Nation in Turmoil

January 14, 2021

The United States is experiencing its most tumultuous period in decades after violent pro-Trump protesters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, as Congress convened in a joint session to tally the Electoral College results, which showed that Joe Biden won the presidential election held on November 3rd. Since the election, President Trump has been stoking his base over allegations he has made regarding the election, with millions buying into his claims that Joe Biden and the Democrats—with help from Republicans—stole the election from him.

For weeks, the president has been lobbing accusations of massive, widespread fraud in the presidential election, and has continued to assert his claims despite them having been debunked repeatedly. As the president’s lawsuits attempting to overturn the election kept falling flat and were tossed out when presented in court, Trump focused on the January 6th joint session of Congress as his last, best chance to be handed a second term in office.

President Trump demanded that lawmakers in the House and Senate object to the electors from six swing states and that Vice President Pence should refuse to acknowledge the electors from states in which Trump says the election was fraudulent. He also exhorted his supporters to descend on Washington to join in a “Stop the Steal” rally to pressure lawmakers into carrying out his wishes.

How the Riot Unfolded

Wednesday, January 6 began with tension in the air, as it was already known that Stop the Steal protesters would be gathering in Washington in opposition of Congress performing its duty to certify the Electoral College results. Many Republican House members and a couple of Senate Republicans had already made clear their intention to object to the results from several swing states, and it was known from the outset that the day would be filled with drama.

Hundreds of protesters assembled on the Capitol lawn Wednesday, including members of the Proud Boys, a fringe and far-right group. Eric Trump addressed the crowd, telling them to “show some fight and “stand up” before directing them to “march on the Capitol.” Donald Trump Jr. exhorted all “red-blooded, patriotic Americans” in the crowd to “fight for Trump.” President Trump then spoke, telling the protesters that they “have to show strength” in demonstrating against the certification of the Electoral College results and to give Republicans “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” President Trump then urged his supporters to march to the Capitol building, which they promptly did while the president himself returned to the White House.

Around this time, two working pipe bombs were found near the Republican and Democratic national headquarters, which may have been intended to divert attention from the growing mob heading to the nation’s seat of power. Protesters then began harassing and fighting with the small contingent of Capitol Hill police officers assigned to protect the Capitol, eventually overwhelming them and breaching the security perimeter around the building, allowing the protesters to stream inside as clashes continued. During the clashes, a Capitol Hill police officer, New Jersey native Brian Sicknick, was struck by a protester, after which he collapsed and died.

As rioters broke into the Capitol, security officials began moving lawmakers out of the Senate and House chambers into more secure rooms which they hoped would not be breached by the protesters. Some House members were unable to leave their chamber in time, forcing them to barricade themselves inside.

During the invasion, a woman attempting to breach the Speaker’s Lobby was shot dead by a Capitol Hill police officer. She was later identified as Ashli Babbitt, a veteran of the US Air Force who had become radicalized.

It would take more than three hours from the time the Capitol was breached for the building to be declared secure by the sergeants-at-arms of the House and Senate, both of whom were later fired.

Congress Certifies Election Results

Despite the mayhem of the day, Congress convened later that evening to continue fulfilling their duty of certifying the results of the election. “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” Vice President Pence said upon restarting the certification process. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins, and this is still the people’s house.”

The certification process went as expected: some Republican members of both the House and Senate objected to the results from several swing states, forcing the chambers into debates over the validity of the objections. Those objections were then struck down in both chambers, leaving the results unchanged. When all was said and done, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris received 306 Electoral College votes—270 are needed to be declared the winner—and Donald Trump received 232.

Blowback Against Objectors

After a number of Republican lawmakers objected to the Electoral College results, large companies, including Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, Airbnb, and Verizon, announced that they would be suspending political contributions to the congressmen involved in the objection, with each releasing a statement decrying the violence seen at the Capitol. “The insurrection at our nation’s Capitol was a direct assault on one of our country’s most revered tenets: the peaceful transition of power,” The Walt Disney Company wrote in their statement.

There have also been numerous calls for Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, two of the most prominent objectors, to resign. Arguing that Cruz and Hawley “betrayed their oaths of office and abetted a violent insurrection on our democracy,” Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown called for the two to immediately resign or be expelled from the Senate if they refuse. Senators Patty Murray, Chris Coons, and Tina Smith were among other Democrats calling for their resignations.

Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican, said that Cruz and Hawley are “going to have a lot of soul-searching to do, and the problem is they were complicit in the big lie, this lie that Donald Trump won the election in a landslide and it was all stolen… They compounded that with this notion that somehow this could all be reversed in the final moments of the Congressional proceedings. So…that’s going to haunt them for a very long time.”

Where Was Trump?

