What happened on Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol Building on 6 January 2021 was indeed the product of mass ignorance, mindless resentment and white privilege reaching an idiotic crescendo. Far more shocking, however, is the strategy behind it.
Processing that crazy day, one part of the internet hive-mind has been occupied with mockery of the viking-horned “Q Shaman,” along with the Trumpists who apparently bought “Georgia flags” off the internet, but ended up waving the flag of the nation of Georgia. The “Save America” organisers even played Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” to the crowd before marching against democracy.
But we’ve also been stunned by the double standards of American law enforcement. Where six months ago Black Lives Matter protests were faced with hundreds of militarised officers who peppered protesters with rubber-coated bullets, some police at the Capitol indulged the Trump supporters.
In fact, the barrier between Congress and a mob that had for months been shouting about “stopping the steal” was apparently just a wire fence, which the crowd easily overcame.
Were the police chiefs responsible for this lack of security really so ignorant as to what was about to unfold? Or, in putting up no obstacle to the MAGA crowd, did they know very well what they were doing?
We do know that two-thirds of Republicans in the lower house voted against the certification of Biden’s victory. Republican Senator Josh Hawley egged on the MAGA crowd with a raised fist at the start of the day.
As for Trump himself, his actions were classic fascist coup agitation. In his speech, he called on the police and military to join him in marching on the capitol. Security forces joining a coup is democracy’s absolute tipping point.
Like Mussolini and Hitler before him, Trump painted the country as fallen prey to invisible enemies. He said Republicans were fighting like a boxer with one hand tied behind their back, and that his supporters – “the real people” – were not going to be “nice” anymore. Their march was intended, in his words, to “give the Republicans [the ‘weak’ ones] the kind of pride they need to take back our country” by refusing to certify Biden’s election.
Trump said he would lead his people in marching on Congress (he of course then ghosted). His armed supporters watched from state capitals around the country, and cheered as the Capitol building was occupied.
Are we content, then, to call this a “riot,” something like a store’s inventory being looted or a car tipped over?
One final, disturbing consideration: what if Trump was not beaten in November by an utterly establishment Democrat like Biden, but by Bernie Sanders, or Kamala Harris herself? Would the other third of Republican congresspeople have still certified the Democrat candidate the winner if they had proposed “radical” policies like universal healthcare and actually taxing corporations? Would the military and Rupert Murdoch have been quite so willing to let Trump’s presidency fade to black?
6 January was a coup attempt, backed by some Republicans, some law enforcement, and many, many white middle Americans. It was not a coup, but not through lack of trying.
Sure, Trump never quite looked like succeeding. Yet a fascist takeover – in the country with the trillion dollar a year military – is no longer unthinkable. It’s no longer about whether there are powerful people who will organise to do so. The question is whether they can pull it off next time their moment comes.
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