He Tried to Pull a Mussolini

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer asks what would have happened if the Cancer on America had made it to the Capitol on January 6th and what’s going to happen next:

The nation’s right wing — swelled by disgruntled military veterans and those with a penchant for violence — had grown increasingly restless that fall, with occasional street clashes between these reactionaries and anti-fascists on the left. Finally, the leader of the right bloc — a big man who strutted on stage, sometimes buffoonishly — massed his followers and urged them to march on the capital and fight for their country, even though in the end he didn’t march with them.

Instead, Benito Mussolini would get in a car and drive to Rome in October 1922, where he again met up with the throng of as many as 60,000 who’d marched there after the future dictator’s speech to them in Naples. This was the-now notorious March on Rome, and the intimidation of Italy’s ruling elites by this large, angry mob and its “strongman” leader worked beyond anyone’s wildest dream. By month’s end, King Victor Emmanuel III had ceded all political power to Mussolini and the fascists, who would not relinquish it for two decades.

Just four months before the 100th anniversary of what is now seen as the lift-off of modern fascism, we have seen in dramatic fashion how the concept and underlying terror tactics of Mussolini’s March on Rome never went away, but lived on to be modernized by a reality-TV star who’d faked his way into the White House and was determined to stay there.

Tuesday’s riveting testimony before the House Jan. 6 Committee by former D___ Trump White House insider Cassidy Hutchinson … revealed just how close T____ came to a true Mussolini moment: His own plan to “march” on the U.S. Capitol.

The now 26-year-old Hutchinson — deputy to T____’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, embedded in the then-president’s inner circle on Jan. 6, 2021 — testified under oath that T____ knew that his supporters were heavily armed when he exhorted them to march from a rally near the White House to the Capitol, where the ceremony to certify President Biden’s win was beginning.

… Hutchison confirmed prior suggestions that the 45th president had demanded to go to the Capitol, where he would have stood among Proud Boys and others launching a violent assault on democracy.

I’m the effing president — take me up to the Capitol right now,” T____ is said to have bellowed at the head of his security detail, as Hutchinson said was related to her that afternoon by Secret Service-connected deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato in the presence of that security head, Robert Engle. But the president was overruled by aides who insisted his security could not be guaranteed at or near the wild and increasingly violent melee.

To experts on authoritarianism — who’ve been some of the most reliable tour guides during the long, strange trip of America’s last seven years — T___’s scheme was an effort to create a legend, reassert his leadership, and reverse his embarrassment over losing the election to Biden by 7 million votes.

As Hutchinson was testifying, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the New York University historian who’d specialized in Mussolini and wrote the book Strongmen, tweeted that “of course T____ was trying to get to the Capitol. A coup leader must be there to bless the new order birthed by violence and be acclaimed as savior by the crowd.”

I reached out to Ben-Ghiat to follow up on this. She told me that Jan. 6 was essentially “a cult leader rescue operation,” in which T____ “prepped his followers for months to be outraged at their hero being robbed of what was rightfully his, and then summoned them to the Capitol to save America by saving him.” She had written recently that the moment T____ hoped to achieve — restoring his movement’s warped sense of justice and order — is what is known as “the pronunciamiento.”

June 28, 2022, was a devastating day for T____ … Over just a couple of hours, Hutchinson laid out a compelling case that he and his closest aides knew the potential for violence on Jan. 6 and knew that morning of dangerous weapons, yet still sought mayhem at the Capitol when the votes were to be counted. She showed how T____ not only had no real interest in calling off the insurrectionists but supported their chants to hang Mike Pence. Most aides, she testified, knew what they were doing was against the law, either from their in-house legal advice or the pathetic last-minute begging for pardons….

But … what if the Secret Service and other aides had indeed kowtowed to “the (expletive deleted) president” and driven him to the Capitol? How might that have changed the course of the attempted and ultimately failed coup that was underway?

… T____’s physical presence could have intensified the violence [and] prolonged it…. If that had happened, it might have been unsafe for Vice President Mike Pence and Congress to resume Biden’s certification. T____ might have declared the national emergency that the worst of his advisors had been urging.

