One year ago today, the peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of our democracy, was thrown into chaos by a riotous mob fueled by the angry, misleading and inciting rhetoric of a defeated president.
The House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump (232-197) on a charge of “incitement of insurrection.” He was tried and acquitted by the Senate (53-47).
Now, a House committee, which many Republicans contend is biased against Trump because of its make-up, is conducting a deeper investigation into January 6 and the events leading up to it. Meanwhile, Americans remain divided over Trump’s role—or lack thereof—in instigating the attack that left five people dead, 150 police officers injured, and a nation shaken to its core.
Opinions on Trump’s culpability vary depending on party affiliation. An ABC News/Ipsos Poll found that 91 percent of Democrats believe Trump bears either “a great deal” or “a good amount” of responsibility. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans believe the former president has “just some” or no responsibility.
Some of those arrested for storming the Capitol blame Trump. Daniel Joseph Rodriguez, who shocked a police officer with a stun gun, told investigators, “If he’s the commander-in-chief and the leader of our country and he’s calling for help—I thought he was calling for help. I thought we were doing the right thing.”
Jenna Ryan, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for entering the Capitol, said she went to Washington “because our president, Donald Trump, asked us to go to the march on the 6th. And he said, ‘Be there.’ So I went and I answered the call of my president.”
The attorney for Matthew Miller, who was accused of discharging a fire extinguisher at police, said his client was merely “following the directions of then-president Donald Trump.”
Lawyers for other defendants have made similar arguments, and that may be just a convenient excuse when there is no rational defense for storming the Capitol, assaulting police and destroying government property.
Individuals are responsible for their actions. However, it is evident that Trump and his acolytes fueled the crowd. Rudy Giuliani famously called for “trial by combat.” Then Trump took over and inflamed the crowd even more during his 70 minute speech.
Trump defenders like to remind me that the former president called for a “peaceful” demonstration. He did—once. Much of the rest of his speech was laced with false allegations of a stolen election, calls to action by his supporters and attacks on the media.
In re-reading the speech I found about 50 references that he claimed were election improprieties, using words like “rigged,” “illegal,” “stolen” and “stop the steal.” There were at least 15 statements that can be interpreted as meant to incite: “People aren’t going to take it any longer,” “Our country will be destroyed,” “We won’t have a country,” “Get your people to fight.”
And most notably, “And we fight, we fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
I suppose one can try to argue that the language was meant to inspire, not a call to action, and that the Proud Boys, militiamen, the Three Percenters and others were bent on violence no matter what the president said. We should learn more from the ongoing Department of Justice investigation and the House probe.
But Trump was not an innocent bystander, as he claimed in an interview last month with Fox’s Laura Ingraham. “I wasn’t involved in that and if you look at my words and what I said in the speech, they were extremely calming, actually,” he said.
Even a casual reading of his words that day suggests otherwise.