Capitol Riot Could Have Been Much Worse

The live coverage of Wednesday's assault on American democracy underplayed its seriousness.

CNN’s Brian Stelter declares, “Now it’s sinking in: Wednesday’s Capitol Hill riot was even more violent than it first appeared.”

News outlets are publishing more and more videos, photos and testimonials from Wednesday’s pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill. And it’s becoming clear that as heinous as the attack looked in real time, on live TV and in our social feeds, it was even worse than we knew then.

It was even more violent. It was even more treacherous. And Trump’s behavior was even more disturbing.

On Wednesday we witnessed history through a handful of soda straws, to borrow a metaphor from the 2003 Iraq invasion. Journalists bravely covered the riot in real time and deserve enormous credit for doing so. But in the fog of chaos, it was impossible to see the full picture as it was happening. The public didn’t find out that a US Capitol Police officer was gravely wounded until Thursday, for example. Officer Brian D. Sicknick died Thursday night, and federal prosecutors have now opened a homicide investigation.

Stelter explains that this was mostly a function of access: journalists were only able to see and process bits of it in real time. But the consequence was a misperception of reality.

Only later did it become clear that lawmakers feared for their lives; that some of the attackers were hunting for congressional leaders; that there could have been a massacre.

On Wednesday “the images broadcast were largely not the most horrifying ones of the day,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said Friday night. “Much of what we saw — silly costumes, people taking selfies, grabbing the speaker’s lectern — looked like of kind a group that might even attend a Trump boat parade. But there was something way, way darker, more violent, more sinister, and more organized happening in that Capitol on Wednesday. And it’s time we see it clearly.”

The text I bolded very much captures how I perceived the event in real time. Criminal and outrageous, to be sure. An assault on our democracy for which the President of the United States was directly responsible. A very dark day.

But talk of “insurrection” and “domestic terrorism” seemed overwrought. This was a riot accompanied by what a Facebook friend dubbed “aggressive tourism.”

In a different context, people in silly costumes taking selfies at the desks of Congressmen and carrying around (but not stealing) a lectern would have been amusing. Confederate flags being waved in the Capitol? Insulting, yes. But not dangerous.

Reporting for the Washington Post (“The Capitol mob desecrated a historical workplace — and left behind some disturbing artifacts“) Maura Judkis and Ellen McCarthy note that even the non-violent protestors did more damage than it first appeared.

It was after the House had reconvened Wednesday night, and after Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) had voted to certify the Arizona vote for President-elect Joe Biden, that he decided to take a walk. He exited the House chamber through doors with bashed-out glass windows. He walked to the middle of the Rotunda and looked around at the remnants of the riot that had engulfed the Capitol hours earlier. There were American flags and splinters of historic furniture scattered with gloves and cigarette butts and the powdery residue left behind by fire extinguishers. The meaningful mixed with the mundane.

Kim was overwhelmed with sadness at the desecration of what he considers the most beautiful building in the country. “Under that great dome was just ransacked, just garbage and debris everywhere, all of it all over the statues, all over the floor,” he says. “It was really painful to see this room and this building that I love so much hurting.”

So he got a trash bag, and started to pick it up.

He cleaned up car keys, and Trump flags, and water bottles — as well as some alarming items such as body armor. There were some police posted nearby. “I asked the officers if it was theirs, and they said no,” says Kim. He says he found a manufacture date on the armor: It had been bought just weeks earlier, as if for this very occasion.

Kim kept cleaning. He cleaned the Rotunda, Statuary Hall, the crypt. It was 1 a.m. The litter was a testament to the violence. “There was some metal furniture that was broken, which was pretty amazing to me,” he says. “These are like, metal benches that were just broken to pieces.”

Regardless, it turns out that the folks in funny costumes taking selfies were a distraction, whether intentionally or by happenstance. Steltzer again:

The fuller videos that came out on Thursday and Friday provided much more detail. The Daily podcast from The New York Times played audio clips of rioters chanting “Where’s Mike Pence? Where’s Mike Pence? Where is Mike Pence? Find Mike Pence.”Progressive writer Mike Konczal, a director at the Roosevelt Institute, tweeted on Friday, “That the occupation of the Capitol was far more violent, and had the capacity for far more violence, than I understood while it was happening is the most jarring thing I’ve learned about the putsch over the subsequent days. It’s terrifying.”

As for the president and his behavior, CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty, Devan Cole and Alex Rogers revealed on Friday that Trump “tried to call senators” and pressure them to overturn the election even as the riot was raging.

Something else that was even worse than we knew at the time: The attacks against members of the media. Erin Schaff of The New York Times later described what happened when the mob saw her Times ID. “They threw me to the floor, trying to take my cameras. I started screaming for help as loudly as I could,” she said. “No one came. People just watched. At this point, I thought I could be killed and no one would stop them. They ripped one of my cameras away from me, broke a lens on the other and ran away.” She fled and found a place to hide.

There were people with zip ties out to “arrest” select Members of Congress and perhaps Pence. There was at least one gallows.

More alarming still, there were vans full of weapons and explosive devices. Why they weren’t deployed is unclear, at least to me, at this stage.

Regardless, while parts of this might have been a mere riot sparked by Trump’s incitement and still other parts might have amounted to mere criminal mischief by people caught up in the moment, there was something far, far more sinister going on underneath.

