Nov 28, 2022 • 1HR 6M

The Prism Metanews Guide to January 6th - Part 3

Chapters 9-10

 
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This segment is the third of four parts that comprise this voice essay. You can find this episode on Apple Podcasts here.

Chapter 9 - The Bat Signal

Ali Alexander stepped up to the microphone. It was the evening of January 5th, a cold night, on the streets of Washington, DC. Tens of thousands had come for the big day. Trump had called them there. Alexander had helped. Behind him on stage was a banner, upon which was emblazoned the words, in all caps, “MARTIAL LAW NOW.”

For a bit of context on what Alexander had been up to since we last checked in on him, I’m going to read a quotation from a deep dive that Right Wing Watch did on him this year. Begin quote:

“Alexander spent weeks in the lead up to the Capitol insurrection calling for ‘rebellion,’ starting chants of ‘victory or death,’ and using rhetoric of the American Revolution and spiritual warfare to call for action should Congress certify the election of President Joe Biden. He engaged in violent rhetoric, appearing to even advocate for physical attacks against members of Congress who he said stole the election. 

“The Jan. 5 rally served as the penultimate event of those calls. Speakers delivered Christian nationalist messages and veiled threats of violence if Congress failed to reject Biden electors. Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox told rally-goers that the United States was on the brink of a revolution and that he would ‘take the first bullet.’” End quote.

So here was Ali Alexander, addressing the Stop the Steal mob, and he used the opportunity to once again encourage extralegal remedies to the imagined wrongs the country had been put through. With the events planned for the next day, the rhetoric could not have been intended to be metaphorical or theoretical. He wanted to see this crowd do some things. “Our government is only our government if it is legitimate,” said Alexander to the crowd. And, further: “1776 is always an option.” They were there to start “a rebellion against the Deep State,” referencing a conspiracy theory about anti-Trump forces in the federal bureaucracy and the national news media. The Trump followers in attendance joined him in chanting “Victory or death! Victory. Or death.”

In the final days before January 6th, the many machinations I talked about in parts 1 and 2 came together. We’re finally ready… for the final act.

We first rewind a bit, though, to December 19th. The primary call to action, the one that got people seriously making plans to come to the nation’s capital, was a tweet by President Donald Trump. The tweet was in two parts. First, a “boat parade logic” lie that it was “[s]tatistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election.” Second, an invitation: “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”

A lot of people saw Trump’s tweet. Some of them immediately started working to ensure the big protest, then three weeks away, would indeed be WILD. Ali Alexander went out and nabbed the website wildprotest.com, which urged visitors saying “TRUMP WANTS TO SEE YOU IN DC.” Dates paired with images signaled where the action would be and when: Jan. 5 near the White House, Jan. 6 at 9 am at the White House proper, and Jan. 6 at 1 pm at the Capitol dome.

Okay, it’s time we talk about Proud Boys, and Oath Keepers, and a smattering of lesser extremists, all bent on using force to keep Trump in power.

These militant groups saw Trump’s tweet and reacted quickly and in ways that clearly foreshadowed violence. They were going to war, and this tweet was the bugle. Some set up encrypted communications channels; many acquired protective gear. The Oath Keepers coordinated to have heavily armed “quick reaction forces” staged outside Washington, which they did in the days just before the 6th, stockpiling weapons in hotel rooms. Their communications channels got, in their words, “apocalyptic.” At the same time, Trump’s tweet kicked off a rash of right-wing threats against members of Congress, though many remain unattributed.

Within a day of the tweet, a Texan member of a militia called the Three Percenters sent pretty explicit messages in a private channel to other members. (We have the messages because he was charged, went to trial, and was convicted.) The man insisted that the group owed Trump a debt that had to be paid, and that “Our President” would need ALL of them. To do what, you ask? Well, the following day this man was figuring out how to get to DC before January 6th, which he said would be “Armageddon all day.” He would drive, he said, because they wouldn’t let him fly with all his “battle rattle.” This kind of talk was common among these extremist groups after Trump gave the green light to get there and get rowdy.

Beyond their words, there was the planning. The day after Trump’s “wild” tweet, the leaders of the Proud Boys stood up a special, hand-selected crew of what they called “real men” for action on the 6th. They dubbed this crew the Ministry of Self Defense and set up an encrypted Telegram channel for its members to coordinate. The group launched crowdfunding campaigns to pay for travel to DC and gear. For some reason, the Proud Boys leader instructed members going to wear plain clothes to blend in, not the “traditional Black and Yellow” polo shirts the group had become known for.

There was at least some degree of coordination between otherwise independent groups to help President Trump pressure Congress and be on standby in DC for his further orders. One Oath Keeper told co-militants via a Facebook post in December that there was an alliance between them, the Proud Boys, and the Florida Three Percenters with respect to January 6th. He noted that Proud Boys could be “force multipliers” to their operation. The day before the main day, leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers met together in a parking garage in DC–though what they discussed has not been reported.

For real-time communication, Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, along with Mike Flynn and Roger Stone, had a running encrypted group chat that, beginning in November, they used to plan militant action across the broader pro-Trump coalition.

One really has to ask, at this point: why were these men and women so confident about what President Trump would do? They knowingly committed serious crimes, putting themselves through extreme and legal exposure and even physical risk. Did none of them question whether their leader was as “all in” as they were? If not, why?

When the former Oath Keepers spokesman Van Tatenhove testified in July 2022, he gave a hint about the motivations of that group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes: “We have to stop mincing words... He’s a militia leader. He has grand visions of being a paramilitary leader, and the Insurrection Act would have given him a path forward to that. The fact that the president was messaging, directly or indirectly, gave him the nod.”

