For weeks now, Donald Trump had been pointing to 6 January as a day of reckoning. It was when he told his supporters to come to Washington D.C. and challenge Congress (Vice President Mike Pence included) to discard the results of the US election and keep the presidency in his hands.
As the president himself encouraged the growing crowd, which had chanted “stop the steal” and “bullshit” at his prompting, to march the two miles from the White House to the Capitol. “We will never give up. We will never concede,” Trump said. “Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore.” Here’s how the protest quickly turned into a deadly riot.
As Trump was concluding his remarks, a different kind of drama was playing out within the Capitol itself, as a joint session of Congress prepared to organise the state-by-state results of the election.
First, Pence released a statement that he did not have such powers and his role was “largely ceremonial.” Then Republicans issued their first challenge to Arizona votes, and the House and Senate began their separate deliberations on whether to accept Joe Biden’s victory there.
“The oath that I took this past Sunday to defend and support the Constitution makes it necessary for me to object to this travesty,” said newly elected Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who had recently made headlines for insisting that she would carry a handgun with her in Congress. “I will not allow the people to be ignored.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a different opinion: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”
He added that the chamber was designed to “stop short-term passions from boiling over and melting the foundations of our republic,” and as he said that, Trump supporters, most probably inspired by the earlier speech of the president, stormed the Capitol.
Encouraged by Trump’s earlier words, supporters marched from the White House to the Capitol and swamped the insufficient security in place, which brought the proceedings to a grinding halt, as lawmakers, staff and media rushed to find shelter from the rioters.
As many highlighted on social media, the contrast between the law enforcement reaction to the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday and the suppression of peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in the summer is stark.
The Guardian writes, “The Black Lives Matter demonstrators crowd outside the White House on 1 June was a block away from the building and made no attempt to breach its security. It was a mostly Black crowd, and it was charged by a force made up of Washington police, US Park police, over 5,000 national guard troops and federal agencies like the bureau of prisons. An army helicopter swooped low over the heads of the protesters. Teargas, batons and horses were used to clear a block so that Donald Trump could stage a photo op outside a church across the road. A national guard commander later admitted there had been ‘excessive use of force’.”
In contrast, the mob that stormed the seat of US democracy on Wednesday 6 January had openly talked about such a plan, were explicitly intent on overturning a fair election, and some had hinted they might be carrying guns. They were almost all white. Many were openly white supremacists, and yet the thin Capitol police collapsed in their path.
One big difference was that Trump was driving the deployment in June. On Wednesday, however, he stayed silent, apparently unwilling to set troops on his own supporters.
And just like that, while Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s win, Trump supporters breached the Capitol and made it all the way to the Senate floor and the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Trump rioters scaled the building and reached its doors without much resistance from the police, who were clearly outnumbered and didn’t manage to stop the mob from entering. Shortly after, Congress suspended its debate after someone informed them that protesters were already in the building.
They attempted to gain entrance to the House chamber against armed guards. In total, it took the police almost four hours to secure the building. A curfew was set and crowds were ‘dispersed’.
According to the BBC, one woman was shot by police, while three others died as a result of medical emergencies, officials said.
“Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said the woman was part of a group of individuals that forced entry into the House room, which was still in session. They were confronted by plainclothes officers, and an officer pulled out a weapon and fired it.
The woman was taken to hospital and proclaimed dead. She has not been officially named, but local media identified her as San Diego-area US Air Force veteran and Trump supporter Ashli Babbit.
Officials said the three other deaths included one woman and two men, but details of how they died have not been made public. At least 14 members of the police were injured during the unrest.”
Protesters surged up the Capitol steps at about 14:15 local time (19:15 GMT), shoving past barricades and officers in riot gear to penetrate the building. The invasion sent members of Congress scrambling for cover under their seats as tear gas was fired.
According to Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee, the mob (some of whom wore body armour) used chemical irritants to attack police. They shouted and waved pro-Trump and US flags as they roamed the halls, demanding the results of the presidential election be overturned.
Several thousand National Guard troops, FBI agents and US Secret Service were deployed to help overwhelmed Capitol police. Two pipe bombs were recovered, one from the Democratic National Committee offices, not far from the Capitol, and one from the nearby Republican National Committee headquarters.
After the building was secured by law enforcement, there was little sign that the protesters were going to go home, despite a citywide curfew declared by the city mayor from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Biden’s speech came amid scenes of utter chaos in and around the Capitol, as hundreds of pro-Trump protesters swarmed the building, forcing the Senate to evacuate and Vice President Mike Pence to be ushered to a secure location.
“This is not dissent. It’s disorder. It’s chaos. It borders on sedition and it must end now,” Biden said during a brief address from Wilmington, Delaware. “I call on this mob to pull back and allow the work of democracy to go forward.”
