What killed Trump's coup inside the Capitol may have been Trump's insurgency outside the Capitol: analysis

What killed Trump's coup inside the Capitol may have been Trump's insurgency outside the Capitol: analysis
Image via the White House.

The texts released by the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 show that the White House, Republicans in Congress, and Donald Trump Jr. were all terrified about the insurgents breaching the Capitol. Some were terrified for how it would cost them politically. Some for how the insurgents might harm them physically. Right-wing pundits, hoping to make the best of embarrassing and incriminating information, have hurried to claim that, if Fox News and congressional Republicans were screaming to make it stop, they couldn’t have been in on the insurgency.

However, the latest releases drop several more puzzle pieces into place. The picture of how Donald Trump and the Republican Party planned to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election and install Trump as dictator in everything but name still isn’t quite complete. But what’s there is frightening in both its depth and breadth.

It shows that they had the means of keeping Trump in power, a supposed motivation for their actions, and that they viewed Jan. 6 as an opportunity to put their plans into effect. Only not everyone was playing from the same book, and some of them forgot to synchronize their watches.

This was not a closely held scheme. The plan to refuse to seat electors from states that voted for Joe Biden wasn’t whispered about solely in one White House meeting, where Mike Pence made some kind of heroic stand against Trump, chief of staff Mark Meadows, and attorney John Eastman. The essence of the plan circulated widely among Republicans. Versions of it were batted around by White House staffers and among Trump’s campaign team. They played through themes, scenarios, and alternatives.

A 38-page PowerPoint discussion of all the different ways that Pence could wreck the electoral vote certification on Jan. 6, and how they could put down any attempts to prevent Trump from seizing power, was briefed to Republicans in Congress. Some of those briefed were sill texting elements of the plan back to Meadows even as the assault on the Capitol was underway.

There was a second track to this plan. That was the pseudo-legal track being managed by Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and a revolving cast of others willing to sign their names to lawsuits that vanished as quickly as they appeared. The purpose of this team was to generate theoretical justification for taking action that would overturn one of the cleanest, most closely observed elections in American history. It didn’t matter that this track ran on malicious speculation and deliberate lies, not when there was media—and Republicans in Congress—ready to pretend that it was real. Whether it was Venezuelan dictators, Italian satellites, or just “trash cans of votes,” evidence wasn’t required.

And then there was the third track. That was the Trump rally track. The “wild time” track. The Stop the Steal track being managed by Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, Alex Jones, and Ali Alexander. The purpose of this track was simple enough: It was there to generate anger. Anger that could help justify action. Anger that could bully the reluctant into going along.

On Jan. 6, that anger got ahead of everything else, and the third track turned into a third rail.

Both the “legal” track and the protest track were there, in part, to demonstrate to Republicans inside and outside Congress what it meant to defy Trump. It didn’t matter if it was county-level election officials in Michigan, or the hard-right governor of Georgia: No one was above being named in a lawsuit, or turned into the object of death threats. Anyone could find their home surrounded by angry white militants screaming at their spouse and children, or being labeled across right-wing media as a RINO traitor. All it took was a tweet.

Much of this was visible before the select committee began its work. Or even before Jan. 6. Trump and company were not exactly subtle, nor secretive.

Some of these issues raise real points of concern. Such as: How did multiple members of the Republican Party in Congress receive an extended briefing on methods by which they might illegally overturn the election results, and none of that appeared in the press? It might be too much to think that a Republican in the House would let the media in on what they were up to, but were there no staffers, no observers, no AV guy hired to run the projector who thought the public needed to know what these guys were up to? The idea that Republicans sat through a 38-page PowerPoint on “How to Destroy America” in the week before Jan. 6, and the public didn’t learn about it for 11 months, should be—and is—terrifying.

The coup plans were the means of execution. The legal claims, ridiculous as they were and are, were the justification. But the rally track, the violence track, was the lever to make it all happen.