Few of the people who showed up when the President called knew everything that was going on. Most of the mob didn’t go into the attack thinking that Trump would declare martial law, even if they were convinced that Biden had won the presidency through subterfuge and they wanted to register their displeasure. Some clearly wanted January 6th to be a “1776 moment,” as Alexander and others had called it, and felt that violence was justified. But fewer would end up acting on that desire and belief.

The people who *did* think that the mob itself would essentially end the government that day were discussing and planning it all online for weeks before. To take two examples: the owner of a website called Washington Tunnels, which had maps of underground spaces around DC including the Capitol, became so alarmed by the spike in traffic he was seeing that he alerted the FBI’s Washington Field Office. And on Dec. 21, the intelligence arm of the Capitol Police issued a 7-page report tracking an increase in activity on TheDonald.win, where threatening references were made to trapping lawmakers in the tunnels of the Capitol. (The FBI and Department of Homeland Security also received a flood of tips about stuff happening online, though they didn’t seem to take it too seriously.)

There was at least one Republican member of Congress, Barry Loudermilk, who gave aid to elements of the mob that wanted to learn more about the passageways of the Capitol complex. On the eve of the attack, Loudermilk accompanied a group through parts of the buildings where tourists never go–and on a day when the grounds were off limits for tours! One man with that group was filmed the following day as he marched from Trump’s rally at the Ellipse across the National Mall to the Capitol. He talked openly about hunting down certain people there and giddily stabbed the air with a flag whose pole had been carved into a spear.

And, of course, as has been widely reported, someone placed pipe bombs near the headquarters of the two major political parties in downtown Washington. How that incident relates to the attack on the Capitol, however, isn’t clear.

Much more openly, though, was the push via the Internet and other means to bring masses of people to Washington to pressure Congress and the Vice President to not certify the Electoral College result. Rally planners received financial support from the Trump campaign, and at least one was reported to make use of “burner phones” to communicate with the White House and Trump’s team.

Senior people advising Trump and helping organize January 6th events set up so-called “command centers” at fancy hotels around DC. They worked constantly, for days, to push Republicans to vote against Biden’s electors. And to make ready for the mob that would soon descend.

As all this was happening, Pence was subjected to a few more last-ditch attempts by the President. The pressure on the Vice President had never been greater. On January 3rd, for example, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was told by Trump that Trump believed "the legislatures have the power but… the VP has power too." The next day, Trump asked Pence to hear out John Eastman on how he could do the thing he knew he couldn’t do. Trump asked Pence if he didn’t think it would be “cool” to have that power if the mob gathering in the streets thought he should have it. After that meeting, Trump called Bannon and told him the Vice President was being “very arrogant” in his refusals. He ordered a press release falsely claiming “total” agreement between him and Pence, over the VP team’s stringent objections.

If Pence wouldn’t be won over by the promise of adoration from the mob, maybe he could be persuaded by fear of crossing it. The plan was to march on the Capitol. The people organizing the Stop the Steal events, some of which began the night before, understood that Trump would call for people to march on the Capitol. Trump allies like Roger Stone and Alex Jones and Jason Sullivan knew, and talked openly about it in the week beforehand. Steve Bannon went on his podcast right after two phone calls with Trump and let his audience in on a little inside information about the 6th: “all hell” would break loose. President Trump even reviewed a draft tweet, never sent but preserved by presidential records custodians, that would have explicitly put the Capitol in the sights of Trump’s supporters.

Trump, buoyed by the enthusiasm and numbers of the people who showed up for him, was for the first time in weeks in good spirits the night before January 6th. On stage at a pre-game evening rally, Trump’s close advisor Peter Navarro got up and urged the crowd to go to the Capitol the next day. They would pressure Senators, he said, to “do the right thing.”

The board was set. The pieces were in motion. It was on.

Chapter 10 - Violent Overthrow

Officer Caroline Edwards watched as the gathering crowd got increasingly agitated by the minute. More people were showing up, carrying flags and chanting and getting unruly. She was there to hold the line. The mob started pushing the barricade she was defending, and angry people wearing Trump and MAGA and QAnon gear, shouting insults at her, knocked Officer Edwards down, and she fell unconscious. The attack had just begun, and would last for hours. More would be injured. Some would die.

To Donald Trump, almost anything that happened to other people would be a price he was willing to pay to not accept the simple fact that he lost the election to Joe Biden. Knowing what we now know about the leadup to January 6th, what happened next doesn’t actually seem too surprising.

To review: Trump had tried every recourse he could think of, legal and otherwise, to undo his loss. But the court cases had gone nowhere. And the DoJ and other government offices had resisted Trump’s insistence that they loyally ride to his rescue.

And Rudy hadn’t gotten state legislatures to send alternate Electoral College ballots. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though and even a couple last-ditch efforts. Text messages between staffers of Senator Ron Johnson and Vice President Mike Pence, for example, show an attempt by Johnson’s team to have the senator pass a list of Trump electors from Michigan and Wisconsin–states Biden won–to the Vice President so he could introduce them during the counting on January 6th. The VP’s staff shut down the suggestion.

As late as the morning of January 6th, Trump’s ally in the Arizona Congressional delegation Andy Biggs was pushing for some kind of fig leaf with official imprimatur that could be useful back in Washington. Representative Biggs called the speaker of the Arizona House, fellow Republican Rusty Bowers, to ask him for either a letter from the Arizona legislature calling attention to the supposed fraud in the certification of his state’s election or a statement of support for “decertifying” its Biden slate. But Bowers wouldn’t.

Now, it was down to Trump’s first, last, and best hope: that the sitting Vice President would choose to break the law and hollow out American democracy on January 6th regardless. Pence was steadfastly refusing to commit that historic crime, despite the existence of a few fake slates meant to give him cover. Persuasion had failed.

