How Trump's Methodical Cultivation of Violence in his Followers Contributed to Jan. 6
The "Stop the Steal" rally was a pretext for Trump and fellow coup conspirators to get armed followers close to the Capitol.
Political violence is the subject of today's hearing presented by the House Jan. 6 committee. As previewed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren and other committee members, the focus will be the links among extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers, former President Donald Trump, and GOP politicians and operatives like Roger Stone.
In continuing to think about how Jan. 6 fits within the history of coups, the new evidence the hearing will present about the scope and nature of the intended violence is important. You may recall that for months after the coup attempt, Trump and his Republican political and media allies tenaciously denied that any violence had taken place on that day. The insurgents were "hugging and kissing the police and the guards," Trump claimed in April 2021, as an essay I wrote for CNN on Republican deceptions and lies details.
The particular propaganda point of denying weapons were present was always a gaslighting move by Trump --believe me, not what you saw that day, it says-- but it acquires new significance as we learn how many lethal tools of violence were actually present at the Capitol. The Department of Justice has just released court documents detailing how Jeremy Brown, an Oath Keeper based in Florida, brought explosives, including "military ordnance grenades" to Washington for the occasion.
As CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem has stated, "The amount of weaponry that the Proud Boys alone had as well as the Oath Keepers suggests that they were ready for some sort of activity that would have been much more violent than what we saw." They were waiting for "some moment, some trigger, some activation from the White House or from someone that they should begin the violent onslaught," Kayyem continued. "That never happened."
We don't yet know why those weapons were not deployed. Perhaps, as Kayyem speculates, the insurgents were waiting for Trump to arrive to lead the charge. We do know that Trump sought to reach the Capitol on Jan. 6 and was foiled by his Secret Service. In her testimony, Cassidy Hutchinson, aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, revealed that there were "conversations" about Trump entering the Chamber. This is a logical move from the point of view of coup history, and a very telling one given Trump's obsession with always maintaining plausible deniability.
A wave of violence, explosions included, would create chaos and overwhelm the Capitol Police, allowing the coup to proceed, with the Leader present to announce the new authoritarian order. Had it gone off as planned, Jan. 6 would have allowed Trump to realize the autocrat's dream: having sufficient power to no longer have to worry about culpability.
The extensive planning for armed assault also explains why, as Hutchinson testified, Meadows seemed unconcerned when the violence started, not even bothering to look up from his phone. It also explains Trump's frustration that the metal detectors had not been removed so that armed supporters could attend his rally.
The rally was a pretext for the siege to come after —an excuse to gather supporters right near the Capitol.
It is also fitting that a rally was integral to Trump's coup attempt. As my report to the Jan. 6 committee argues, Trump used these gatherings not only to sow hatred and build his leader cult, but also to engage in an intensive emotional retraining of his followers that emphasized the positive qualities of violence and cruelty.
"Part of the problem...is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore," Trump said at a March 2016 rally when security treated protesters too politely for his taste. As president, he hammered home the message at rallies that physical violence is the best way to resolve differences, and offered multiple times to pay the legal fees of attendees who might be sued for beating up protesters and committing other violent acts.
By the time Trump posted the Dec. 19, 2020 tweet that will figure in the arguments advanced in today's hearing, violence had become a patriotic act for his followers and a means of righting an injustice perpetrated by a corrupt Democratic faction. "Big protest in D.C. on January 6," Trump wrote of his "Stop the Steal" gathering to protest his election defeat. "Be there, will be wild!"
Trump insiders specializing in psychological warfare, like Stone and Steve Bannon, played an important role in preparing individuals to engage in a violent intervention that would unfold in full public view. "Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in," said a commentator in an extremist chatroom who came to the FBI's attention. That day, Bannon told listeners of his podcast, "All hell will break loose tomorrow. It will be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is strap in."
On Jan. 6, this incitement and psychological and emotional training came to a climax, making it possible for members of a party previously known as pro-law enforcement to smash the heads of Capitol Police officers --and remain unrepentant.
For the most fanatic, the failed coup attempt was a transformative immersion in group political violence and a valuable learning experience. "That's what we fucking need to have, 30,000 guns up here," said one rioter that day, frustrated that he was not entering the Capitol more rapidly. "Next trip," someone answered him.