Simply put, Hutchinson’s testimony showed how close … the American Experiment came to bursting into flames.

Which is why “what next?” is so important. Just how, exactly, will the slow-moving Justice Department of Attorney General Merrick Garland respond to the increasingly mapped-out-for-them case that T____, his lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, and others took part in a criminal conspiracy in fomenting the insurrection?

The Magic 8 Ball is very cloudy…. There are understandable reasons to fear indicting T____, which would surely heighten the partisan divisions in America…  But recent events, from political violence to a rogue Supreme Court that was molded by T____, suggest that unrest is happening, no matter what. The real pressure is not to keep a false calm but to do the right thing, with the future of America on the line. D____ T____ [and his co-conspirators] must be brought to justice.

What He Knew and When He Knew It

Charles Pierce of Esquire points out a big difference between the Watergate scandal and the attempted coup that led to January 6th:

As it happens, Tuesday was a kind of anniversary. On June 28, 1973, Senator Howard Baker, Jr. (R-Tenn) of the Senate Select Committee On Presidential Campaign Practices —the Watergate committee — began his questioning of former White House counsel John Dean, who had spent several days laying out with bloodless precision what would become known as “the White House horrors”. Baker asked the question that made him famous.

The central question at this point is simply put: What did the President know and when did he know it?

Nobody asked Cassidy Hutchinson that question. It was moot. The answer, as she spent Tuesday telling the committee, was “Everything” and “Immediately”.

The Insurrection Was Only One Step in the Attempted Coup

The radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court didn’t get a chance to overturn the 2020 election, although given how five Republican justices handed the presidency to George Bush in 2000, they might have been willing. 

It’s important to distinguish between the attempted coup and the January 6th insurrection. Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton advisor, explained the distinction on January 6, 2022, for The Guardian:

The insurrection was not the coup itself. It was staged as the coup was failing. The insurrection and the coup were distinct, but the insurrection emerged from the coup. It has been a common conceptual error to consider the insurrection alone to be the coup. The coup, however, was an elaborate plot developed over months to claim that the votes in the key swing states were fraudulent, for Mike Pence as the presiding officer of the joint session of the Congress to declare on that basis that the certification of the presidential election on the constitutionally mandated date could not be done, to force that day to pass into a twilight zone of irresolution, for House Republicans to hold the floor brandishing the endless claims of fraud, to move the decision to the safe harbor of the House of Representatives, voting by states, with a majority of 26 controlled by the Republican party, to deny both the popular vote and the electoral college vote to retain T____ in office, for protests to breakout at federal buildings, and for the president to invoke the Insurrection Act to impose law and order.

Presumably, any gesture to forestall the coup by the joint chiefs would be communicated at once to T____ from his agent, Kash Patel, a former aide to far-right representative Devin Nunes), sworn enemy of the “Deep State”, embedded as chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense, and presidential orders would be issued to countermand. The rally on 6 January – “will be wild”, T____ promised – was a last-ditch attempt to intimidate the vice-president with the threat of violence into fulfilling his indispensable role in the coup, to lend support to the Republicans objecting to certification, and to delay the proceedings into a constitutional no man’s land. …

The insurrection may also have been intended to provide a pretext for precipitating clashes with anti-T____ demonstrators, following the example of the street violence and multiple knife stabbings perpetrated in Washington by the neo-Nazi Proud Boys chanting “1776” on 12 December, and which would then be an excuse for invoking the Insurrection Act. In the criminal contempt citation of Meadows for his refusal to testify before the select committee investigating the US Capitol attack, the committee noted that Meadows sent an email the day before the assault to an unnamed individual “that the national guard would be present to ‘protect pro-T____ people’ and that many more would be available on standby”. From whom would “pro-T____ people” be protected?

In the midst of the attack, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, managed to reach a preoccupied T____, who was riveted viewing the unfolding chaos on television at the White House, closely monitoring whether the coup would finally succeed, taking phone calls from Jim Jordan and a host of collaborators, and fending off urgent pleas to call it off … T____’s first reply to McCarthy was to repeat “the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol”, according to the Republican representative Jaime Herrera Beutler.