As pro-Trump protesters stormed the Capitol, the president was largely unavailable to those desperately trying to reach him and was reportedly unwilling to take action to stop the mob from continuing their rampage. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried calling Jared Kushner, Lindsey Graham attempted to get Ivanka Trump to tell the president to tell his supporters to back off, and Kellyanne Conway called an aide that was near the president. Several Republicans in Congress also tried calling presidential aides to have them intervene and get the president to do something.

But they all failed to get their messages through to Trump, who was watching the scene on live TV and was too engrossed to take action, according to a White House official. “It took a while for him to appreciate the gravity of the situation,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, formerly a staunch Trump ally. “The president saw these people as allies in his journey and sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”

As the riot ensued, the president took to Twitter to complain about Vice President Pence, who was overseeing the certification of the results and made clear that he would not take unilateral steps to undo the election. “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution,” Trump railed. “USA demands the truth!”

After numerous White House officials pleaded with Trump to take a firm stand against the rioters, the president tweeted again, saying that there shouldn’t be any violence, but the protesters were already ransacking the Capitol and were not turning back. Trump then tweeted a video calling the rioters “very special,” another move that analysts say only emboldened the invaders of the Capitol. Trump then stoked the flames yet further, tweeting, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love and in peace. Remember this day forever!”

Finally, after Congress had reconvened to certify the election results, President Trump, urged by the White House legal team, released a video that came the closest he is likely to every get to a concession speech. “Congress has certified the results: a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th,” Trump said. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”

Social Media Platforms Boot Trump

In response to the riot and President Trump’s unwillingness to temper his supporters, nearly every major social media platform decided to boot the president from its platform. After first suspending Trump’s personal account, @realDonaldTrump, for 12 hours, Twitter permanently banned the president last Friday night, a move that was quickly copied by other major social media networks. By the time the weekend was over, President Trump had been banned from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Reddit, and Twitch, effectively cutting off his means of speaking directly to his supporters without the involvement of the media.

Twitter also shut down over 70,000 accounts that subscribed to the QAnon conspiracy theory, an objectively insane theory whose followers believe that President Trump is fighting against child traffickers who are in high positions of power in Washington and that he will eventually unleash a massive wave of arrests of these unnamed individuals. Many of the protesters involved in the storming of the Capitol were believers of the QAnon theory and have been inciting violence and disseminating wild theories about the integrity of the presidential election.

Additionally, Facebook announced that it would remove all posts with Stop the Steal content. Apple and Google announced that they were removing Parler, a social media platform similar to Twitter favored by extremists, from their app stores, and internet domain registrars pulled the plug on their website, forcing it off-line until if found a new host.

Administration Officials Head for the Exits

Numerous high-ranking White House and administration officials bucked the president following the violent protests, with many of them citing his lack of a coherent response as the final straw for them. Included in those who resigned were Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, Melania Trump’s Chief of Staff Stephanie Grisham, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, special envoy and former acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, and other high-level but less well-known officials including John Costello, Tyler Goodspeed, Rickie Niceta, Sarah Matthews, Elinore McCance-Katz, Eric Dreiband, and multiple national security officials who worked in the Pentagon.

There was reportedly talk of resigning among Trump’s top officials, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but Pentagon officials pleaded with them not to leave so that there would not be a power vacuum in Washington, which could have serious adverse national security implications.

In an interview with CNBC, Mick Mulvaney said that nearly everyone at the White House wanted to quit, but they were hesitant to do so for the sake of the country. “Those who chose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in,” Mulvaney said.

In a resignation letter sent to the president, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire donor to Republican causes, wrote that “there is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is the inflection point for me.”

World Leaders Express Shock, Dismay

Numerous world leaders expressed their shock at the images coming from the US Capitol as rioters attempted to overturn an election that had been proven legitimate, despite the president’s incessant claims otherwise. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Trump ally, called the scenes “disgraceful” and demanded that a peaceful transfer of power take place. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the events “shocking,” and European Union representative Josep Borrell wrote that American democracy appeared to be “under siege.” Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called what was happening “a real scar to democracy,” and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the rampage “a disgraceful act,” adding that he has “no doubt that the American democracy will prevail.”

Other world leaders who condemned the attack include Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and French President Emmanuel Macron, among many others. In a slap in the face to the US, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani took a victory lap over the incident. “What happened in the US shows how fragile Western democracy is,” Rouhani, the leader of an autocratic regime, said. “Despite all their scientific and industrial achievements, we see a huge influence of populism. When a sick person takes office, we see how he disgraces his country and creates troubles for the world.”

Democrats Move to Impeach Trump

Shortly after the Capitol Hill protests, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer demanded that Vice President Pence invoke the 25th Amendment, with which the president’s Cabinet could vote to remove the president from office, bypassing the need for Congressional action.