Bannon and Stone didn’t come into this cold. They had worked on “Stop the Steal” in 2016, with intentions of accusing Democrats of voter fraud in that election. Stone was back with “Stop the Steal” in Florida for 2018, deploying claims that the election there was going to be stolen when it looked like Democrats might pull off a victory in the Senate and governor’s race. They had it ready again in 2020, with Trump, Stone, and others insisting there was going to be massive election fraud months before the election was ever held. Trump underlined all this with claims that the only way he could lose was if there was fraud.

Months before the election, Alexander announced that he was already building out “digital infrastructure” for “Stop the Steal 2020.” That included a database of Trump supporters who could be activated for the purposes of intimidating poll workers and state officials through their “physical presence.” Trump tweeted his own “Stop the Steal!” tweet the same day as Alexander’s announcement, showing the closeness of his efforts and those of the Trump campaign.

After the election, from Pennsylvania, to Georgia, to Arizona, to Michigan, to Nevada, to Wisconsin, Trump’s team launched anger-a-thons that terrorized vote counters and election officials at all levels. Some of these were done on the off chance that they might intimidate an official into actually trying to flip electoral votes. All of them were done to perpetuate the idea that there was “a dispute” over the vote count in these states. That idea was given an enormous boost by attention from the media; primarily Fox News, where the claims of Trump’s legal team aired on a constant loop.

In the days before Jan. 6, the violence track got special attention. Trump had sent a signal to his white supremacist militia supporters, promising them “it will be wild” if they showed up. The Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, and other militant groups didn’t show up unprepared. They planned for months, using encrypted platforms like Telegram, where they and worked with neofascist groups supported by Bannon.

In advance of Jan. 6, these groups decided to change up their uniform, appearing in all black. That clothing came in handy for Fox News host Laura Ingraham and a cluster of right-wing radio hosts (including former FEMA director Michael “Brownie” Brown). Even as Ingraham was texting with Mark Meadows, trying to get him to halt the assault on the Capitol, she was back on Fox, insisting to her audience that the black outfits were “not what Trump supporters wear”, and that there were “some reports that antifa was sprinkled throughout the crowd." That same argument was making its way across right-wing radio. Ingraham also insisted to her audience that only “around three dozen” people were involved breaching the Capitol, no matter what they may have seen on their screens.

But there’s another reason that the violence squad was wearing black that day. A Jan. 5 email from Meadows to an unknown party indicated that the National Guard would be standby on Jan. 6 to “protect pro Trump people.” As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch has pointed out, Trump tweeted about antifa twice on Jan. 5, indicating that trouble was expected. Trump had also spoken with the Pentagon when planning events for that day. It was not a coincidence that Mike Flynn’s brother was in position to release, or withhold, National Guard support on that day.

Here’s some selections from a timeline for events that actually happened on Jan. 6:

09:00 AM—Trump rally begins at the Ellipse, with the hanging of banners for the “Save America March.” Rep. Mo Brooks steps up, to deliver a speech in which he demands that those present “fight for America” and calls on them to “kick ass.” Then Rudy Giuliani steps in front of the mic to demand "Let's have a trial by combat.” Even before his speech has ended, the first contingent of Proud Boys leaves the Ellipse area and begins moving toward the Capitol.

12:00 PM—Trump begins his speech at the rally. He promises to march with his supporters to the Capitol, tells them “We are going to have to fight much harder,” that the election outcome is an “egregious assault on our democracy,” and instructs them “You have to show strength.” Shortly after Trump begins speaking, Rep. Paul Gosar sends this tweet, with a hat tip to Ali Alexander.

What happens next is the critical point. A point where both the law, and the coup plan, may have simultaneously exited the scene.

12:30 PM—Though Trump is still speaking, at least 300 Proud Boys are already confronting police at the Capitol. Within minutes, 10,000 to 15,000 more people are marching that way. Before Trump finishes making his promises to the crowd, his supporters have already pushed through the first police barriers. The chief of the Capitol Police makes his first call for help from the National Guard.