Trump would change Pence’s mind, though—or so he thought—by turning his enthused rallygoers into a mob and directing them toward where the Vice President was performing his constitutional duty. The might of the people would make Pence abandon his principles and contravene the rule of law, under the implied threat of being torn limb from limb or put under “people’s arrest” if he didn’t. It was time to try raw intimidation. It was time for implied—and actual—violence.

So here are the big pieces of the day, and we’ll walk through each in order.

First, President Trump addressed his supporters from a stage at the Ellipse in front of the White House. He got them angry about the election being stolen and told them to march to the Capitol.

Second, Trump’s supporters hiked a bit from near the White House over to the Capitol, carrying their Trump banners and, for more than a few, weapons. They arrived gradually until the crowd there was a packed mob, numbering in the thousands.

Third, the mob broke through surrounding barricades and security at the Capitol building itself and streamed through the hallways. Trump tweeted about Pence—I’ll give you one guess as to its gist—and they saw. Many of the attackers by this point were plainly hunting for Pence and members of Congress that had spoken against Trump. The joint session of Congress was suspended. Lawmakers were evacuated.

Fourth, the tide turned hours later as reinforcements came to the scene and began restoring order and expelling the invaders. Eventually Trump tweeted a video saying he loves the attackers–but wants them to go home. The Capitol empties out.

Fifth and finally, amid the mess the mob left behind, Pence and Congressional leaders reconvened and finished what they set out to do. The Constitution carried the day, if only barely.

A word here about security failures. The police, the FBI, and others charged with securing the Electoral ballot count were, undeniably, not up to the task. A whistleblower on the force later laid out some of the ways police leadership failed that day. Why they were caught unprepared is a subject of intense debate. But what we can say, looking back, is that they seem to have not taken the threat of violence seriously—even though signs of it had been evident for weeks before. There is nothing to excuse this lapse.

We have also already addressed the delay—and frustration felt by almost everyone watching this unfold on live television—in getting the National Guard to the scene. An ex-National Guard officer later came out saying generals in the chain of command lied afterwards about what happened. So where was the Guard? We still don’t have good answers. This is an important part of getting to the bottom of January 6th.

But I WOULD like to point out that arguments that the entire investigation of what happened on January 6th should be focused on these failures are missing the point, mostly on purpose. It’s victim-blaming. “They had it coming to them” because… they underestimated how far Trump’s supporters would go, and how violent things would get? Do you really want to blame Caroline Edwards for not being able to hold off a crowd that outnumbered police dozens or hundreds to one? Is it helpful to criticize other officers who were crushed by a mass of humanity while trying to do their duty to protect Congress?

If the police investigate the break-in of a jewelry store, you probably wouldn’t want them to spend a lot of time getting to the bottom of why the robbers were able to get around flawed security measures and into the building. That is something the store’s owners would ponder as they think about installing and hiring better security. But even they would agree the police should focus on who did it, and where they and the jewels are now. The crime is the break-in, not the lax security.

It’s important to realize that this isn’t even a serious argument; it’s a distraction. Why, when there is a clear aggressor and plan behind the aggression, would we only be interested in what could have been done to better defend the Capitol against Trump’s mob? It’s not a partisan witch hunt to look at the whole big picture. It IS an exercise in partisan deflection to criticize the big picture approach by saying it is looking at more than just how the authorities goofed and couldn’t prevent a determined attempt to disrupt a Congressional proceeding at the core of our system of government. The scandal is that it happened, not that we failed to stop it from happening.

So we gain very little by interrogating the narrow security question. That’s not to say we shouldn’t, but what is of the most concern is that we had a transfer of power that was less than peaceful. People were willing to use violence to stop a democratically elected leader from taking office. No matter how sincere those people were in their beliefs, police at the Capitol *shouldn’t have to fight anyone*. Yes, they couldn’t keep the mob out of the Capitol. No, that’s not really the point.

Okay, back to the morning of, and we’ll go chronologically from there.

Pretty early on, there was a vanguard group that reached the Capitol before almost anyone else. Not all who went to DC were actually there for the Trump rally. Some, who understood the assignment without that final incitement, assembled themselves near the Washington Monument on the National Mall and started over to Capitol Hill before President Trump even began speaking. These people were Proud Boys. They did what they had been planning to do, which was take up positions at key points around the Capitol security perimeter, soften them up for when the rest of the crowd came, and agitate the gathering protesters into riot mode. Thanks to the organizing of this vanguard crew, the crowd at the Capitol was unruly from the start. It wasn’t a peaceful protest that turned chaotic. It was violent from the get-go, by design.

Back on the Ellipse, people packed into the rally venue. Uniformed Secret Service officers processed about 25,000 people into the rally. More were on the periphery, closer to the Washington Monument. It was a LOT of people.

Still, some people hung back and didn’t enter the venue. They were armed, and the Secret Service magnetometers were between them and their seats. It later came out that many people had tried to bring all kinds of weapons into the rally, but the contraband was confiscated at the gate. President Trump saw from backstage that not everyone was coming in, and he wasn’t happy about it, according to an aide who was there and testified under oath about it. Trump knew he wasn’t in danger, though, and demanded that they let “his people” in even if the metal detectors went off.

It was a cold day. The rally was pretty similar to others that many of the attendees had been to. But for the Trump superfans who showed up, it isn’t hard to guess their motivation for coming to Washington, DC. They wanted to stop the steal. This was the last chance.

Fighting Words

The Trump allies and aides who rose to the microphone and addressed the rally were belligerent. Fighting words flew fast and loose, and the crowd ate it up. Speaking from the stage and wearing a bulletproof vest, warmup speaker Representative Mo Brooks told attendees that January 6th was “the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass. … Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Louder! Will you fight for America?”

