MAGA Cosplayers Seize Capitol While Cops Flounder

Calibrating the seriousness of the short-lived occupation of the Capitol by Trump-pumped fanboys is made difficult by the headline elements. A departing President calling for a march on the legislature in a last-ditch effort to stop his electoral loss from being certified. Members of Congress photographed cowering in front of their seats before fleeing to safety. Rioters storming the Capitol, breaking Capitol windows, looting.

What Happened, As Best as We Can Tell Now

The ITV video below gives a good feel for the storming of the building:

I’m old enough to remember the demonstrations and bombings of the Vietnam War era. Even so, the spectacle of the Capitol occupied and Congressmen in flight is viscerally offensive, like watching someone piss on an altar or tear up a Koran. Even though we often don’t value hard-fought democratic rights like voting as much as we ought to, Americans have been brought up on and have sold abroad a belief in representative government and an independent judiciary. And we have an almost Pavlovian respect, even sometimes awe, for the grandeur of the neoclassical buildings that typically house these institutions.

And yet, and yet….This was no Vietnam-level rioting. This wasn’t even a serious occupation, which one would think was the point, to keep Congress from executing the final ratification of the Biden win. Could you image the spectacle of democracy chastened if the Trump mob had held the Capitol and forced Congress to scramble find a hotel ballroom in which to finish their official business?

Nope, Congress was back in business by 8:00 PM, roughly seven hours after the barbarians stormed the walls, albeit with pretty much everyone badly rattled and some Trump supporters rapidly backpedaling from their former positions.

Despite the gravity of the event, if you look not very hard at what happened, both sides in their different ways were shambolic. Even though the mainstream press has been talking up the prospect of a Trump coup even before his electoral loss, this insurrection was impulsive. Trump gave an hour-long speech where he repeatedly exhorted the crowd to march to the Capitol and “stop the steal”. As ugly and embarrassing as the Capitol seizure was, it did not begin to rise to the level of a coup (read the Wikipedia bio of Sukarno or the review of this book focused on the coup that removed him from office and see the contrast). There wasn’t a serious or even half-hearted effort to seize critical infrastructure, control communication (no classic suspension of news broadcasts or launch of insurrectionist pronouncements), terrorize the population through executions or other shows of force, or purges of opposed faction members. The reporting is still spotty, but it appears only the RNC, and not the DNC, was on the receiving end of a pipe bomb.

It was known well in advance that the Trump fans were rallying on January 6 to protest the election. It was known well in advance that Trump likes inflammatory talk. I have yet to see anyone provide an estimate of the crowd that came to the Capitol, but I’d guesstimate 5,000 maximum, probably much lower given that the invaders weren’t cheek by jowl after they got into the Capitol. Have a look at this video clip, which is the best I’ve seen in terms of giving a sense of the size of the mob:

Now before you say, “No wonder the cops were overwhelmed,” go have a look at other shots of the Capitol. Pretty much any other shots. It sits on a steep hill, with some large intermediate terraces on the way up to the entry. This is an exceptionally easy building to defend. Think water cannons deployed from above on the protestors.

And its not as if the protestors were hardbodied skinheads carrying bludgeons and sporting brass knuckles:

Not a good look that that tweet has since been removed:

But it shouldn’t even have gotten to that. As a London Met officer put it (vouched for by APHClarkson):

There’s more to the tweetstorm but you get the idea. By contrast, just about no one even heard about how the New York City cops frustrated the anti-Iraq war protestors. I’m told nearly 100,000 showed up despite it being a desperately cold day. All access to the planned protest site, UN Plaza, was cut off. Barricades at Second Avenue, defended in the blocks closest to the UN by mounted police, by cops in cars and on foot further north. The protestors were shunted north to Harlem. They gave up when they realized they would not be able to assemble.

And it’s not as if these protestors were all that scary save for the fact that the police were terribly outmanned. No evidence of gun carrying, certainly no photos of any brandished or shots from them. The only reports Lambert and I have seen of gunfire (aside from the protestor who was shot and died) is from this Bloomberg account, towards the very end, and it attributes semi-automatic fire to the police.

As Lambert put it, “Seems like, as it were, an opportunistic infection that struck an entity with a compromised immune system.”

So why were the police so utterly unprepared? Several theories are plausible, and they are not mutually exclusive.

The Capitol Police are mere show ponies. Police contacts speculate that the Capitol Police, despite their big budget and manpower, are very much like state capitol police. The worst situations they routinely have to deal with are someone in the gallery throwing paint or worse at the solons, or a few people waving banners and yelling, or at the very extreme, someone trying to set themselves on fire. Yes, they have to keep an eye out for gunz, but competent screening keeps that down to a minimum. In other words, they general contend with small numbers of disruptive as opposed to truly violent people.

Unlike with the Black Lives Matter protests, which in DC had a very impressive show of National Guard support, the Guard weren’t called in until after the Capitol had been breached, and even then not quite immediately. Why? The National Guard would report to Trump! There was an effort to have the Defense Department summon them, and finally Pence made the request.

But per below, that does not seem adequate as an explanation. Quite a few, perhaps most, of the Capitol Police didn’t put up a real fight:

At least some of the Capitol Police were awfully cooperative:

This, erm, acquiescence is consistent with the curiously low number of arrests so far, 13 versus 11 at a single BLM protest in DC in July….oh with all the 11 shortly released with all charges dropped.