1:00 PM—Senators and Pence walk to the House chamber to begin the formal certification of electoral votes.

1:10 PM—Trump finishes his speech, with another call to march on Congress and to give Republicans the “pride and boldness that they need to take back our country."

1:12 PM—The list of states being counted reaches Arizona. Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. Ted Cruz immediately object to certifying the results in that state. The House and Senate split apart for two hours of debate over the objection.

1:17 PM—As Trump supporters climb scaffolding, force their way up stairs, and press into the tunnel beneath the House, Lauren Boebert tweets “We are locked in the House Chambers.” and then tweets “The Speaker has been removed from the Chambers.”

1:51 PM—Alex Jones tells the crowd on west side of Capitol to come around to the east side, claiming there is a stage there and that Trump will join them. Some follow Jones, but others began battering the doors and window of the Capitol.

2:11 PM—Insurgents enter the Capitol.

With the insurgents occupying the building, ransacking offices, invading both congressional chambers, carrying off souvenirs, and smearing feces on the walls, Congress doesn’t return to finish the count until 8:06 PM.

When Congress finally reconvened, the Arizona objections were dealt with, the vote continued, then, despite several other objections, Pence announced the results of Biden’s victory.

But consider this alternate timeline:

3:05 PM—Congress completes debate and the session reconvenes to report the results of that discussion. Pence then doesn’t immediately move to count the Arizona votes, but—as both the memo from attorney John Eastman explained, and as was detailed in the coup plan briefed to Congress—Pence insists that Arizona be skipped over, and that the count continue with other states. This soon brings other objections, resulting in Pence either calling for Congress to once again adjourn for separate debates, or adding them to the “in dispute” category.

Meanwhile, outside the Capitol, men dressed in black threaten police and shove against barricades. As Congress continues with the count, and Pence continues to set states aside, Trump calls in the National Guard, insisting that they protect both Trump supporters and Congress from antifa terrorists. When they are deployed, Trump joins Jones and others on the east side of the Capitol, raising the crowd to a fever pitch.

It’s not difficult to see how this day spins out very differently, and more along the lines of the coup scheme, ending with either Pence declaring Trump the winner, or—as Bannon suggested—with Trump announcing a do-over election under military supervision.

The difference in this timeline is that in the second version, Trump’s supporters don’t actually breach the Capitol, or at least don’t do so until after Pence has the chance to declare Arizona in dispute.

And yes, in the real world, Pence did not do that. Instead, he’s been lauded handing over a letter at the beginning of the session indicating that his powers there were limited, and for pushing past objections to reach a Biden victory as the Electoral Count Act demands.

However, Pence’s apparent bold stand, and the reversal of some votes among Republicans in Congress, came after the invasion of the Capitol. It came after Fox News pundits texted warnings that the scenes of violence on television were ruining everything. It came after multiple Republicans had texted Meadows, mostly to let him know they were scared shitless. When the Capitol was breached and Pence led away from the crowd chanting for his death, the Arizona votes had not been counted.

Pence declared Biden the victor in the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol. That he would have done the same thing without hours of America watching Trump’s supporters loot and pillage and threaten—without the audible chants of “hang Mike Pence”—is only an assumption.

Trump had the plan for how he would reverse the election. He had the pretense of a justification. He had a large percentage of Republicans thinking that the election had problems. He had support among Republicans in both the House and Senate to raise the objections that would put his plan in play. But on Jan. 6, it may not have been Pence that generated the point of failure in this plan.

Instead, it seems as if the part of Trump’s plan that was left to Bannon, Stone, and others who sat back to watch from their control room at the Willard Hotel simply moved too fast and too hard. The wild time got too wild.

What sank Trump’s coup inside the Capitol may have been Trump’s insurgency outside the Capitol.


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