“Therefore, I call on President Trump to go on national television, now, to fulfil his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege. To storm the Capitol, to smash windows, to occupy offices, and to threaten the safety of duly elected officials is not protest. It is insurrection. The world is watching—and like so many other Americans, I am shocked and saddened that our nation, so long a beacon of light, hope, and democracy has come to such a dark moment,” he added.
Minutes after Biden’s speech, Trump addressed the nation too, ignoring some crucial parts of what had taken place earlier. Sandwiched between his familiar complaints about the election being “stolen,” he told his supporters “to go home, we love you, you’re very special.”
Once more, Trump completely ignored transgressions from his supporters, just like he did when speaking about “very fine people on both sides” after the clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville or his “stand back and stand by” message to the far-right Proud Boys group during the first debate with Biden.
Trump’s tweet, and two subsequent ones which also praised his supporters, were flagged and then removed by Twitter, which took the unprecedented step of blocking the president’s account for 12 hours. Facebook followed suit, banning Trump for a full day.
Snap Inc. later joined them in blocking his ability to post to Snapchat. One of the post that Twitter required Trump to delete included a video of him sending love to the violent uprising in Washington protesting his November loss to Joe Biden. The same video was also removed by Google’s YouTube and helped tip the scales at Facebook, which extended the block to its Instagram app as well.
“As a result of the unprecedented and ongoing violent situation in Washington, D.C., we have required the removal of three @realDonaldTrump Tweets that were posted earlier today for repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” Twitter wrote in a post on its site. A spokesperson confirmed that Trump has since deleted the tweets, which means he’ll regain his posting privileges after a 12-hour suspension.
For years, social media—especially Twitter—has been Trump’s preferred way to disseminate information directly to the public. For the first time in his presidency, for the first time in his long, intimate relationship with social media, Donald Trump had been silenced!
The president’s incitement and encouragement of Wednesday’s events has led to urgent calls for him to be removed from office with immediate effect, despite being just days away from the end of his presidential term and the inauguration of Biden. Within hours of police regaining control of the Capitol two routes to Trump’s removal had already been set out.
The first is impeachment (a second time for Trump) called for by several Democratic lawmakers, and one Republican. Democrat representative Ilhan Omar said on Wednesday afternoon that she was already drawing up articles of impeachment, as many politicians remained under lockdown inside the Capitol building.
“Donald J Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office by the United States Senate,” she tweeted. “We can’t allow him to remain in office, it’s a matter of preserving our Republic and we need to fulfil our oath.”
The Republican governor of Vermont, Phil Scott, also called for Trump to resign or be removed from office in a series of tweets Wednesday evening.
According to The Huffington Post, “US advocacy organisations, including civil rights leaders the NAACP, Stand Up America and Citizens for Ethics, have also called for Trump’s impeachment. In a Wednesday statement, NAACP president Derrick Johnson accused Trump of inciting a coup due to his ‘reckless leadership, a pervasive misuse of power, and anarchy’.”
The second route to Trump’s removal is via the 25th Amendment, as called for by several news publications including the Washington Post. The 25th Amendment is a law that allows the Vice President to take over presidential duties if the president is no longer able to do his job due to sickness or disability.
Once a president is removed under the 25th Amendment, the Vice President and cabinet members can decide if the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the White House. The amendment itself, introduced in 1967, has never been triggered before.
Reports emerging since the president’s election loss and on Wednesday itself have indicated that Trump has become entirely obsessed with falsely “proving” the election to be fraudulent. CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta said on Wednesday that a Republican source had told him he believed Trump is “out of his mind.”
Since the US election has been called for president-elect Joe Biden on Saturday 7 November, President Trump and his allies have unleashed an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the electoral process—touting baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud and falsely proclaiming that the presidency has been illegally stolen from Trump by Democrats.
Initially, Trump’s refusal to concede was seen by many as an expected reaction by America’s petulant 45th president that did not pose an actual threat to the peaceful transition of power. But as an growing number of GOP leaders, right-wing media pundits, and Trump supporters across the nation continue to publicly support the president’s delusional allegations of election fraud and misconduct, the danger this false narrative poses to the future and safety of American democracy grows.
As president-elect Biden was declared the victor or began securing a significant lead in key swing states—including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania—the Trump campaign and Republican lawmakers filed a slew of lawsuits alleging a variety of baseless cases of voter fraud or election malpractice. Some of the legal cases claim that Republican overseers were blocked from ballot-counting sites, while others alleged that ballots were tampered with or attempted to challenge the legality of some states’ decision to extend the deadline for accepting ballots that were postmarked by election day but received a few days later due to significant delays in the US Post Office.