So we have to consider further possible contributing factors like:

Enough police support for Trump for them to go easy on his backers. Remember that despite Biden saying he’d increase funding for cops by 10% and having a former DC as his Veep, police equate the Democrats with “defund the police” and hence budget and legitimacy threats. And even if they aren’t all that keen about Trump either, having riots get out of hand is a sure fire way to get more funding.

Racism. See the pix. The crowd was almost entirely white men.

It appears I am far from alone in thinking that the Capitol Police were at best half-hearted in their response. From Politico:

The top House appropriator charged with funding the Capitol Police vowed Wednesday to investigate the law enforcement response to the violent mob that overtook the Capitol building and alluded to firings to come among the force.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told reporters after the rioting had subsided that “there were some strategic mistakes from the very beginning.”

“I think it’s pretty clear that there’s going to be a number of people who are going to be without employment very, very soon,” Ryan said, “because this is an embarrassment — both on behalf of the mob and the president, and the insurrection and the attempted coup, but also the lack of professional planning and dealing with what we knew was going to occur.”

“You can bet your ass that we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” the Ohio Democrat said.

What Happens to Trump?

Needless to say, Trump made no late in game effort to distance himself from the seizure. He didn’t apologize or try to pretend to be misunderstood. He didn’t denounce the actions of the protestors. So he owns what happened.

Lambert is featuring it in Links today, but the best high level account of the debate and voting in Congress comes at, of all places, the Daily Mail. A good way to check which high-profile Congresscritters have abandoned Trump and which are staying with him, for instance.

Even though Trump has only 13 days left in office, the resolve to Do Something is ferocious. Consider the National Review article, Trump Must Pay:

January 6, 2021, is not over, but it already lives in infamy. A sitting president of the United States, having lost reelection, incited a mob to storm the Capitol as the Congress sat in joint session to certify the Electoral College vote. This act was without precedent. It was based on a lie, fed by myth, and culminated in violence, in vandalism, and in the desecration of the people’s house. The lawbreakers cannot go unpunished. Nor can the person ultimately responsible. His name is Donald Trump.

The men and women who breached the House and Senate chambers were doing it for him. They carried just as many Trump flags as American (or Confederate) ones. They were not chanting “Make America Great Again” as he fueled their anger during his speech at the Ellipse this morning. They were crying, “Fight for Trump.” It wasn’t an idea or even a country they stood for as they knocked over barriers, climbed walls, bashed windows, forced open doors, and desecrated public property. It was one man. And this irrevocable loyalty to an individual, this devotion that places his interests above the plain text of the Constitution and the rule of law, is not characteristic of democracy. It is tyranny….

There is not as much time — a little less than 14 days — to constrain the president before he plunges the nation’s capital into havoc again. Incitement to trespass, harassment, and destruction cannot go unanswered. The Constitution offers remedies. Pursue them — for no other reason than to deter the president from escalation. There must be a cost for reckless endangerment of the United States government. Trump must pay.

The National Association of Manufacturers, which represents over 14,000 companies, including multinationals like Toyota and Exxon, is asking US officials to “consider removing” Trump.

Some pundits were already advocating using the 25th Amendment to defenestrate Trump. Its Section 4 allows Cabinet Secretaries or Congress to remove a President via a majority vote that he is unfit to serve. Pence would become Acting President.

However, this approach isn’t satisfactory if the intent is to prevent Trump from returning to public life. An impeachment would prevent Trump from ever holding a Federal office. It would also be procedurally preferable, since the Senate would hold a trial and Trump would presumably have the opportunity to defend himself. Moreover, it’s pretty certain that there are now enough votes in the Senate to remove him from office. Only about 15 Senators backed Trump’s efforts to stymie certifying the election when the Senate reconvened after the occupation.

An impeachment can be completed after the officeholder’s term has ended.

What About Censorship?

It’s not a hard call that well-established turns of phrase that are not meant to be taken literally, like suggesting that someone be tarred and feathered, will if such a thing is possible be even a faster track to Twitter and other social media account suspension than before.

Due to it being very late for me, please forgive me for turning the mike over to the ever-incisive Caitlin Johnstone, who I believe Lambert has also cited today in Links:

The New York Times has published two new articles titled “The storming of Capitol Hill was organized on social media” and “Violence on Capitol Hill Is a Day of Reckoning for Social Media“, both arguing for more heavy-handed restrictions on speech from Silicon Valley tech giants.

In the former, NYT’s Sheera Frenkel writes “the violence Wednesday was the result of online movements operating in closed social media networks where people believed the claims of voter fraud and of the election being stolen from Mr. Trump,” citing the expert analysis of think tank spinmeister Renee DiResta of “Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset” fame. As usual no mention is made of DiResta’s involvement in the New Knowledge scandal in which a Russian interference “false flag” was staged for an Alabama Senate race.

“These people are acting because they are convinced an election was stolen,” DiResta said. “This is a demonstration of the very real-world impact of echo chambers.”

I have to interrupt. This is call wet. Now it is likely true that social media were useful in organizing to get to DC, like sharing rides. However, I know otherwise high functioning people personally who are allergic to social media and yet are convinced the elections were stolen. They heard it on Fox. The other huge propagator is talk radio. Stomping on social media will do close to nada to stop hard core right wing messaging.

Lawrence Douglas in the Guardian is pointing a big finger at Ted Cruz, but don’t expect anyone to muzzle him. However, you can anticipate that Mark Zuckerberg will be asked to ‘splain himself before Congress again, and this time, they might actually mess with his business model. So there could be silver lining. But this will come at high cost to other writers.

As we keep saying, if your business depends on a platform, you don’t have a business. I hope enough writers and pundits get themselves out of harm’s way while they can.

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