In addition to the folks in silly costumes, we’ve now seen pictures of neo-Nazis with “Six Million Wasn’t Enough” insignia. There also appear to have been some number of police officers from around the country, quite possibly including some off-duty members of the DC Capitol Police, who were part of the plot. All of which seems to have been organized more-or-less openly on the Web, including at the various “chan” sites and sub-Reddits.

Another WaPo report (“A mob insurrection stoked by false claims of election fraud and promises of violent restoration“) by Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, and Razzan Nakhlawi explains,

By mid-December, President Trump’s fraudulent claims of a rigged election were failing in humiliating fashion. Lawsuits were being laughed out of courts. State officials, including Republicans, were refusing to bend to his will and alter the vote. And in a seemingly decisive blow on Dec. 14, the electoral college certified the win for Joe Biden.

It was a disorienting sequence for legions of supporters who believed Trump’s lies that the election had been stolen from him but that he would prevail and reclaim it — especially those who had already descended into deeper, more disturbing conspiracies.

Some clung to the hope that Vice President Pence would use his procedural role on Jan. 6 to write an alternative ending. But as it became clear that Pence would refuse with the backing of most Senate Republicans, Trump’s most ardent abettors began planning the siege of the Capitol.

“War it is,” read a post on TheDonald.win, a rabid pro-Trump forum that exploded in fury at post-election realities. “We kill now,” said another user identified only as “AngloMercia.”

[…]

By Dec. 19, Trump was, as he so often does, feeding these flames with accelerant. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” he tweeted. “Be there, will be wild!”

Come they did. And by day’s end, insurrectionist fantasies nursed online culminated in one of the most harrowing, horrifying events in the 244-year history of U.S. democracy.

[…]

By early January, raiding Congress had emerged as a clear objective in dozens of far-right forums.

“If Congress illegally certifies Biden,” a Jan. 4 post on TheDonald.win said, “Trump would have absolutely no choice but to demand us to storm Congress and kill/beat them up for it.” Some referred to Trump as GEOTUS: “God Emperor of the United States.”

Discussion boards filled with messages on implements to bring for violent confrontation, including riot shields and flagsticks that could also serve as bayonets or clubs for breaking windows. Some sought guidance on how to smuggle weapons into the District of Columbia with its strict gun possession restrictions.

“There is not enough cops in DC to stop what is coming,” wrote one user.

Trump continued to goad them. “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” he tweeted on Dec. 30. But his scheme to derail certification would have remained in the realm of fringe fantasy were it not legitimized by some Republican lawmakers.

When Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) declared his intent to object to accepting the Biden victory in Arizona, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and 11 other Republican senators fell in line behind him.

Their decisions to back Trump’s baseless charges further convinced fanatics of their cause’s righteousness, said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and senior fellow for homeland security at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Hoffman described radicalized Trump loyalists as a floating force of intimidation that Trump has been able to mobilize against shifting adversaries and targets. “ ‘End the lockdown’ translates very smoothly into ‘stop the steal,’ ” Hoffman said, referring to rallies last year by Trump supporters against state measures to contain the coronavirus.

The 2017 protests in Charlottesville showed the potential of such a mob to overwhelm law enforcement, Hoffman said. The occupation of the Michigan Capitol last spring, and the exposed plot to take the governor hostage, provided templates for this month’s assault in Washington.

“When you have a president pushing them to descend on state capitols and take them over with few consequences,” Hoffman said, “the next logical step is to move from states’ to the nation’s capitol.”

One after another, far-right groups declared their violent intentions.

The “Three Percenters” — a name based on the erroneous belief that only 3 percent of U.S. colonists fought the British — posted a short manifesto expressing their preparedness “to take back our country from the pure evil that is conspiring to steal our country away from the American people.”

The statement mentioned Cruz and praised Trump lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Lin Wood as inspirational figures in this looming battle. But it voiced particular reverence for former U.S. Army Gen. Michael Flynn, who after being pardoned by Trump appeared at rallies, spread falsehoods about the election and urged using the U.S. military to reverse the election outcome.

“We are ready to enter into battle with General Flynn leading the charge,” the Three Percenters’ statement said.

On the eve of the assault on the Capitol, Flynn delivered an incendiary speech riddled with falsehoods, claiming that more dead voters had cast ballots for Biden than filled the cemeteries of Gettysburg and Normandy.

He then issued a veiled threat to members of Congress. “Those of you who are feeling weak tonight, those of you who don’t have the moral fiber in your body — get some tonight because tomorrow we the people are going to be here,” Flynn said.

The next morning, Giuliani appeared before the same crowd and called for a “trial by combat.” Then, as Pence made his way to the Senate chamber, Trump took the stage — behind sheets of bulletproof glass — and instructed the sea of red-clad supporters to follow the vice president and refuse to accept anything short of victory.

“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump said. “You have to show strength, you have to be strong.”

Clint Watts, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst, compared the rhetoric of Flynn, Giuliani and Trump with the radicalizing messages from leaders of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State that so worried U.S. security officials in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

To be clear: there’s no evidence of which I’m aware that Trump, Flynn, or Giuliani coordinated with these groups or understood what was happening. Conspiracy-minded folks have a knack for filling in the gaps. But it’s not inconceivable to me that the violence was intentional.

