY SAVIOR, T____ IS MY PRESIDENT.”

As I advanced toward the White House and the booming, reverberating electronic voices, the crowd began to thicken and finally to coalesce. Before I knew it I had been pressed into a mass of bodies straining toward a faintly gesticulating figure hundreds of yards away, echoed by the crudely pixelated image of an amped-up Eric T____, magnified a hundred times on the jumbotron, just glimpsable through the MAGA hats and flags. The crowd moved roughly as one, borne along by its rhythmic chants (“USA! USA! USA!” “Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal! Stop the Steal!”), and atop its messy bulk swayed the flags and the stretching hands clutching cell phones, on which the figure on the jumbotron (now the brass-voiced Evita of T____ism, Kimberly Guilfoyle) was replicated a few thousand times as far as one could see. Pressing my elbows against the bodies beside me I struggled to keep my footing on the wet ground, swallowed the incipient claustrophobic panic, and breathed in the acrid smell of marijuana wafting over us. All we needed was a mosh pit.

“Oh, I love him!” “Yeah, he’s amazing!” The dark-haired young women jostling against me from behind were struggling to hold a sightline to stare adoringly up at D____ Jr., now kissing his girlfriend Kimberly. With his slicked-back hair, open-necked shirt, and gaping jacket, he looked for all the world like a just-past-his-prime used-car salesman. “This isn’t their Republican Party anymore!” D____ Jr. roared. “This is  D____T____’s Republican Party!” Preening like a rock star, he extended his hand-mic to the crowd to catch the answering roar. Did the Republicans now gathering at the Capitol hear it? Did Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the electoral vote certification, hear it? For D____  Jr. was shouting out a simple truth that for all its undeniability many in the party had never quite believed or managed to grasp in all its implications. T____ owned them. And as his owner’s prerogative he imposed an unstinting and singular loyalty: not loyalty mostly to him, with some prudently reserved for the Constitution and the law. No. Loyalty entirely to him. Today would be the day of choosing.

It is a testament to the powers of ambition and self-delusion that the thousands of garishly costumed people around me could see this clearly even while the sophisticated members of Congress and the media and intelligentsia could not. Moments before, as the royal family chatted in a tent in front of the White House and prepared to come out on stage, a broadly smiling Guilfoyle, clad in a smart black cape and shimmying briefly for the camera, said she hoped Pence would have “the courage or brains to do the right thing” and block the certification of Joe Biden’s election. Guilfoyle, a former Fox News anchor, is a lawyer who worked as a federal prosecutor and an assistant district attorney in California, and here she was, in a video later posted by D____ Jr., professing to believe that the vice-president would soon be turning the 2020 election over to the loser. T____ himself had been explicitly pressuring and then threatening Pence for days, both on Twitter and especially at the rally in Dalton, Georgia, two nights before, on the eve of the state’s two Senate runoff elections, where he mused that Pence “is a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much.”

Shortly after Rudolph Giuliani appeared (“Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”) to propose that the election be settled by “trial by combat,” T____ himself slowly sauntered onstage to the strains of Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American.” After admiring the crowd and praising the grandeur of the Washington Monument, he laid out in laborious and disordered detail all the ways the unprecedented landslide “we” had won had been stolen—a litany he had recited two days before in Georgia and the week before that during his hour-long cajoling and whining and threatening telephone call with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger. And after he had read out once more all the discredited claims about all the dark doings in inner-city Detroit and Philadelphia and Atlanta—adding ruefully that the wily Georgians had now succeeded in stealing the election again—the president came to the point of what lay before us this day:

We’re going to have to fight much harder. And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t that will be a sad day for our country…. We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing…. We fight. We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

Deafening paroxysms of jubilation and rage greeted this doctrinal statement of T____ism, for who could better summarize the philosophy, such as it was, in fewer words? T____ as Rambo, as tank commander, motorcycle gang leader, and on and on. The imagery of T____ism is about strength and cruelty and dominance even as the rhetoric is about loss and grievance and victimization: about what was taken and what must be seized back by strength. And we would have to bring that strength, for certain it was that the politicians would turn out to be traitors, just like all the rest. From that fateful ride down the gilt staircase in the pink-marbled lobby of T____ Tower five years before—T____ism’s March on Rome—it had been about this: “Taking back the country.” Taking it back from the rapists and the killers, the undocumented and the illegitimate, the Black and the brown from “shithole countries” who should go back “where they came from.” Now it had all come down to this.

“Fight for T____! Fight for T____!” Above my head a tall homemade flag on a jointed metal pole flapped and waved and finally extended out fully for a moment, and I could read the words that had been printed in black type: “Lead Us Across the Rubicon!” And on the other side: “The die is cast!” I managed to nudge with my elbow the clean-cut, thirtyish young man gently waving the pole. “I like your flag,” I said. He turned his head back at me and smiled: finally, one who understood. “Yes,” he said. “It’s time.”

To the strains of “Tiny Dancer” and then “YMCA,” the mass began to loosen and separate. I slowly followed my new friend’s flag at a distance, my shoes wet and caked with mud, my feet near frozen. Caesar had led his soldiers across the Rubicon: the river had been the unwritten boundary beyond which a general was not permitted to bring his forces into Republican Rome. And yet the parallel had much to recommend it. Could his legions have been more loyal to their commander than these were to theirs? Was not our republic, too, beset with maladies its feckless leaders had proved powerless to remedy? Infestations of grasping and illegitimate foreigners. Obscene inequalities of wealth and power. Long-stagnant incomes. Senseless and unending foreign wars. Dispossessed and desperate veterans. And most of all a corrupt political class that had lost the confidence of the people. What was preserving the republic worth when set against such mortal ills? What was that supposedly noble cause but an excuse to maintain the rotting status quo?

In our dense procession we marched up Constitution Avenue. All the museums were shuttered, all the buildings closed. Washington had been shut down, first by the pandemic, now by us. Shops and hotels had covered their plate glass in plywood. The side streets were near deserted, except for the black-and-white police cars blocking the corners with their flashing blue strobes. This day would set a record in pandemic deaths and the next day would set another, surmounting for the first time four thousand dead. We were marching in a time of plague, and I felt vulnerable in my mask. Self-conscious, too: not one marcher in ten wore them. “They’re locking us down, taking away our freedom and our country, too!” someone exclaimed. Were the words meant for my ears? Few masks, yes, but fine makeshift costuming: we were a parade in motley, a dense Children’s Crusade of T____sters, with our flags pointed half forward now, as if we were advancing full-tilt on Jerusalem.

Lined up against the wall of a museum, men in tactical gear stood with backs turned, pissing. A woman in a kind of red, white, and blue pajama suit gazed down at her phone and shouted, “Pence just threw T____ under the bus!” A blond-haired woman in a woolly T____ hat said to no one in particular, “The courts won’t help. The Supreme Court won’t help. The only one left is us…”

Unquote. The article, written January 14th for The New York Review of Books, goes on from there, but it’s his first-hand account that evokes the event and who showed up.