As the rally was happening, but before President Trump came on stage, Mike Pence released a letter saying he would not block certification of the Electoral College. The power to choose the president, he said, belonged “to the American people, and to them alone.”

Well, that triggered President Trump. In response to concerns raised by his White House lawyers, speechwriter Stephen Miller had taken the parts about Pence out of the draft speech for the event. With Pence refusing the play ball, though, Trump put several mentions of his Vice President back into the speech. He intended for the crowd to believe that Pence was the problem—and could be the solution.

Finally, President Trump approached the dais. Following are a few excerpts from the speech he gave:

  • “We will never give up. We will never concede.”

  • “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

  • The vice president does not have “the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution.”

  • But… “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

  • “We’re going to walk down [to Capitol Hill], and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down.”

It was clear that the President wanted to be there in person as his supporters swarmed around the Capitol. But it was about a mile and a half to walk. At almost 1pm, right after finishing his remarks, Trump climbed into his car outside expecting the driver would take him up Pennsylvania Avenue to where the action was. But the Secret Service ultimately refused, and instead took the president back to his residence. Witnesses say Trump was enraged that he could not go. Like the rest of us, he would have to watch things unfold on screens.

THE CROWD MOVES

With the rally a wrap, the crowd got on its way toward the Capitol. Secret Service records since made public give a timetable of the migration and law enforcement responses:

  • By 1:15, the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) had used munitions on demonstrators at the Capitol

  • At 1:38, the White House got word that USCP was heavily engaged with demonstrators and that multiple arrests had been made

  • 2:02… USCP calls for backup, apparently for the first time; things heat up quickly now

  • Minutes later, USCP locks down the building and again requests mutual aid

  • Another few minutes go by, and now there are about 15,000 people within a block of the Capitol and USCP is pulling back from initial positions

  • At 2:15, the Capitol Building is breached

  • 2:44 pm, shots are fired inside the Capitol; the fire department tries to save the victim but she does not survive

We’ll pause a moment here to talk about Ashli Babbitt, who died on January 6th. The story of Babbitt’s death is a political flashpoint, and the pro-attack side, including Trump, have advanced an alternative version of it to serve their narrative. In the real world, Ashli Babbitt was a QAnon-believing, election-denying Trump supporter who came from across the country to be part of what Trump had sold as the makings of history, and she died rushing a makeshift barricade where officers were guarding nearby members of Congress from the hostile mob. As can be seen on video footage of the incident, the defending officer did not shoot Babbitt until she was climbing through a window that one of her fellow attackers had just broken. She and the others had been warned not to attempt to pass the barricade, but she climbed up anyway, ducked through the window frame, and was shot. The tragedy was months in the making, starting when Babbitt had been radicalized with online conspiracy theories.

Compounding this tragedy, Babbitt’s death was made into a martyrdom of sorts for the people who want to retrospectively turn what happened on January 6th into a righteous cause. So you’ll hear things about it that are untrue, for example that she was killed by agents of Nancy Pelosi simply for exercising her right to peacefully protest. Or that she was shot without warning. Misinformation like this gets people further from understanding how and why she was killed, but it can be useful if you have something other than that goal in mind. If you could get people to believe Ashli Babbitt was hunted and murdered by agents of Nancy Pelosi just because she liked Trump, then you might be able to weave a narrative wherein all of the public backlash and other consequences of perpetrating the Capitol attack was outright persecution, by power-hungry Democrats, of freedom-loving patriots. As Tucker Carlson and others have tried to do. Ashli, for my part, may you rest in peace.

At the White House, Trump knew the attack was underway. He was watching on TV. House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke with the President over the phone, describing the attack as it unfolded around him and asking him to put a stop to it.

A lot of people tried to get Trump to intervene. Friends of his. Allies of his. People who had been extremely loyal to him. People who found themselves personally in the crosshairs of the mob. People who were worried that public opinion would turn if the attack was allowed to continue.

But as late as nine minutes after the first breach of the building, Trump was still tweeting that “Pence didn’t have the courage” to blah blah blah blah blah. Ringleaders at the Capitol shouted the text of this tweet out over bullhorns to others in the crowd, and everything got even more violent.

With all this going on, the Vice President and his team were still on the premises. One of Pence’s lawyers got an email from electors scheme lawyer John Eastman, who said Pence was to blame because he failed to do “what was necessary.” This was the message Pence was being relayed from someone close to the President, while multiple entrances to thr building were being overrun by Trump’s mob, one by one. Did I mention someone built a small gallows out in front of the Capitol? Did I mention the attackers were chanting “hang Mike Pence”? Did I mention the Secret Service detail assigned to the Vice President made goodbye calls to family in case they didn’t make it out alive? There was no mystery about why the mob was there, or what they would do if they found Mike Pence.

We have nothing to suggest Trump tried to contact his VP, though it’s probably safe to assume the message would have been threatening, not comforting, if he had. The president did, however, call allies in Congress, including Senator Mike Lee of Utah (although it seems he may have been trying to reach Senator Tommy Tuberville and dialed wrong) and Congressman Jim Jordan in addition to McCarthy.

Frustratingly, more than a year later we learned that the White House phone logs show no activity at all for about seven hours on January 6th—inclusive of time the attack was happening. So at a minimum, it’s worth asking what phone or phones President Trump used to make these calls that he himself said he made. Better would be to know what he wanted from those gentlemen. But maybe we’ll never know.

Before we move on to a few particularly egregious instances of the mob doing crimes, I want to unpack a bit more on what motivated such extraordinary, extreme behavior. As we’ve touched on throughout this Guide, a lot of the attackers, including the most dangerous ones who came ready for things to GET REAL—we’re getting to them—were not cynics about Trump’s lies about the election. Quite the opposite; most had applied almost no critical thinking at all to the claims he had pushed, and even helped amplify the nonsense themselves, as true believers. Remember this the next time you are gearing up to volunteer for a violent cause!