Trump, in particular, seemed to cheer it on while it was happening, stunned that his staff and other Republicans didn’t welcome it. And he was calling Members of Congress, while they were under siege from this attack, to get them to help steal the election.

It’s going to take some time to truly understand what happened Wednesday. But it could have been a whole lot worse. And worse may still be ahead of us.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jax says:

    I fear the three days leading up to the Inauguration are going to be the worst. Might as well go for the 25th AND impeachment, these folks are already mad as hell about Trump’s tech bans. Let them get it all out in one giant paroxysm of attempted violence and thousands of arrests. Since they’re threatening to bring their guns this time, many of them will be driving. Make it very hard to get to the Capitol without going through a checkpoint or two, first. Traffic in DC is already a mess, it would be a shame if the revolution was stymied by it.

    I sure hope they have a better plan in mind amongst the law enforcement agencies involved, this time around.

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  2. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Wednesday was a dry run for inauguration day. It’s going to get very ugly before the end of the month unless the FBI and other agencies that we’ve paid billions for over the years can step on it and nail the organizers behind this garbage.

    Edited to add: so now there’s an edit function again? Haven’t seen it in over a week.

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  3. drj says:

    The absolute best case scenario is that the Executive directed a rioting mob at the legislative branch in order to undo the electorate’s wish – which resulted in the death of one police officer and the wounding of several others. (And it acually may have been a lot more sinister than this)

    And still McConnell (not even the worst of the lot) is slow-walking impeachment. It’s always party over country with this scum – not even the near-lynching of his own party’s VP changed the calculus!

    These people are simply evil.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    A Marist poll says 80% of Republicans oppose the Trump riot. 96% of Democrats.

    In the same poll Republicans still strongly support Trump and believe the lies about voter fraud. So they believe the election was stolen, but they oppose the riot.

    This points to something I’ve harped on a bit at various times: belief ≠ belief. Ask whether a person believes in God they say yes. Ask if they believe that jumping off the Empire State Building will kill them, they also say yes. They only really believe one of those things as is demonstrated by actual behavior – they have no problem ignoring God but will pay careful attention to not falling off high places.

    Belief in things unseen is aspirational belief, people think they’re supposed to believe it. Some belief is simply stubbornness, a refusal to admit error. Other times belief is a statement of loyalty rather than true belief. I don’t think Republicans overwhelmingly believe Trump’s lies, I think it’s quasi-religious, like professions of belief in God. They know it’s a pack of lies, but truth is disloyalty, so they go on professing to believe.

    This riot hit Republicans at an angle, it got past the early lines of mental defenses because Trump had not prepped them to support violence, he’d only prepped them to pretend to believe lies.

    I hear that the policeman was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. You have to stiffen the spines of your culties in advance to support that kind of thing. The Nazis used to get their death squads drunk, preparation for murdering children.

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  5. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I don’t think Republicans overwhelmingly believe Trump’s lies, I think it’s quasi-religious, like professions of belief in God. They know it’s a pack of lies, but truth is disloyalty, so they go on professing to believe.

    The believe that the election was stolen like they believe that abortion is murder. (Like a GOP-dominated SCOTUS would tolerate close to one million child murders every year! Ha!)

    It’s something you’re supposed to take seriously, but not literally.

    But even so, the lies you’re not supposed to take literally can still do great damage to the political climate and society as a whole.

    And it won’t necessarily be easy to convince people to give up their comforting falsehoods. You go tell an Evangelical that abortion isn’t murder. See how far that gets you.

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  6. CSK says:

    @drj:
    I’d love to see Trump impeached, or booted out by the 25th Amendment. But as I’ve said, Trump is so irrational, so out-of-control that he might do something that could result in catastrophe. Or the Trumpkins could. It might be safest just to keep him under restraint and pretend that he’s still president.

    Although, frankly, this is a case where all the options seem equally lousy.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I hear that the policeman was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher. You have to stiffen the spines of your culties in advance to support that kind of thing.

    It’s also possible that this thing attracted some violent assholes who just want cover to fuck things up and kill people.

    This incident has been cited as evidence that “these people” never really believed in “Blue Lives Matter.” Certainly, this person didn’t. But I don’t know that we can extrapolate to the broader group. But I don’t think the “6MWNE” types are Trump loyalists so much as enabled and emboldened by Trump.

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  8. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds: @drj:

    Do people really believe the lies? I am not a mind reader, I do not know, but I expect a significant portion really do.

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  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    I saw this article the other day and thought, if accurate, what happened this week is far more nefarious than casual correlation about the speech of Trump, Flynn and others, and that the trumpkins somehow misinterpreted what has been said during the previous weeks.

    Frankly the investigation of the events last week and since the election can’t stop with simple prosecutions of individuals for property damage.

  10. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    Certainly, this person didn’t.

    It’s far more than one person. If you look at this video (trigger warning, obviously) you see Brian Sicknick being beaten to death on the stairs by at least three people while the mob around them is launching projectiles at the handful of other officers in the doorway.

    Around 25 seconds in you a bearded dude beating Sicknick with an American flagpole and while another guy comes away Sicknick’s riot helmet.

