All afternoon, as a fascist mob wreaked havoc at the Capitol in an attempt to halt the constitutional transfer of power, politicians from both parties and television news commentators kept repeating, as if trying to reassure themselves:
Who could have imagined this?
Anyone who was paying attention. I wrote this after his unhinged Election Night press conference:
Trump’s followers … will have no problem understanding what the president wants from them; a president who recently told one of his loyal neo-fascist boy gangs to “stand back and stand by.” …
Trump is a fascist by temperament and philosophy. He is backed by a party that … has taken to rejecting the idea of democracy itself. And, don’t forget, that regardless of the ultimate outcome of this election, Trump’s autocracy, kleptocracy, racism, and misogyny did garner the votes of millions of Americans, many of whom will eagerly take up whatever call for action he puts out in the next couple of days.
Today, those observations were confirmed, as Trump ordered a mob, armed with guns and apparently IEDs, to storm the Capitol—where almost the entire chain of succession was at the moment—and stop the certification of President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory.
Addressing a crowd of militant supporters from around the country he convened on the National Mall (“hundreds of thousands” of people, he claimed), he said:
After this, 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. 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.
He ended the speech with a mafioso-style threat:
So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give … The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.
His followers complied. As the country reacted to the resulting chaos at the Capitol with horror, Trump doubled down in a recorded video posted to Twitter: pleading with his Frankenstein’s monster to go home, all the while reaffirming his support for the white nationalists, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and other assorted fascist supporters smashing and looting the seat of power (“We love you, you’re very special”) and repeating his Dolchstoßlegende that “they” had stolen the election from “us.”
As the day wore on, Trump’s incitement grew worse, until Twitter at last—at least five years after they should have—suspended his account, temporarily. (Facebook followed suit hours later.)
These are not the actions of a man who has learned his lesson, as Susan Collins once tried to say. They are the actions of an autocrat, who will not rest until he feels that he has won, or until he has been defeated, permanently.
As long as he is allowed to remain in office, the mob violence will continue. Why wouldn’t it? The mob showed up at the Capitol and the police just let them in. With the extreme exception of a woman who was shot and died (the circumstances as I write this are not yet clear), the vast majority were free to go, as if they had just taken a weekday tour. Meanwhile, Trump’s mobs tried to storm the statehouses in several other states, including Texas, California, Michigan, Georgia, Oregon, and Kansas. They are just getting started.
Mobs don’t always listen to a leader. But this is a fascist mob, whose main organizing principle is devotion to a single man. (During the riot at the Capitol, the putschists briefly tore down the U.S. flag and tried to replace it with one reading TRUMP.)
Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota says she had just introduced articles of impeachment. I think that’s a good step. He should have already been removed last year for abusing his office in an attempt to ensure his reelection; and impeached again for his abuse of pardon power—which, as I noted a few weeks ago, he could use to pardon anyone who helps him steal the 2024 election, or stay in power now for that matter. There is a legal precedent that disqualification could be accomplished with just a simple majority of the Senate, which may currently be available. (Update: It appears Congress has given up and gone home.)
Others tonight are suggesting the remedies available under 25th Amendment, though that requires Vice President Pence and a majority of his cabinet to go along and publicly rebuke their leader.
But even that would not be enough. America’s long crisis of unaccountability—from Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of the Iran-Contra conspirators, and Barack Obama’s failure to prosecute the George W. Bush administration for its war crimes in Iraq—has led us to this moment. We have to draw a line with this president, and we have to do it now.
On the basis of his direct incitement to the mob, a case can probably be made for sedition:
18 U.S. Code § 2384: If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
That would be extremely ironic, given that the law has been used in the past to convict Puerto Rican nationalists, accused Communists, and the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman. But these are ironic times. After he’s removed and disqualified, there will be time to levy the many other charges he has merited as president and as a public citizen: tax fraud, obstruction of justice, bribery, extortion, etc.
Finally, it’s true: His supporters will be furious and violent if he is arrested. But the extremists are going to be furious and violent anyway—when Biden is inaugurated in fourteen days, and for long after that. I don’t know what will happen next, or if it’s too late to stop what’s coming. But I’m pretty sure that ending the crisis as quickly as possible is the best chance we’ve got.
Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book will trace the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the making and breaking of America’s empire. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.
Photo: Paul McLeod (@pdmcleod)
Updated on 1/7/21 with more of Trump’s rally speech and overnight events