What the world saw on January 6th, moreso even than before, was the result of brains poisoned by misinformation and conspiracy theories. Let’s talk about how we know.

For one thing, no small number of the attackers who were later arrested have built their courtroom defense around explaining that election misinformation took them in. One rioter described himself as having been sucked into a rabbit hole of election lies and told the judge that he thought Trump had authorized the Capitol assault.

Another tried to argue that listening to Alex Jones’s conspiracy theory show, InfoWars, was the reason he started going to Trump rallies, which…  well, one thing led to another, and before you know it you’re breaking into the U.S. Capitol.

The stories get downright delusional from there. One man thought he was following Trump’s orders when he stole liquor and a coat rack from inside the Capitol. You had guys wearing clothes emblazoned with “Q” icons leading the charge and confronting police. One, the person who chased Officer Eugene Goodman up flights of stairs in that viral video, was so confused he thought he was invading the White House, not the Capitol.

Then there was the so-called QAnon Shaman, who we met earlier at the Arizona stop the steal demonstration, figuring prominently in photographs taken inside the Senate chamber with tattoos on display, red white and blue makeup on his face, decked out in animal skins and horns, an American flag zip-tied to his signature spear. Chansley left a note for the Vice President on the dais inside the chamber, where Pence had been sitting just moments before, saying "it's only a matter of time, justice is coming."

The shaman’s name is Jacob Chansley, and his conspiracy tie-in was so out there that it actually wrapped back around the other way. His fellow Q devotees, seeing that his ostentatious posing and immediate arrest was being pilloried in the public eye, expelled him from their ranks. While he was paying time for his crimes, the rest of the online QAnon community started telling one another that he had been hired as an actor to make them look bad. He was a plant now that he had been caught.

There really is no way to understand January 6th without comprehending the mindset of the people who swarmed the Capitol, and just how warped their reality had become. Each of us should take from this at least one important lesson: that it is your responsibility to diversify the information you take in, and to be harder to convince when it comes to the most dramatic things that people around you are saying. Ask what your companions believe to be true, and make yours a voice that pushes back when those beliefs are not in line with reality. The wilder the assertion, the more skepticism is in order. It sounds simple, but enough people practicing good media literacy habits could have prevented the whole affair on January 6th, and certainly could have spared many from alienating their families, going to prison for a false cause, or even being killed rushing police to get to lawmakers.

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

Violence and other kinds of lawlessness were rampant during the Capitol attack. Way more than you might see during a “normal tourist visit,” to be sure. If you’ve seen videos or reports on January 6th, you may have had a window onto some of it. But whatever you think it is, it’s probably more. I also can’t do justice to all of it here, though there are several helpful rundowns by Just Security and others. Hundreds of the rioters have gone to jail, charged with a range of crimes.

  • there is video evidence of at least 1,000 instances of the mob assaulting police officers; some were exceptionally brutal; many involved weapons

  • rioters physically attacked at least one member of the news media

  • countless destruction of property incidents happened on the premises, including windows, doors, office furniture, and more

  • nonviolent crimes were also committed, including demonstrating without a permit, trespassing, unauthorized entry to a government building, and obstruction of a Congressional proceeding

From court filings after the fact, collected by reporter Scott MacFarlane, we have gotten a clearer picture of the weaponry that the attackers carried to the Capitol. Guns, bear spray, hockey stick, baseball bat, taser, sharpened flagpole, knives, scissors, plastic knuckles, lacrosse stick, Tomahawk ax, Tree Branch, Pipe, Stick, Baton, Crutch, Club, Steel-toed boots, Four foot rod, Metal whip, sledgehammer, "Poles with nails in them," pitchfork, “electroshock weapon," wasp spray, RAID insecticide, WD-40, crow bar, hard-knuckle tactical gloves. They used fire extinguishers and stolen police shields and and stolen police batons and dismantled police barricades and velvet rope stands and flashlights and scooters and full cans of beer and coffee tumblers and trash cans and buckets and bottles and laser pointers and strobe lights and wooden table legs and skateboards as weapons. Perhaps most emblematic among the makeshift weapons was the group that assaulted police officers with a large, metal-framed TRUMP sign turned horizontally.

These are incomplete lists. But you get the idea. Here I’m going to read from a court document describing one of the incidents of gang-like assault against the police. In this case, an officer defending the arched doorway on the western side of the Capitol:

“9. Hundreds of individuals had gathered outside the Archway, some of whom were throwing and/or swinging various makeshift weapons at the group of law enforcement officers. Starting at approximately 4:27 pm, Officer A.W. was positioned toward the opening of the Archway when co-defendant Justin Jersey charged at Officer A.W., grabbing his face, and knocking Officer A.W. to the ground. While Officer A.W. was lying on the ground of the Archway, the defendant climbed over a railing and began striking at Officer B.M. with a crutch. The defendant then kicked at Officer A.W., who was still lying on the ground.

“10. The defendant grabbed Officer B.M., first by his baton, then by the helmet and the neck of his ballistic vest, pulled him down, over Officer A.W., and started to drag him down a set of steps in a prone position. Assisted by co-defendants Jeffrey Sabol and Logan Barnhart, the defendant then dragged Officer B.M. fully into the crowd, where other rioters, including co- defendants Peter Stager and Mason Courson, beat B.M. with weapons, including a flagpole and a baton.

“11. As a result of this attack, Officer B.M. sustained bruising and abrasions.