    Around these murderes and other assorted violent rioters are a lot of other people standing around and not intervening.

    So yeah, perhaps some of these people in this video believe in “Blue lives matter,” but that belief is quite situational, I’d say. (If I had to venture a guess: only when uppity black people and/or “communists” are around)

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    My concern is that Trump, or really an aide, will make a list of everyone named as participating, and pardon the lot of them. Maybe he’ll try to pardon them without naming them. Yeah, it would end his political career, but maybe he thinks that has already happened and wants to maximize the suffering of his enemies.

    Ugh, what a bad situation.

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  12. drj says:

    @charon:

    Do people really believe the lies?

    Yes. But belief is not necessarily binary, i.e. there is more than full belief and full unbelief.

    For instance, belief can be situational or performative. Many people care more (subconsciously) about comfort than consistency. There are many psychological studies that show that “belief” can be quite complex.

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  13. owen says:

    To be clear: there’s no evidence of which I’m aware that Trump, Flynn, or Giuliani coordinated with these groups or understood what was happening. Conspiracy-minded folks have a knack for filling in the gaps.

    There may not be “smoking gun” evidence, but we still had a mushroom cloud.

    I haven’t heard if Larry Block has been arrested yet, but reading Farrow’s article, and hearing Trump/Flynn/Guiliani’s incitements and subsequent denials, I am reminded of the DAMN acronym I was once taught: Deny everything, Admit nothing, Make counter accusations, Never sign anything.

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  14. Mikey says:

    Here’s an excellent WaPo piece chronicling the sequence of events and experiences of those inside the Capitol, and their attempts to call for aid.

    Inside the Capitol siege: How barricaded lawmakers and aides sounded urgent pleas for help as police lost control

    The growing crowds outside the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon sounded menacing but at bay as senators began to debate challenges to the electoral college vote. A top adviser to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped out of the ornate chamber for a short break.

    Alone in the Capitol’s marble halls, just outside the chamber’s bronze doors, it was suddenly apparent that the citadel of U.S. democracy was falling to the mob incited by President Trump.

    A cacophony of screaming, shouting and banging echoed from the floor below. McConnell’s security detail rushed past and into the chamber. The adviser began walking toward the Rotunda and came face to face with a U.S. Capitol Police officer sprinting in the opposite direction. The two made eye contact and the officer forced out a single word: “Run!”

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  15. Owen says:

    @owen: My apologies, the first part of my comment was a quote from Dr. Joyce, the quote thing is smarter than me.

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As always, a mob takes on a life of it’s own and is impossible to control, having watched one come into existence I know. It’s also really really f’n ugly with blood lust and a spontaneous violence that once birthed is impossible to stop and only ends when it’s energy is spent.

    The erection of the gallows was done with the intent and purpose of intimidation. The chants to hang Pence? I doubt they were anything but spontaneous. One person said it and others took it up. If they had managed to get their hands on him they might very well have (probably?) done it. There was real danger here, to all the members of Congress and the people who work there. trump, Giuliani, and Flynn wound these people up, they may have even thought they were it’s masters, but nobody is master of a mob.

    I have no doubt there were bad actors acting under the cover of the mayhem, tho to what purpose it is impossible to say. To overthrow the govt? Some of those folks might have been deluded enough to think such a thing was possible but they were no danger to our country, only to individuals. I have read that one of the arrested needed a Russian interpreter at his arraignment. Hmmmmm….

    All of which is just to say that this was a very serious incident, people got hurt, people got killed, and yes things could have been far worse. Those involved and those responsible need to be held to account, criminally and civilly. At this point in time though, there is no evidence that this was any kind of coordinated attack.

    An assault on our democracy? Absolutely, but the assault on our democracy began with an escalator ride in 2015 (if not before) and has been relentless, multi pronged and nationwide. This was just the latest. The next one might be worse, but if law enforcement do their job it might fizzle out. Considering the fact that so many LEOs are part and parcel of the violent right I don’t think we can count on that.

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  17. JohnMcC says:

    “And he was calling Members of Congress, while they were under siege from this attack to get them to help steal the election.”

    And in case we wonder why things didn’t work out for them, he meant to call Sen Tuberville. And called Sen Mike Lee instead.

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  18. dmichael says:

    I am waiting to see posts here from Trump supporters attempting to justify his actions and the actions of his mob. Anything from the usual suspects?

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  19. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I don’t know that we can extrapolate to the broader group.

    I do not recall you emphasizing that nuanced distinction with regard to events in Minneapolis or Portland. I hope this is progress, not a double standard.

    (Apologies if I’m misremembering, but I did go back and read some of your posts from last May before writing this. I didn’t find anything that encouraged readers not to extrapolate bad behavior by some to the broader group.)

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  20. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: ” belief ≠ belief”

    I believe that Netflix made a terrible mistake canceling Teenage Bounty Hunters after only one season.

    I also believe that when I do work under contract I must be paid according to the terms of that contract.

    One belief is an abstract thought that evokes nothing but a brief regret in me. The other is an imperative that will make me take a series of escalating steps if it’s violated.

    I think for a lot of Republicans the “stolen election” belief is kind of like my feelings about TBH. They believe it, they disapprove, and now they’ll get on with their lives.

