Here’s what happened on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, and what it could mean for the future of our democracy.
On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, armed Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C., just as Vice President Mike Pence moved toward certifying November’s presidential election, finalizing Trump’s Presidential election loss to Joe Biden.
The Capitol was placed on lockdown and Senators and members of the House of Representatives were told to don gas masks, shelter in their offices, and were subsequently evacuated as protesters passed by Capitol police to wreak havoc on the most hallowed halls of our democracy. Trump supporters took selfies with police inside of buildings, stole podiums, damaged chambers, and went so far as to replace the American flag with a Trump flag on the Capitol balcony, all before sunset.
The destruction and chaos were coordinated on social media, according to theNew York Times, after outgoing President Trump repeatedly invited the mostly white mob who’d gathered to hear his speech on the opposite side of the city at 11:00 am Eastern time on Wednesday to head to the Capitol to “take back our country.”
A swarm of Trump loyalists gather outside of the Capitol building.ANADOLU AGENCY
Trump said in the speech, “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 also vowed to “never concede” the election, which he lost to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in November.
According to ABC News, the mob began to accumulate on the steps of the Capitol and breakthrough barriers around 2:00 pm Eastern. By 2:37 pm ET, tear gas had been released in the Rotunda.
Later in the afternoon an unexploded IED (Improvised Explosive Device) — specifically a pipe bomb — was found at the RNC (Republican National Committee) offices not far from the Capitol. The DNC (Democratic National Committee) offices were also evacuated as a precaution. One woman was shot on the Capitol grounds and later died, according to news reports.
Rioters try to break into the Capitol.TASOS KATOPODISGETTY IMAGES
After sitting and watching the coverage of the events unfolding at the Capitol building, rather than publicly condemning the mob’s actions or violations of the law, Trump finally tweeted a video asking the armed thugs to “go home,” calling them “very special.” He also said that he loved them. Twitter flagged the tweet as disputed and did not allow it to be shared, commented on, or retweeted because of the false allegations of election fraud that Trump continues to perpetuate. This video tweet was later removed from Twitter by Twitter. Later Wednesday night, Twitter locked Trump’s account and warned that he could be banned from the platform permanently. Then, the following day, Mark Zuckerberg formally banned Trump from Facebook “indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete.”
The wider perception of the United States has been significantly damaged, too. This has certainly weakened the U.S. in the world.
Just past 6:00 pm Eastern, the Capitol police confirmed that the Capitol had been secured and cleared of rioters.
Around 8:00 pm Eastern, Congress confirmed that it would return to the Capitol to finalize the Electoral College votes and certify Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States of America. That confirmation would eventually come in the early hours of Thursday, January 7, after both the House and Senate heard arguments regarding congressional objections to the Electoral College, all of which failed.
Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas were under a curfew overnight on Wednesday and calls for Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office before January 20th began to arise.
An attempt to overthrow the democratic process
Representatives, publications, and internet commenters have pondered the term coup, (short for the French “coup d’etat,” which means an overthrow of the government) as a label for the events on January 6. Some social scientists, journalists, and others considered the events of the day an attempted coup. Other experts said that what happened at the Capitol certainly qualifies as an insurrection.
“The attempted violence against the people in power, in as much as people are trying to stop the electoral college count to have someone else be counted as a president and the interference of the Capitol business and the disruption of Congress is what would be considered to be a coup,“ says Christian Grose, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Southern California. “The taking up of arms against people in Congress, the more coordination and planning there is, that has the makings of an actual coup. The coordination of bringing arms and storming the legislative branch is an insurrection — but whatever you want to call it, it’s taking up arms against the Congress of the United States.”
Rioters climbing scaffolding in an attempt to break into the Capitol building.SPENCER PLATTGETTY IMAGES
Grose says that the more important factor is that these white, armed insurrectionists were out to do harm to elected officials. The New York Timesreported that prior to the events in D.C. on Wednesday, Trump supporters posted the locations of the offices of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence and called to “Hunt down Pence,” on a conservative social media site.
“The important thing is the attempt to potentially assassinate elected officials and to stop the count of the votes,” Grose says. “The intention is to stop the government of the country in the short term, possibly longer, to require someone else to remain as president or continue as president. The people who storm the Capitol are engaging in insurrection against the United States. Some of them seem like jokers who don’t know what they are doing; others seem deadly serious in what are they doing.”
A call to remove Trump
Thursday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the Speaker of the House, and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) put increasing public pressure on Pence and the president’s cabinet to remove Trump from office before the end of his term, saying that Democrats would pursue a second impeachment if he failed to act, according to the New York Times.