“12. Approximately 20 minutes later, at 4:48 pm, the defendant walked up to the line

of police officers in the Archway and kicked at them. Someone standing between the defendant and the police line yelled at the defendant and others to stop. Instead, seconds later, the defendant ran back to the line of police officers, kicked them, striking a riot shield held by MPD Officer D.P., and shouted ‘you’re gonna die tonight.’” 

Now, since this always comes up when someone talks about the January 6th rioters’ crimes, yes: there was also lawlessness in the summer of 2020, on the margins of the peaceful Black Lives Matters protests around the country. Here’s a simple way to maintain your integrity on this aspect of American society: just say everyone who breaks the law should be held accountable. I didn’t make excuses for people vandalizing courthouses, starting fires, or looting after George Floyd was killed, so I don’t feel obliged to respond to whataboutism from those who don’t like hearing about January 6th violence. Even if they were the same (they’re not, in just so many ways). I insist on being allowed to say crimes committed during both should be punished.

In case anyone is genuinely wondering why the BLM protest criminals weren’t punished, though… it turns out that many, many actually were. There are a few good explainers on how the law was enforced in those cases, by the Associated Press, USA Today, and others—just search “blm protesters charged.” Even the whatabout argument here is based on a gross mischaracterization of reality, because thousands of lawbreakers and rioters were arrested during the BLM marches, and more than 300 federal charges were brought against dozens of people for serious crimes, and many have been convicted and gone to jail. One woman got five years for arson in Seattle. The young man who set fire to a Minneapolis police station is serving four years AND has to pay a $12 million fine when he gets out. I could go on. If anyone brings up BLM protests with the suggestion that there were no consequences, now at least you know better.

Let’s talk about the defenders. In apparently isolated incidents, a police officer here and there did encourage the protesters in their advance. One went so far as to open up a barricade and let them through unchallenged. Some have suggested widespread complicity, that Trump-supporting cops corruptly allowed and encouraged the whole thing to take place, but that isn’t at all the case.

In the chaos of the scene in and around the Capitol on January 6th, heroic police officers on duty tried desperately to hold their ground. The mob hurled insults at them and accused them of betraying their country because they were on the side of the law and not the side of Trump. They sustained far too many injuries.

If you know what happened on January 6th, this picture is easy to see. And it’s why the confusion surrounding it can be so frustrating. Good folks, people who normally support law enforcement, find themselves wrongly calling “BS” on the eyewitness accounts of the police officers who bore the brunt of the assault. When things get distorted to the point where you are sure every officer who speaks out about being attacked is lying and has probably betrayed their oath, it’s time to reassess.

The days and weeks following the mob attack on the Capitol saw affected police officers speaking to the press, testifying in front of Congress, resigning their jobs, and suing Donal Trump for the physical and emotional traumas they endured because of his actions.

At least four officers on duty that day took their own lives in the aftermath. In true conspiracy theory fashion, outlandish tales about shadowy forces murdering these officers and making it look like suicide then added to the pain their families have suffered. Appalling and disgusting. And, again, could have been avoided with better information diets, critical thinking, and other media literacy habits.

We unfortunately have still not even come to the most dangerous parts of the Capitol attack. There was the rabble, and then there were the people who came with a purpose and a plan. These men and women didn’t waste time with displays of Trumpiness; they were on a mission to use force to keep Trump in office. Armored up, armed, with comms channels, contingency plans, and weapons caches. So let’s do a brief recap of what we covered earlier about these paramilitary elements and then talk about how they spent their day on January 6th.

Militant groups and Second Amendment enthusiasts including several state chapters of the Oath Keepers, a large contingent of Proud Boys, some Three Percenters, some First Amendment Praetorians, and others saw Donald Trump’s tweet about the January 6th rally as a clarion call. An order, really, from the Commander-in-Chief they fancied themselves loyal to. President Trump was in need of their support, and by golly they would be there to give it. That tweet kicked off a flurry of planning and preparation for the “wild” day, on which they believed Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act–and that *they* would be instruments in carrying out his wishes.

These men and women would be ready to make citizens arrests of any who opposed Trump. They would move to take control of federal buildings around the Capitol as the normal operation of America’s government was suspended to create time for Biden states to reconsider and flip their vote to Trump instead. Not unlike many of the others who trespassed at the Capitol, these would-be enforcers were deep into the collective MAGA delusion Trump and his allies had induced about a stolen election. In their minds, extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures. They would “make America great” by stealing the White House back from the usurpers.

The problem with all of this, as should have been clear at the time, is that doing all these things–and planning with multiple people across state lines to do them–amounts to seditious conspiracy against the United States. Historic criminal acts. The simplest way to explain their willingness to engage in them is that they probably just believed it would work and Trump would remain president. 

These groups were not working in isolation. They were working together, though not necessarily coordinating every detail. Kelly Meggs, a member of the Oath Keepers, told his colleagues in December that there was an “alliance” between their group, the Proud Boys, and the Florida Three Percenters. He suggested the Proud Boys could be “force multipliers.”

Okay, so what were these folks up to at the zero hour? Well, we’ve noted that plainclothes Proud Boys volunteered themselves to be first arrivers at checkpoints around the Capitol building. By analyzing video footage, reporters have shown that Proud Boys are the ones who led the attacks on police and encouraged others in the mob to follow suit. They were short at least one man. Enrique Tarrio, who had been inside the White House on December 14th, was arrested in DC as he was coming into town for the January 6th festivities because he had high-capacity firearm magazines on his person and had been banned from the city. But Proud Boys played a central role in the breach of the building. Dominic Pezzola of Rochester, New York was the Proud Boy who used a police shield to smash a reinforced window to gain entry, circumventing a nearby locked door. There is a good amount of video of the Proud Boys doing these things and more, including from a filmmaker who followed them around all day with their permission. It’s like they wanted to record the history they were making.

