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The January 6 committee’s latest hearing left no room for doubt: January 6 was not a peaceful protest that got out of hand. It was a planned insurrection from the very beginning, and Donald Trump knew it.
The timeline is clear. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election hit an inflection point on December 18 following a meeting in which Team Crazy (attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn) urged the president to order the military to seize voting machines. The meeting became loud, heated, and profane. Ultimately, the plan collapsed under the objections of White House legal advisers, who pointed out that there was absolutely no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Stymied by the legal realities, Trump opened a new front in his war on our democracy. At 1:42 a.m., Trump sent his now infamous tweet: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
We already knew that members of extremist groups took this as a literal call to arms. Far-right commentator Matt Bracken told supporters that the event would involve storming the Capitol. Another extremist YouTuber called “Salty Cracker” warned of a “red wedding,” code for a slaughter. One organizer confirmed in advance that Trump planned to call on his supporters to march on the Capitol.
What we learned this week was that while the far right was gearing up for war, they were in close contact with Trumpworld.
Indeed, many of those contacts predate Trump’s tweet, showing that his advisers were cultivating white supremacist groups. Michael Flynn can be seen in photos from December 12 using Oath Keepers for personal security. Roger Stone, one of Trump’s closest political advisers, had been recorded reciting the initiation oath of the Proud Boys.
Following Trump’s invitation to insurrection, those contacts intensified. Stone was on a group chat with Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, and the right-wing provocateur Ali Alexander discussing January 6.
“These nonaligned groups were aligning,” said Donell Harvin, a former chief intelligence official for the city of Washington, DC. The Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers had not historically worked together, but they proclaimed an alliance to keep Trump in power. (Whoever said Trump isn’t a uniter?)
The rank-and-file white supremacists and political extremists issued a steady stream of violent threats: “I’m ready to die for my beliefs, are you ready to die, police?” and “Cops don’t have ‘standing’ if they’re on the ground lying in a pool of their own blood.” Others discussed bringing weapons, handcuffs, and body armor on January 6. There were detailed discussions of the architecture of federal buildings.
While his advisers were in contact with known violent extremists arming themselves for rebellion, President Trump egged them on. He tweeted about the rally more than a dozen times before January 6 and called the 2020 election “the biggest scam in our nation’s history.” The day before the insurrection, while Flynn, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander whipped extremists into a frenzy on a plaza near the White House, repeatedly referencing 1776, Trump asked an aide to open his Oval Office doors so he could hear. He tweeted that he was listening to them from inside the White House.
Shortly after speaking to Trump on the phone, Steve Bannon went on right-wing radio. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he said.
And it did. Surprise, surprise.
Watching the hearing, I got the distinct sense that we (the public) were not the target audience. The committee seemed to be speaking directly to the Department of Justice as the committee members masterfully blocked off Trump’s potential defenses to prosecution. “President Trump is a 76-year-old man,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) said. “He is not an impressionable child. . . . He is responsible for his own actions.” Let’s hope Attorney General Merrick Garland is listening.