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  21. gVOR08 says:

    “Believe” is a funny word that covers a wide range of behaviors. Most of us here are reasonably educated, read widely, and are accustomed to putting thoughts in writing, which does tend to clarify one’s thinking. To cite an example, many of us believe in Keynsian economics. Many only to the extent we know it’s been a thing for a long time and is accepted by people we trust. At that point it’s kind of akin to religious belief. Many of us could expound on what it means and the evidence for it. I suspect a few of us are genuine experts. Most of us could write down some cogent explanation of Keynesianism. The same would be true for, say, evolution, or democracy. And like other people, we think other people think like we do. But they don’t.

    I can tell you what the blue line flag means, and I can to some extent tell you what the people who fly it think it means. They can’t. Not to any degree of clarity. If asked, the first thing they’d say is, “It’s not racist!” And they’d believe it, even though it is racist. Part of why it’s so hard to have a reasonable argument with a conservative is that defining what they believe is like trying to nail jello to a wall. The don’t believe so much as feel.

    WE’re arguing whether the assault on Capitol cops means they don’t really believe Blue Lives Matter. But they do, it’s just that Blue Lives Matter doesn’t mean blue lives matter. It means they don’t like Black Lives Matter. But does that mean they want Blacks to die? No. First they mostly don’t. Second, that would be racist and whatever they believe, it cannot be racist, because they’re good people and good people aren’t racist, so there. They believe the police are a thin blue line between us and some vague threatening something.

    Journalists wonder how GOP base voters can believe Trump is draining the swamp when Trump and his minions are so corrupt. Silly journalists think swamp means what it’s meant for decades. To MAGAs “swamp’ is some nebulous other that controls things so gay people can openly exist and good white people don’t get the rewards they so obviously deserve. It’s an amalgam of Demoncrats and their leader AOC, writers at publications they don’t read, climatologists, city dwellers, and anyone with more education. In the fever swamps it’s “globalists” (= Jews), the Trilateral Commission, whoever’s in the basement of Comet Ping Pong Pizza with Killary, and for the Nashville bomber the lizard people (boy that got bigfooted out of the news). It’s a vague, gray, “them”. What they fear, and what they want, are just an inchoate mess.

    Reynolds talks about religion. I would bet that if you asked most religious people if they believed their church’s doctrine on transubstantiation, almost all would say yes. (After you explained what transubstantiation means.) I would also bet that outside the clergy no more than a few could tell you what their churches doctrine is. And far from all of the clergy. But they believe it.

    To say beating up a cop means they do or do not “believe” Blue Lives Matter is a category error

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  22. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    So yeah, perhaps some of these people in this video believe in “Blue lives matter,” but that belief is quite situational, I’d say.

    My problem is with using “these people” as a proxy for “those people.” That is, I have no idea of the sincerity of the beliefs of those who display “Thin Blue Line” or “Blue Lives Matter” paraphernalia on their cars and t-shirts but I’m pretty sure the people who are storming the Capitol and murdering a Capitol Police officer are not a representative sample.

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  23. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I do not recall you emphasizing that nuanced distinction with regard to events in Minneapolis or Portland. I hope this is progress, not a double standard.

    I’m too lazy to try to go back through the archives for exact quotes but I’m pretty sure that I did. Indeed, my position was the flip side: I thought the BLM folks had an absolutely legitimate set of grievances, were mostly expressing them peacefully, but were being overshadowed by the riots and other violence being done adjacent to their protests. (I had less sympathy for those tearing down statues and whatnot, but that’s just pure violence and destruction.)

    EDIT: Okay, fine. A representative sampling:

    Do Violent Protests Get Results? MAY 31, 2020
    Protests, Riots, and Looting MAY 31, 2020
    Violence Overshadowing Protests JUNE 1, 2020
    Non-Violent Protests JULY 21, 2020
    Richmond Police Claim White Supremacists Behind BLM Riots JULY 28, 2020
    Violence after DC ‘Stop the Steal’ Rally DECEMBER 13, 2020

    I think my views got more nuanced as the demonstrations proceeded and the evidence of what was happening clarified but I think I pretty consistently tried to separate the protests in the main from the associated violence.

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  24. Raoul says:

    In talking and reading about a few Trumpists I get the impression that the whole thing was performance art. I’m talking about the Trump presidency with the storming of the Capitol being its denouement. They got their bread and circus act and now it’s time to move to the next show. And the GOP which sold its soul to these nihilists accomplished just one thing in 4 years- one stolen Supreme Court seat. All this for one chair.

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  25. wr says:

    @James Joyner: I second your memory, James.

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  26. Not the IT Dept. says:

    They didn’t mean to kill the cop; they were trying to kill democracy and the rule of law. The cop just got in the way. Really, when you think about it, it was his own fault. Trying to stem the tide of patriots and all that when they were hunting down Pelosi and Pence so they could hang them.

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  27. Gustopher says:

    To be clear: there’s no evidence of which I’m aware that Trump, Flynn, or Giuliani coordinated with these groups or understood what was happening. Conspiracy-minded folks have a knack for filling in the gaps. But it’s not inconceivable to me that the violence was intentional.