The 25th Amendment was ratified after the assassination of JFK. The first three sections of the Amendment detail the process of succession should the president die, resign, become ill, or incapacitated. The fourth section addresses what happens should the president be “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
The Amendment details a multistep process that requires the majority of the officials at the head of executive agencies (the president’s cabinet), to declare that the president incapable of doing his job, followed by a two-thirds vote, in favor, by both houses of Congress. The first step on this path requires that Vice President Pence send Congress (both the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate) a letter signed by a majority of the cabinet, stating that Trump was unable to “discharge the powers and duties of his office,” which would immediately strip him of his powers as President, and transfer power to Vice President Pence.
Removing a president using the 25th Amendment is even more difficult than impeachment, according to the New York Times, and many believe it’s a long shot.
The Race Question
All of this has significance, Grose says, especially in the larger context of the racial profiles of those storming the Capitol and supporting Trump.This content is imported from Twitter. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1346965988663824385&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.shondaland.com%2Fact%2Fnews-politics%2Fa35143153%2Fa-dark-day-in-american-history-armed-trump-supporters-storm-the-us-capitol%2F&siteScreenName=byshondaland&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=550px
“What everyone has been saying is that Black people would have been treated differently, had they been the ones to storm the Capitol,” Grose says. “I think it’s significant that the first Black Senator from Georgia won an election, and we have the first Black female Vice President. Those are significant to motivating the people who are storming the Capitol. The race angle is also very much about the fact that the people who are winning power in the 2020 election through normal election means are Black. The people storming the capital are white, for the most part, and I think a lot of the motivation of the events in the Capitol, is race-based. This is where the parallel to the Reconstruction period (1865 to 1877) comes in. Black elected officials are getting power. It’s not just about getting rid of Congress or the Electoral College; it’s about who is gaining power in 2021.”
There is also the question of how the armed mob gained such easy access to the Capitol building. Many on social media and elsewhere have speculated that it was because they were white, not people of color.
“I think it’s important to get to the bottom of why it was so easy for these insurrectionists to get access to the Capitol,” Professor Grose says.
Many have also noted on social media that there seemed to be few arrests and not much accountability for those who broke into and stormed a federal building.
What does this mean for the transfer of power on January 20 and the future of the United States?
Members of Congress convened Wednesday evening and into Thursday morning in the Capitol to certify the electoral votes and continue the Constitutional process of transferring power to President-elect Biden. A number of members of Congress — including the first Republican representative, Adam Kinzinger from Illinois — have called for Trump’s removal from office, with some even saying he should be charged with treason and sedition. Others, including the Washington Post’s Editorial Board, called for Trump’s immediate removal by the 25th Amendment.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tweeted that she was drawing up new articles of impeachment on Wednesday evening. Even President-elect Biden said that Trump’s behavior to incite the mob Wednesday approached sedition.
“At this hour, our democracy’s under unprecedented assault, unlike anything we’ve seen in modern times. An assault on the citadel of liberty, the Capitol itself,” Biden said in a speech on Wednesday, calling for Trump to “fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege.” Trump did not make any appearances Wednesday night.
JOSHUA ROBERTSGETTY IMAGES
Political strategists say that it’s unclear whether impeachment or removal of the sitting president was realistic.
“I am never surprised by how quickly unusual situations go back to our normal partisan divides,” Grose says, “I do think the time from now to January 20 is kind of a wait-and-see. I could see some people just wanting to ride it out and keep their head down because they come from highly conservative constituencies.”
Despite the astounding, egregious, and alarming events in D.C. on Wednesday, Grose says that he’s still optimistic that the transfer of power will happen on January 20.
“I watch the electoral procedures,” Grose says, “No matter how boring they are, I watch them every four years. Wednesday morning, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made important statements about coming together. There is a chance that this could lead to some larger group of people in Congress who are in favor of Democracy and anti-insurrection that could be really important. Things will probably get back to a little bit more of the usual. One thing is clear, though, there really does need to be some strong leadership right now. There’s an opportunity for a leader to stand up and say the direction that things should be going. It is a moment for Biden. It’s a chance for Pelosi and McConnell to come together and defend democracy and the Constitution.”
There is, however, no question that the reputation of the United States as a bastion of democracy in the world has been deeply damaged.
“I am concerned about a potential security breach,” Grose says, “Depending on who was in there, there could have been people working with foreign governments who got inside. The wider perception of the United States has been significantly damaged, too. This has certainly weakened the U.S. in the world.”