McCarthy argued: “It’s not Antifa, it’s Maga. I know. I was there.” “Well, Kevin,” said T____, “I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” “Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?” McCarthy inquired in an uncharacteristic display of testosterone that soon was replaced with his regular order of servility …. The absence of antifa, and McCarthy’s refusal in the heat of the moment to lend credence to the phantom menace, may have condemned any false-flag thought of invoking the Insurrection Act. Meanwhile, the bayonet-ready national guard idly awaited orders for hours to quell the actual insurrection. …

The coup was hardly T____’s full-blown brainchild. It was packaged for him. It was adapted, enhanced and intensified from longstanding Republican strategies for voter suppression. The coup was a variation on the theme from a well-worn playbook. T____ eagerly grasped for the plan handed to him.

More than a year before the election of 2020, in August 2019, conservative operatives in closely connected rightwing organizations began preparing a strategy for disputing election results. A “Political Process Working Group” focused on “election law and ballot integrity” was launched by Lisa Nelson, the CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), heavily funded by the Koch brothers’ dark money syndicate, the Donors Trust. …

The investigative reporter Anne Nelson, in her book Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, describes the CNP as a nexus of “the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of western plutocrats and the strategy of rightwing Republican political operatives”.

A board member of the CNP, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer at the center of a host of rightwing groups, assumed control over the Alec-originated project and moved it forward. Mitchell was instrumental in devising the blueprint for the coup. On 10 December 2020, 65 leading members of the CNP signed a succinct step-by-step summary of the completely elaborated plot that went little noticed except on the coup-friendly rightwing website Gateway Pundit:

The evidence overwhelmingly shows officials in key battleground states – as the result of a coordinated pressure campaign by Democrats and allied groups – violated the constitution, state and federal law in changing mail-in voting rules that resulted in unlawful and invalid certifications of Biden victories. There is no doubt President D____ J T____ is the lawful winner of the presidential election. Joe Biden is not president-elect. Accordingly, state legislatures in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan should exercise their plenary power under the constitution and appoint clean slates of electors to the electoral college to support President T____. Similarly, both the House and Senate should accept only these clean electoral college slates and object to and reject any competing slates in favor of Vice-President Biden from these states. Conservative leaders and groups should begin mobilizing immediately to contact their state legislators, as well as their representatives in the House and Senate, to demand that clean slates of electors be appointed in the manner laid out in the US constitution.

Mitchell was by then a T____ campaign legal adviser, with direct access to T____ and working on the Georgia challenge to the results.

“We Don’t Expect Him To Be There”

The Department of Justice is taking its own sweet time prosecuting the January 6th insurrectionists, but apparently getting closer to the former president and his co-conspirators. Meanwhile, a member of the House January 6th committee says they’ll have big news starting in June. From NBC News:

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., suggested that the House Jan. 6 committee’s upcoming hearings will be dramatic and include explosive revelations that the panel has been piecing together behind the scenes for months.

“The hearings will tell a story that will really blow the roof off the House,” Raskin said Thursday at an event . . . in Washington.

Members of the committee plan to hold those hearings in June and aim to have a report out about their investigation by the end of the summer or early fall, said Raskin, who sits on the panel.

“No president has ever come close to doing what happened here in terms of trying to organize an inside coup to overthrow an election and bypass the constitutional order,” he said. “And then also use a violent insurrection made up of domestic violent extremist groups, white nationalist and racist, fascist groups in order to support the coup.”

Raskin said the committee will present “evidence” that proves there was coordination among then-President D____ T____ and his inner circle and his supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The plan was to use then-Vice President Mike Pence to try to get President Joe Biden’s electoral vote tally below the 270 majority needed for victory, Raskin said, which under the 12th Amendment would shift the contest to a vote in the House. If that occurred, he said, Republicans would have the majority to seize the presidency because the votes would be cast by the state delegations, and the GOP controls more state delegations than the Democrats do.

“It’s anybody’s guess what could have happened — martial law, civil war. You know, the beginning of authoritarianism,” Raskin said, speculating on what might have unfolded if the plan was successful. “I want people to pay attention to what’s going on here, because that’s as close to fascism as I ever want my country to come to again.”