    I’m more curious about the gaps in security, and the 90 minute delay in getting the national guard in. If we are going to find evidence of conspiracy, it’s going to start there because all of that is going to be documented and we know exactly who the people holding back were, and who can give them orders.

    But, at this point it’s a question of whether they planned a coup, or whether they attempted to incite a coup (and how violent they were hoping it would be… a large crowd that frightens lawmakers and the VP to overturn the election would still be a coup, and that is the Pollyanna best interpretation for what they wanted to happen)

    1
  28. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: I’m more curious about the folks like Flynn who believe QAnon nonsense about how Donald Trump is working to fight against a globalist pedophile ring, but have actually met Trump, and know him.

    How do they think it works?

    Do they think he is busily fighting the pedophile ring from 10-11am every day in time marked off on his calendar as “alone time”? What actions does he take? Who does he delegate this anti-pedophile response to?

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  29. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    the 90 minute delay in getting the national guard in

    The Guard is not a crisis response force. If they’re not activated ahead of time—and reports are that DC/Capitol Police authorities said no when offered—they can’t be activated in an instant. They’re folks with regular jobs that have to be called in, get suited up, make a plan, etc.

    3
  30. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner: I cannot overstate how impressed I am that you took the time to do this without getting offended first. This is part of what sets this venue apart from others, and I am grateful for it. Thank you.

    7
  31. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    I believe that John F. Kennedy, Jr., who faked his own death over 20 years ago for reasons never made clear, has been said to have returned from self-imposed sequestration to aid Trump in his fight.

    I’ve never read any explanation of where or how this battle is being waged.

    4
  32. Dutchgirl says:

    I have this feeling that this has been brewing for a long time, that this is what these fools wanted to do to Obama, but that it took Trump giving them cover and permission for them to dare to do it. Decades of right wing media loaded the gun, Trump pulled the trigger.

    4
  33. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I cannot overstate how impressed I am that you took the time to do this without getting offended first. This is part of what sets this venue apart from others, and I am grateful for it. Thank you.

    The sports radio host Colin Cowherd talks about getting it right rather than being right. That’s always my aim—I’d rather get it right now than defend a previous misbelief to the death. But we all have filters through which we view the world, and it wasn’t inconceivable that I viewed a primarily Democratic movement less sympathetically than a primarily Republican one.

    9
  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj: When Sidenick turned against “we the people” to protect the traitors and the Capitol, he went from being a blue life that mattered to being just another cuck whose life didn’t matter at all. Blue lives mattering is situational–always was, always will be.

    2
  35. drj says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    When Sidenick turned against “we the people” …

    “Blue lives matter” originated in direct response to “Black lives matter.” The name tells you as much (“Black lives matter” came first – I checked).

    It’s just a phrase to own the libs, based on the symbolism of a “thin blue line” holding the “thugs” (and we all know what that means) at bay.

    So it probably didn’t even matter that Sicknick “turned.”

    3
  36. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher: Top of the head, in Flynn’s case I think we’re into abnormal psychology. Most of the minions I think knew what Trump is, but he’s still President and they thought they could use him as a vehicle for their own ambitions. Mostly careerism but some with their own policy agendas, like Bolton. “Everything Trump touches dies, but I didn’t think he’d eat my face.”

    But of course many of them were also to lesser or greater extent true believers. The makers/takers, republic/democracy, white privilege, I shouldn’t have to pay no steenking taxes mindset is more common than we realize.

    2
  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:

    I believe that Netflix made a terrible mistake canceling Teenage Bounty Hunters after only one season.

    I’ve heard good things about that show. But 1) After writing ~30,000 pages about teenagers I just… just…can’t. 2) And after 22 years of being scared of bounty hunters. . . Maybe if there was an element of baking competition.

    I also believe that when I do work under contract I must be paid according to the terms of that contract.

    That is not mere belief, getting paid is the missing 11th commandment Moses brought down from the mountain. It was all very well explained by Harlan Ellison, who spake unto the people saying, Pay The Writer.

    3
  38. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That was great.

    It reminds me of how Araina Huffington conned all those “writers” into working for free for the HuffPo: “You’ll get great exposure! Everyone will know your name.”

    Bullshit. Show me the money. No. Give me the money.

    5
  39. ImProPer says:

    “To be clear: there’s no evidence of which I’m aware that Trump, Flynn, or Giuliani coordinated with these groups or understood what was happening.”

    It would be surprising if any hard evidence ever shows up, at least from an organized perspective. Guiliani’s initial claim to fame was prosecuting organized crime. Trump has more experience in the courts than most attorneys. Flynn is cashing in on his military career, and the fact that most people tend to trust our military leaders to have some level of integrity. He also has been gaining a lot of legal experience lately. The only strong evidence against them is their lies, and misleading rhetoric, they rely on to keep the masses outraged, but for whatever reason, there hasn’t been strong support to deal with this in the courts. ]pppp

    “Conspiracy-minded folks have a knack for filling in the gaps.”

    Yes they do, and the gaps don’t necessarily need align among themselves. A rabid denial of the observable world seems to be the only requirement for membership. Ironically, our conspiracies are becoming democratized, and this been devastating to our National discourse.

    “But it’s not inconceivable to me that the violence was intentional.”

    Absolutely, and I would go much further and say I am totally surprised there wasn’t much more violence. The President of the United States, affirmatively stated that he won the election in a landslide, and it is being stolen by enemies of the state.