In a Sunday interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that if Pence refuses to invoke the 25th Amendment, the House of Representatives would move ahead with impeachment proceedings. Vice President Pence, in a letter sent to Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday evening, wrote that he will not invoke the 25th Amendment, because he “does not believe such a course of action is in the best interest of our nation or consistent with the Constitution.” Pence also chided Pelosi for what he called a “political game” in trying to remove the president “at a time so serious in the life of our nation.”

As of this writing, Democrats were poised to vote on impeaching Trump on Wednesday evening for “incitement and insurrection,” with at least five Republicans and all Democrats in the House of Representatives saying they would vote to impeach the president. “President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government,” the article of impeachment reads. “He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government. He thereby betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.” Once the House impeaches Trump, as is expected, he would become the first president in history to be impeached twice.

In a sign of growing discontent with President Trump and his actions, Republican leadership in the House said they would not lobby their colleagues to vote against impeaching President Trump, although House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy wrote in a letter to GOP House members that he himself was opposed to having the president impeached for a second time. Doing so, McCarthy said, would only serve to further divide an already fractured nation.

According to reports, the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has indicated that President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that an impeachment of the president would help McConnell rid the Republican party of Trump and Trumpism. McConnell was reportedly “pleased” that Democrats are moving to impeach Trump and was weighing whether he would vote to convict the president. According to multiple reports, the relationship between President Trump and McConnell has essentially collapsed in the past few weeks, and the two men have not spoken to each other since mid-December.

President-elect Biden has not said whether he thinks Trump should be impeached, but he is reportedly concerned that an impeachment proceeding could derail the Senate confirmations of his top-level nominees. Biden reportedly called McConnell this week to discuss the possibility of “bifurcation,” meaning impeachment proceedings would be carried out alongside the confirmation of his nominees. It wasn’t clear as this article went to print whether the articles of impeachment, if passed in the House, would make it over to the Senate quickly enough for a vote and possible removal of President Trump from office before his term expires this coming Wednesday. It also wasn’t clear whether there would be enough senators agreeable to voting to remove the president from office, although the tide has been turning toward that possibility. Two thirds of the Senate would need to vote to remove the president from office, a tall order considering that at least 17 Republican senators would have to join in.

It is also possible that the Senate will vote on impeaching Trump after he leaves office next Wednesday, but there is some dispute over whether the Constitution allows such a thing. If the impeachment process does move forward after he leaves office, the primary question would shift from whether Trump should be removed from office to whether he should be banned from holding any future federal office, which, if approved, would bar him from running again for president in 2024, as he has indicated he would like to do.

Trump Breaks His Silence

After being mostly quiet following the riot, President Trump made his first public comments about last Wednesday’s events six days later while traveling to and attending an event touting his accomplishments on building a wall on the border with Mexico. Speaking to the media at the White House before heading to Alamo, Texas, where the event was held, Trump said that what he told protesters in Washington last week was “totally appropriate.” “We want no violence, never violence; we want absolutely no violence,” Trump said.

Regarding the ongoing tensions across the country, the president said it had nothing to do with anything he said. “They’ve analyzed my speech, my words. Everybody to a T thought it was appropriate,” the president claimed. The “real problem,” Trump said, was what other politicians said about the racial protests that occurred over the summer.

He also pointed to impeachment efforts against him as the cause of a lot of the anger seen among his supporters across the country. “This impeachment is causing tremendous anger…” Trump said. “For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger. I want no violence.”

At the border wall event, Trump added that he wasn’t afraid of the 25th Amendment being used against him, but that it should make Democrats worry. “The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” Trump said.

Secret Service Preparing for Inauguration

The Secret Service and other federal law enforcement agencies are preparing for a possible violent assault on the January 20th inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and have launched an unprecedented security mobilization in an effort to keep it safe. The security precautions began six days earlier than expected and will include as many as 15,000 National Guard troops, thousands of police and tactical officers, as well as layers of steel fencing protecting federal buildings and the inauguration itself. Forty-three states and territories, including New Jersey, are providing support to the security operation.

Security officials have briefed members of Congress of at least four plots to violently disrupt the inauguration and attempt to block Joe Biden from becoming president. The most concerning of the plots “would involve insurrectionists forming a perimeter around the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court and then blocking Democrats from entering the Capitol—perhaps even killing them—so that Republicans could take control of the government,” according to information obtained by the Huffington Post.

A lawmaker on the briefing call concerning the plans said the details of the plots were scary. “It was horrifying, the most chilling hour imaginable,” the unnamed Democrat told the Hill. “If you weren’t afraid when you got on the call, you were afraid when you got off.”

Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat, said that while there is a lot of fear surrounding the upcoming inauguration, the transfer of power will take place. “We’re not talking about a ninety-person ISIS cell… We’re talking mainly about a bunch of yahoos, who, yes, are very dangerous. People could wind up dead,” Himes said. “But there’s no danger that they’re going to overthrow the United States government.”

The FBI is also warning that armed protests are being planned for next week in all 50 state capitals, elevating fears that more blood will be spilled before Joe Biden becomes president. “Armed protests are being planned at all fifty state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the US Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” an FBI bulletin states. The bureau said that their “efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity” and that they are working with state and local law-enforcement officials to ensure that violence does not take place.

The Pentagon has also commented, reminding servicemen of their duty to the country in this precarious time. Mark Milley, the United States’ top general, and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, comprised of the heads of all military branches, issued an extremely rare statement condemning the invasion of the US Capitol and reminding servicemen that they must abide by the Constitution and reject extremism. “We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition, and insurrection,” the statement says, adding that the riot was a “direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process.” The statement was a highly significant step because military commanders make it a point to stay away from statements that could appear to have political overtones. But given the gravity of the events surrounding the upcoming inauguration, they felt it was imperative that they comment publicly.

Investigation into Capitol Invasion Underway

There have been opposing narratives as to why the Capitol building was so insecure when there were so many angry protesters outside it. Some officials claimed that they had no prior warning of the attack and did not expect anything major to occur. However, records show that a day before the attacks, the FBI issued an explicit warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington intent on carrying out acts of violence and “war.”

An internal FBI document obtained by the Washington Post shows that officials knew what was coming. “An online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include stating, ‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march or rally or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our president or we die. Nothing else will achieve this goal,” the document reads. BLM is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, which carried out its own violent protests over the course of the summer, and Pantifa is a derogatory term for Antifa, a radical-left group whose members have torn up American cities, most notably Portland, Oregon.

But even though the FBI had this information, it may not have been transmitted to the people who were in charge of protecting the Capitol. Steven Sund, who resigned as Capitol Police Chief following the riot, said in an interview that he was never made aware of the FBI’s knowledge. “I did not have that information, nor was that information taken into consideration in our security planning.” Sund said, adding that had he been told of it he would have taken it seriously and implemented proper security precautions.

Shortly after the riot on Capitol Hill, the FBI posted a tweet requesting any information that could be of help in identifying the people involved in the incident. Since then, the FBI says it has received over 100,000 pieces of digital evidence which have assisted them in opening numerous investigations into the perpetrators. At a press conference on Tuesday, FBI officials said that the bureau had opened around 170 cases into individuals who are believed to have been involved, and the US Attorney for the District of Columbia has already brought charges against 20 people, with another 40 having been charged in DC’s Superior Court. “You will be found,” an FBI official said to rioters who had not yet been arrested. “The FBI has a long memory and broad reach. Even if you’ve left DC, agents from our local field offices will be knocking on your door.” The Department of Justice is also working to build sedition and conspiracy charges against some of the rioters, a charge that can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Some Republicans and many Trump supporters have been circulating rumors that the rioters were actually members of the radical-left group Antifa looking to cast Trump supporters in a bad light. However, there is ample evidence that at least a large number of the individuals involved in the riot were indeed supporters of the president. The FBI released a statement saying they had not seen any evidence that Antifa members were in any way involved in the attack on the US Capitol.

Two Capitol Hill police officers were suspended over their roles in the riot, and multiple others are under investigation. According to police, one of the suspended officers took a selfie with protesters as they stormed the building, while the other donned a “Make America Great Again” hat and gave directions to the invaders.

Where Does America Go from Here?

The burning question on many minds across the country these days is whether the promise of freedom in the United States is over. Right-leaning individuals worry that the banning and censorship of certain conservative voices on their platforms means that they will never again be allowed to express their opinions and ideology in public—a massive blow to First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and freedoms in general. On the other side, Democrats worry that the lies and misinformation about the election disseminated by the president and his minions is so deeply ingrained in right-wing thought that it will be impossible to ever again have an election without baseless accusations of fraud, and that it is possible for a right-wing militia to eventually carry out a successful coup of the US government.

Only time will tell if the fears of either side are warranted. But there is a simple truth to keep in mind: most Americans are not radical, and that is true for both sides of the political aisle. Far-right and far-left voices are the loudest because they attract people with their rhetoric. But the vast majority of citizens of the United States are fair-minded and cherish democracy and the liberties afforded to them in this country. The US has gone through a lot in its 244-year history, and each time it has emerged stronger than before. It can be hoped that, despite the obstacles currently standing in its way, the United States will once again emerge as a beacon of freedom for the world to envy and aspire to be.