“This was not a coup directed at the president,” Raskin said. “It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against the Congress.”

The plan was coordinated “most tightly by T____ and his inner circle,” Raskin said, adding that the committee faced the most difficulty in this aspect of its probe. The panel has interviewed more than 800 witnesses, but he said, “The closer you get to T____, the more they refuse to testify.”

Speaking about the threats to Pence on Jan. 6 and the chants by rioters to hang him, Raskin said the vice president’s Secret Service agents — including one who was carrying the nuclear football — ran down to an undisclosed place in the Capitol. Those agents, who Raskin said he suspects were reporting to T____’s Secret Service agents, were trying to whisk Pence away from the Capitol.

Pence then “uttered what I think are the six most chilling words of this entire thing I’ve seen so far: ‘I’m not getting in that car,'” Raskin said.

“He knew exactly what this inside coup they had planned for was going to do,” Raskin said.

Unquote.

So Pence didn’t want to leave the Capitol. The scary interpretation is that he thought he was being kidnapped by the Secret Service. At a minimum, he knew that if he wasn’t at the Capitol, the Electoral College proceedings would go on without him, allowing Republican senators to disqualify the votes of selected states, the first step in overturning the election (the plan his corrupt boss had been trying to convince him to go along with for weeks). It hasn’t received much attention, but the oldest member of the Senate, 88-year old Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) admitted as much the day before the insurrection:

During an exchange with reporters on Tuesday [Jan. 5th], Grassley was asked how he plans to vote [on Jan. 6th].

“Well, first of all, I will be — if the Vice President isn’t there and we don’t expect him to be there, I will be presiding over the Senate,” according to a transcript of his remarks sent by a spokesperson.

Grassley serves as the president pro tempore of the Senate and will preside over any portion of the debate that Pence does not attend.

“We don’t expect him to be there.” Those words are just as chilling as “I’m not getting in that car”.

When Do We All Get To Say They’re Fascists?

From The New York Times:

The Republican Party on Friday officially declared the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and events that led to it “legitimate political discourse,” and rebuked two lawmakers in the party who have been most outspoken in condemning the deadly riot and the role of D____  T____ in spreading the election lies that fueled it. . . . 

From the resolution unanimously adopted by the Resolutions Committee at the Republican Party’s winter convention:

WHEREAS, Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger have engaged in actions in their positions as members of the January 6th Select Committee not befitting Republican members of Congress . .

WHEREAS , Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse . . .

RESOLVED, That the Republican National Committee hereby formally censures Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and shall immediately cease any and all support of them as members of  the Republican Party for their behavior which has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic . . . 

From The Times again:

It was the latest and most forceful effort by the Republican Party to minimize what happened and the broader attempt by [the former president] and his allies to invalidate the results of the 2020 election. In approving it and opting to punish two of its own, Republicans seemed to embrace a position that many of them have only hinted at: that the assault and the actions that preceded it were acceptable. 

It came days after [he] suggested that, if re-elected in 2024, he would consider pardons for those convicted in the Jan. 6 attack and for the first time described his goal as aiming to “overturn” the election results. . . . 

The censure  was carefully negotiated in private among party members . . . 

In response:

Then there’s this from Vanity Fair:

Over the last several years, there have been many opportunities to throw around terms like “fascist“ and “fascism,” typically in the context of the Republican Party and the wannabe dictator to whom many of its members have pledged their undying loyalty. In response, said Republicans have frequently gotten bent out of shape about such terms . . .  And yet . . . 

Per Insider:

Amid the [Republican Party’s] nationwide push against teaching about race and sexuality in schools, two members of the Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia advocated for burning certain books, according to the Fredericksburg-based Free Lance-Star newspaper. This came as the school board directed staff to begin removing “sexually explicit” books from library shelves, after voting 6-0 in favor of the removal, the Lance-Star reported. The board has plans to review how certain books or materials are defined as “objectionable,” the paper said, which opens the door for other content to be removed. 

Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg both championed burning the books that have been removed . . .