  40. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    If they’re not activated ahead of time—and reports are that DC/Capitol Police authorities said no when offered—they can’t be activated in an instant.

    I very much want to know about those decisions. Because it really looks like there was a decision to stand down, and keep the reinforcements far away.

    Whether that was a decision based on incompetence, or a desire to clear a path for an angry mob, I don’t know. I could believe either.

    I would not, however, believe that there was a conspiracy that forgot to get the security to stand down, and the security then screwed up anyway. That’s too big of a coincidence for me.

    So, I really want to know how those decisions got made.

    Was Trump acting out suddenly because Pence told him that the Vice President isn’t all powerful and capable of overturning elections and it finally sunk in that Pence wasn’t going to do anything, or has this been a plan for a while? You might think it would be planned better, if it were a plan, but incompetence reigns supreme, so … dunno. The incompetence hides a lot.

    (I understand that a lot of the Trump-enablers will say that they’re “just asking questions”, but I’m willing to listen to answers. And I hope that my worst suspicions are not confirmed. Less conspiracy-theory and more we-shouldn’t-rule-out-a-conspiracy-too-soon)

    (On the other hand, have we ever had a situation with Trump where it didn’t turn out worse than expected?)

    They’re folks with regular jobs that have to be called in, get suited up, make a plan, etc.

    I believe the decision to activate the national guard took 90 minutes, unless I have gotten quite confused.

    By that time, I expect a large number of them had seen or heard the news, and were already getting ready to be activated, letting the boss know that they might miss those afternoon meetings, etc. once activated, they were pretty quick, and I commend them for that.

  41. Gustopher says:

    @ImProPer:

    Absolutely, and I would go much further and say I am totally surprised there wasn’t much more violence.

    There are reports that the Congresscritters were cleared only minutes before the seditionists stormed the chamber.

    I don’t know whether that means the congresscritters had cleared the building entirely, or whether it really means we were a few moments from major bloodshed. It’s also very possible that once the congresscritters were cleared, the capitol police pulled back to try to avoid bloodshed, and that it really wasn’t that close.

    2
  42. flat earth luddite says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m pretty sure the people who are storming the Capitol and murdering a Capitol Police officer are not a representative sample.

    I really, really hope you’re right. Having lived through a significantly less gentile life than you have, and having done time with proud boys, I’m not nearly as confident as you are. But carry on.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Tru’ dat, zeebs! Tru dat.

    4
  43. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    “Blue lives matter” originated in direct response to “Black lives matter.” The name tells you as much (“Black lives matter” came first – I checked).

    It’s just a phrase to own the libs, based on the symbolism of a “thin blue line” holding the “thugs” (and we all know what that means) at bay.

    I could be off on the timing but it may well have been a response to the murder of several police officers (Dallas comes to mind, but there were other cases) by people sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement during the post-Ferguson period.

    2
  44. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    I very much want to know about those decisions. Because it really looks like there was a decision to stand down, and keep the reinforcements far away.

    As noted in the post/thread yesterday, it may be simpler than that. It seems to have both been an overcorrection for the controversial over-policing of the BLM protests and the clearing of the crowds for the Trump church photo op as well as an underestimation of the threat posed by this particular protest.

    1
  45. James Joyner says:

    @flat earth luddite:

    having done time with proud boys, I’m not nearly as confident as you are

    This is probably a separate post in the coming days but this is part of my problem with the analysis: I don’t think the people who stormed the Capitol are all the same group with the same motivation. Initially, it looked like it was MAGA folks incited by Trump. Now, it looks like it was them PLUS some combination of white nationalist groups looking to break some heads.

    I think there’s overlap between those groups. Trump has definitely given cover to the Proud Boys and their ilk. But let’s just say I don’t think their primary motivation is a sense that the election was stolen.

    2
  46. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    Wikipedia (but also check the references):

    Blue Lives Matter is a countermovement in the United States advocating that those who are prosecuted and convicted of killing law enforcement officers should be sentenced under hate crime statutes.[1] It was started in response to Black Lives Matter after the homicides of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in Brooklyn, New York on December 20, 2014.[2]

    Or Harpers (on some of the accompanying symbolism):

    The Blue Lives Matter movement, which began after the December 20, 2014, slaying of two New York City police officers, soon adopted the Thin Blue Line flag. The murders were the catalyst for what quickly became a rebuttal to Black Lives Matter, its insistence that we pay more attention to killer cops than to cops killed in the line of duty.

    In other words, “Blue lives matter” is meant to divert from and minimize the attention given to unjustified police killings of black people.

    This is also quite obvious when you think about it. The notion that prior to 2014 t there was (too) little attention given to police officers killed in the line of duty is simply ludicrous.

    “Blue lives matter” is thus a lot of unnecessary handwaving (because there was no shortage of attention) meant to distract from the notion that black lives should, in fact, matter.

    Therefore, if the “blue lives” are not central to the message (they are, indeed, not), it follows that it is mainly a coded way of saying that black lives are worth less than other lives.

    Obviously, not everyone who repeats the slogan will be fully aware of this. And, of course, blue lives do matter, so some people won’t understand or won’t care to understand what the problem is. (That’s why this kind of messages are called dog whistles – not problematical on the surface, but, if you dive deeper, oh boy.)