What were the Proud Boys after? How did they see this playing out? We know part of the answer thanks to later court filings that laid out evidence including the group’s communications. Text messages between Tarrio and another individual at the very end of December indicate the plan was to make 1776 happen by occupying the House and Senate and other “crucial buildings” with “as many people as possible.” In separate, encrypted messages, the group planned to make the Capitol’s front entrance their main approach. Seeing the Capitol breached, Tarrio crowed on Telegram: “we did this.” It could be the Proud Boys believed a delay was all that was needed to achieve the objective: one messaged Tarrio to suggest the election result could be invalidated if lawmakers failed to vote by midnight.

More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members, or associates. 18 of them have since been charged with seditious conspiracy.

In contrast to the chaotic street-fighting style of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers took a somewhat more methodical approach. Former military and law enforcement types who own tactical gear and organize themselves loosely after the likeness of the army, a small detachment of Oath Keepers moved in formation through the mob, up the steps, and into the Capitol after it had been breached. They took up positions inside the building to await orders from the boss.

Here’s how a paper published by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center described the Oath Keepers in December 2021:

Since its inception in 2009, the group has used a warped sense of patriotism, loose enforcement of laws surrounding paramilitary activity, and America’s founding revolutionary spirit to justify anti-government mobilization. It consistently walked the edge of political violence before taking part in the January 6 insurrection. While the group claims to be “guardians of the republic,” its principal target is the government itself—particularly entities representing perceived federal government overreach and vectors for tyrannical forces to suppress Americans’ natural rights.

The Oath Keepers fancied themselves the paramilitary wing of the Trump effort to keep him in place. Between January 5th and 6th they provided security to Roger Stone and a member of Congress or two. The reasons they were asked to do this are not clear, but their lawyers have since argued that protecting Stone and others was their reason for coming to DC, so maybe that was just the cover for their true intent, which they communicated repeatedly among themselves. Before the failed attempt to stop the Electoral College being certified, they conspired to "oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power," according to a court filing, and to do that had amassed firearms "on the outskirts of Washington D.C. — some distributed across hotels and ‘quick reaction force’ (‘QRF‘) teams — and planned to use them in support of their plot to halt the lawful transfer of power."

What did Oath Keepers believe that could lead them to justify such extreme actions against the legitimately elected government of the country they swore to defend? Simple: they thought Biden had usurped the presidency through electoral fraud. The Oath Keepers had their brains poisoned the same as millions of other Trump supporters. They were all on the same mission. Here’s Stewart Rhodes, on November 15th, less than two weeks after the election:

I think about half this country won’t recognise Biden as legitimate. They won’t recognise this election. What that means is that everything that comes out of his mouth will be considered not of any force or effect, anything he signs into law we won’t recognise as legitimate. We’ll be very much like the founding fathers. We’ll end up nullifying and resisting.

Looking ahead to that future, after Trump made clear he would fight to stay in power Rhodes apparently calculated that helping him do so would be the best course of action. He and his team came up with a plan and started working to make it real. Central to the plan, according to Rhodes two weeks beforehand, was intent to scare and intimidate Congress. He is alleged to have said on Christmas Day that Oath Keepers would convince lawmakers that “it will be torches and pitchforks time if they don’t do the right thing.”

On January 6th, a crew of 30-40 Oath Keepers, according to their Zello chat, had assembled outside the Capitol along with the rally crowd around 1pm, ready to “stick to the plan.” Some were getting impatient, saying that Pence was “doing nothing” and, at 1:48pm, that all Trump was doing was “complaining” and that patriots were getting ready to take things into their own hands.

I mentioned the Quick Reaction Force stations just outside the city. Well, by this time these hotel rooms had been provisioned by Oath Keepers who in the days leading up brought weapons and ammunition on buses from North Carolina and elsewhere, and now they were on alert, according to court filings. In messages between themselves and other militia groups, Oath Keepers had shared a map of DC and designated rally points on the DC side of the Potomac River that would be activated to stage arms and additional people in case civil unrest broke out.

On the Oath Keepers website, Rhodes was clear: the QRF teams would be ready for a scenario in which President Trump called them up “as part of the militia” to assist him with force inside the District of Columbia. The plan even included having a boat prepared and the Quick Response Team and heavy weapons standing by to be ferried “across the river to our waiting arms.” Thank goodness none of that happened, but it is horrifying to contemplate how nearly it did.

Minutes after saying patriots had decided to act without waiting for Trump, the first Oath Keepers breached Capitol barricades at 1:52 and worked their way toward the entrance. Separately, another squad of Oath Keepers cart jacked two electric vehicles they found on the premises—their memorable phrase on the group chatter was “we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart”—and livestreamed themselves swerving around police vehicles on Facebook. They were coming, according to one, because DC Police were perpetrating “violence against patriots” and there was “war in the streets” as patriots were storming the Capitol.

Meanwhile, the main group formed themselves into a “stack” and worked themselves up through the crowd to the east entrance. Around 2:45, these Oath Keepers had breached the entrance and were inside the Capitol Rotunda, the space underneath the dome in the center of the building. The first to enter was William Todd Wilson, who later admitted under oath that he, armed with a pocketknife, was there to gather intelligence and disrupt the final certification of the Electoral College count.

From the Rotunda, some Oath keepers went the direction of the Senate chambers. Some went toward the House. A couple peeled off to go into restricted sections on the west side of the building. But the Senate advance was pushed back, and not long after saw the first Oath Keepers exiting back outside. Another stack came in, including some of the golf cart crew from before, right as the first stack was leaving. These Oath Keepers stayed inside fighting police in the Rotunda and entrance lobby until a little after 3:30. At 4, a large group assembled northeast of the building. Leader Stewart Rhodes retreated to the nearby Phoenix Park Hotel, where he called someone he thought could get a message to President Trump and repeatedly asked that Trump deputize the Oath Keepers to block the transition of power before the opportunity passed them by. The request was not granted.