Many of the lawsuits filed by Trump and other Republicans have already been dismissed for lack of evidence or for hinging on theories that have been debunked, and a significant portion of the sworn affidavits procured by the Trump campaign to boost his claim of fraud have pointed out to insignificant irregularities or procedures that are typical in elections and do not alter the overall outcome of the count.
Despite there being no evidence of election malfeasance, and although Trump’s threadbare legal cases bear increasingly smaller prospects of success, they are nonetheless proving to be effective in dragging out the election process and delaying states’ certification of the results, sowing confusion and mistrust among Republicans, and promoting the bogus narrative that Biden is not the rightful winner of the race. The lawsuits could also, potentially, cause certain states to miss the deadline for slating electors (who cast the ultimate votes on 14 December).
It seems, however, that Trump’s most dangerous attack on American democracy is the sinister disinformation campaign he and his team have launched, which seeks to undermine the electoral process and portray it as fraudulent and illegitimate. Trump’s disinformation campaign began long before the election, as he drummed up factually inaccurate claims that mail-in ballots were inherently susceptible to fraud and tampering. Now, as his loss became crystal clear, Trump took to Twitter and his podium at the White House to openly declare that Biden’s apparent victory resulted from fraud and that a Democratic-led conspiracy was trying to illegally wrest the presidency from him.
The president’s narrative, perhaps unsurprisingly, is being promulgated by right-wing media outlets and news networks. Among the right-wing media pundits echoing allegations of fraud are Fox News nighttime hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, all of whom have been hyping the baseless allegations of voter fraud and irregularities.
On his show, Carlson drummed up the now-debunked claims that ballots were cast under the identity of dead people, stating “In some ways, it’s an inspiring story. The triumph of voting over death.” Other right-wing media platforms spreading disinformation concerning the election are One America News (OAN)—who’s CEO tweeted on Tuesday that “With all the states that have been found to have illegal voting, it’s looking like not only will Biden NOT be elected as the AP claimed, but chances are GREAT @realDonaldTrump will be confirmed as President again,”—and Newsmax, a right-wing outlet rising in popularity which has refused to call the election for Biden.
Social media has thus far been a key tool for disseminating conspiracy theories regarding the election, with a tirade of tweets discounting its outcome emanating from the Twitter accounts of the president, his allies, and some right-wing public figures. On YouTube and Facebook, videos and posts delegitimising the election’s results have garnered millions of views and have been shared hundreds of thousands of times. According to a Guardian analysis of posts with the most interactions, 16 out of the 20 top public Facebook posts featuring the word ‘election’ since Election Day include “false or misleading information casting doubt on the election in favor of Trump.”
In addition to unfurling this belligerent disinformation campaign, the Trump administration has taken steps to withhold millions of dollars worth of government funds from the Biden transition team. As of this reporting, the White House has also refused to grant the Biden transition team crucial security clearances and has barred them from conducting background checks and financial disclosures for prospective appointees. Such refusals to acknowledge and work with the Biden transition team could lead to major delays and obstacles in the new administration’s ability to function after assuming office, and thus threaten the safety of the American people. It could also, as reported by the Washington Post, lead to delays in approving and administering COVID-19 vaccines when those will be ready for distribution.
As the days go by, an increasing number of GOP lawmakers, including the current Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, rally behind Trump and boost his bid to challenge the election results, lending their credibility to baseless allegations of fraud. It is clear that, recognising where Trump’s supporters’ loyalty lies, Republicans choose to side with Trump, at least publicly, as part of a long-term political strategy. Of particular concern to them is the upcoming January Senate runoffs in Georgia, which will determine whether or not the GOP retains control over the upper chamber.
But as they cling to their seats and calculate the future moves of a party now indefinitely beholden to Trump, Republican lawmakers willingly jeopardise the people’s trust in America’s electoral process, and thus erode the already withering pillars of democracy in this nation.
Regardless of whether or not Trump vacates the Oval Office come January, the damage has already been done. A recent poll now shows that 70 per cent of Republicans don’t believe the election was free and fair; that’s millions and millions of Americans for whom trust in the electoral process has been compromised. This isn’t to say that US elections aren’t without significant flaws, namely widespread disenfranchisement, out-of-control gerrymandering, and unfettered corporate spending on political campaigns.
However, the accusations levelled by the Trump campaign, which by now have been completely espoused by his base, against the election results are not rooted in legitimate criticism; they are a deliberate attempt by a disgruntled leader to manipulate his supporters and inculcate a mistrust in the system among them by tapping into their frustration around a lost election.
It’s a terrifying reminder of how dangerously malleable our sense of reality is in this ‘post-truth’ era, where a defeated president can be viewed by millions as the rightful winner of an election simply by the power of his tweet.