    In short, many people who are not necessarily consistently pro-police will have a use for “Blue lives matter,” as the slogan is far more about black than about blue.

    3
  47. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: It might be that simple, but until we have open congressional hearings on it, or a thorough report from people we trust, I’ll be wary of drawing conclusions.

    Could the capitol police have underestimated the threat of a right wing rally to protest the electoral college that was broadcast all over social media? Sure.

    Could that also have been the day the President and his lawyer chose to incite the crowd to violence? Also sure.

    I don’t think it is a coincidence that there were pipebombs, and men in tactical garb with the flexicuffs to take prisoners — I think that the latter probably happens at every one of these rallies, and the former could just be extra special nutjobs. Just inevitable, rather than a coincidence.

  48. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Let me just say what everybody has been dancing around all day: These people ain’t right. Jus’ sayin’ y’all….

    5
  49. Jax says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’ve never felt as “in danger” in my own hometown as I do right now. All of us Dems are keeping a low profile on social media, locally. My pistol is by my bed, and I’m not one who normally does that, I keep them locked away. My closest neighbors are posting shit about all liberals and “Trump traitors” need to die.

    May we live in interesting times.

    3
  50. Gustopher says:

    Twitter thread about the capitol security.

    https://twitter.com/terryboutonhist/status/1348365375449268226?s=21

    A lot has been made of the contrast to the overwhelming police presence at Black Lives Matters protests in the fall, and this is certainly true. But there was also A LOT more federal law enforcement presence at every single previous protest we have attended in DC. Most of these protests involved tens of thousands of mostly white, middle-aged people (meaning race wasn’t the only reason for the disparate police presence). Even the March for Science had far more police for a non-partisan event featuring “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

    By contrast, there was a tiny federal police presence at “Stop the Steal” despite weeks of promises of violence spread on social media by well-known far-right radicals, many of whom had long histories of inciting violence.

    Now, this is a random yahoo on the internet, with a camera, who has been to a lot of different protests and likely has an agenda, but… if borne out by reliable reporting, it sounds a lot like someone wanted to leave the police as out of this as possible.

    Again, I look forward to congressional oversight. I don’t think that will happen until we have a new administration that does not view oversight as a threat.

    1
  51. flat earth luddite says:

    @James Joyner:
    Thanks for the response. I agree that the groups overlap, with PB a significantly smaller and more rabid arm of supremacy. I’m hoping that this kerfuffle aids in sorting the rabid from the merely unhappy. Visible arrests and trials should help with this.

    And Ozark’s right, these people ain’t right (in the head).

    2
  52. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is probably a separate post in the coming days but this is part of my problem with the analysis: I don’t think the people who stormed the Capitol are all the same group with the same motivation. Initially, it looked like it was MAGA folks incited by Trump. Now, it looks like it was them PLUS some combination of white nationalist groups looking to break some heads.

    And then there are the wealthy. A fair number of those being identified turn out to be upper-middle-class or higher. Good tactical gear is expensive, even if plastic ties are not.

    There’s a few examples at Balloon Juice.

    The crowd was probably one of the most diverse groups of conservative white mostly male trumpers, ranging from Proud Boys, to Dirt Poor Rednecks, to Insurrection LARPers. QAnon, white supremacists, and Nazi bootlickers. A few aggressive tourists and a few terrorists.

  53. James Joyner says:

    @drj:

    In other words, “Blue lives matter” is meant to divert from and minimize the attention given to unjustified police killings of black people.

    But you’re minimizing the fact that the movement sprung up in response to BLM people killing police officers.

    Honestly, I think your description applies more neatly to the “All Lives Matter” slogan. That was rather unambiguously a rejection of the emphasis on Black lives.

    1
  54. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    The crowd was probably one of the most diverse groups of conservative white mostly male trumpers, ranging from Proud Boys, to Dirt Poor Rednecks, to Insurrection LARPers. QAnon, white supremacists, and Nazi bootlickers. A few aggressive tourists and a few terrorists.

    As you say, too early to know for sure but that seems right based on the reporting thus far.

  55. drj says:

    @James Joyner:

    What gets referenced all the time is the killing of Ramos and Liu.

    But the single(!) perpetrator of that ambush had no ties to BLM, was denounced by BLM, and BLM (in so far as it is an organization) never advocated for revenge or violence against police officers in the first place.

    He may have had some ties to a black prison gang and a black supremacist cult. But that’s (if true) a pretty far cry from BLM.

    The perpetrator was also severely mentally disturbed. I’m not mentioning this to excuse his actions, but to stress the lack of both formal and ideological connections to BLM.

    So “BLM people killing police officers” is rather stretching it.

    Instead, it is telling, I think, that a black person who has no meaningful practical or ideological connection to BLM (except for believing “killing black people is bad”) is nonetheless used by quite a few people to dismiss the validity and worthiness of the BLM’s claims.

    I suspect that, consciously or not, there is quite a bit “they are all the same” going on.

    3
  56. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “Now, this is a random yahoo on the internet”

    Random maybe, but not a Yahoo. He’s actually married to a friend of my wife’s. (She’s the Noelle he credits for taking the pictures…)