Later that evening, Rhodes and some of the other Oath Keepers celebrated with some unlimited breadsticks at the Olive Garden in Tysons Corner in Virginia. He suggested to his confederates that they would be at it again the following day, perhaps not realizing that the certification would be a done deal by then. Congress would have more resolve than he expected and would regroup that very night.

Why did the Oath Keepers leave well before the rest of the mob? Is there a reason the Quick Reaction Force plan was not activated even though major civil unrest had broken out, or was it simply because President Trump never asked for the militias to help? What kinds of things were Oath Keepers saying to one another during the assault? I have questions. When the Oath Keepers are taken to trial for seditious conspiracy, we will hopefully get more answers.

There are others who LARPed as military operators among the crowd and inside the Capitol, like the guy dressed head to toe in tactical gear photographed jumping over a railing in the Senate chamber gallery with about a half dozen zip ties in his left hand, that we could also talk about if we had the time. In the interest of moving things along, though, let’s skip some of the minor characters and get back to the main story: Pence.

With a mob of thousands bearing down on them, and paramilitary types in the mix, those inside the Capitol had reason to fear. And one man in particular did, because Trump had told everyone that he, and he alone, could make all their wildest dreams come true–though he actually could not, in any way.

Let this sink in for a second: the Vice President of the United States could have died on January 6th, at the hands of members of his own political party, supporters of the President he served for four years. We’ve already covered how the mob erected a gallows on the Capitol lawn, and how many of those pouring in through broken windows and doors pried open were chanting about hanging Pence. Imagine what that must have felt like for the VP and his team with him on site.

Remember that Mike Pence had to be there at the Capitol with the Congress, because it was his job. It’s one of the few things the Constitution actually says about the position of Vice President. Here’s how it works: the states certify a slate of electors for the person who won the most votes in that state. Challenges to the outcome, including recounts, are resolved before the certification. The Constitution says the states each transmit their “list” under seal to the “Seat of Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate.” The VP is the President of the Senate, and the next step is for that officer to “open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.”

I honestly don’t understand why there is ANY confusion about this. As we’ve covered above, the other interpretations were pretty obviously nonsense in the legal and practical senses. Pence was duty bound to ceremoniously open the electoral college submissions from the states. There is no wiggle room for him to so much as comment on their acceptability—to say nothing of reject them, entertain other slates not so certified, or even delay the counting. Go and read it yourself if you have a question about it. The passage is short and reasonably clear.

So that’s what Mr. Pence was about. The session of Congress to do the opening and the counting was interrupted by this point in our story, but it’s what he and they were working on when the attack happened. The mob *intended* to interrupt it.

This delay had consequences, and they could have been far more serious. The masterminds in Trump’s various hotel “war rooms”—characters like John Eastman, Steve Bannon, and Rudy Giuliani—had been pushing Pence to waver in his refusal to stand in the way of Biden becoming President. With this show of force backing them up, they continued to tell Pence’s team that he was to blame for the violence.

Meanwhile, the people with Pence were sounding alarms about the ongoing physical danger as the attack raged on. His staff had warned him and the security detail that President Trump would turn on him publicly, with obvious implications in the presence of a loyal, angry Trump mob. Members of the Secret Service assigned to protect Pence contacted loved ones to say goodbye because they weren’t confident they would survive the afternoon.

Ultimately Mike Pence was not hanged, or even harmed. There have been reports that he refused to get in a Secret Service vehicle that came for him for fear of being whisked away so others could carry out the coup in his absence, but the details aren’t terribly clear for now. Regardless, there is no reason to think the Secret Service was going to turn Pence over to the mob for them to administer justice in their way. If that driver and team were in on the plot, surely the point was to simply take him off the board, and this could have been accomplished without bloodshed—if he hadn’t gotten spooked. Pence remained at the Capitol throughout the afternoon and evening. 

All the while, the attackers marauded inside and around the Capitol. But it became clear that the quarry they sought had been whisked or hidden away, and there’s only so much sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office, waving the Confederate flag, leaving threatening notes, rifling through drawers, grabbing laptops, hefting lecterns just for the fun of it, chanting, taking selfies, and defecating in hallways that a mob can do. They had worked hard to overwhelm security, but eventually reinforcements arrived and started clearing rooms and pushing the mob back.

It was at this point, after the momentum had shifted from the attackers to the defenders, that Trump tweeted a video addressing his followers. The time was 4:17, and almost everyone Trump knew and trusted had been begging him to tell the mob to disband and leave the Capitol for two hours. He finally did so.

Here’s what the President of the United States had to say about a major violent attack on the United States.

  • I know your pain, I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don't want anybody hurt.

  • It's a very tough period of time. There's never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.

  • I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.

Notice how Trump expresses no concern for the damage caused, or the people already hurt, or the interruption of Congress, or the threatening of his Vice President. He does not admonish the mob for being wrong—far from it, he reinforces their beliefs in multiple places. “An election was stolen from us. It was a landslide election… this was a fraudulent election… I know how you feel.” The President was asking for a peaceful end to the violent incident he inspired, which is good. What wasn’t so good was that he in no way renounced the false cause for which his people had fought. They lost the battle, and probably missed their final chance to avert a Biden presidency, but the war would continue.

This would be a good time to review Trump’s other tweets from that day. In order, starting in the middle of the night, according to a Newsweek roundup of them:

12:53 a.m.: President Donald Trump tweets that Republicans need to "get smart" and "fight" alongside a post suggesting GOP members of Congress should "got to the wall for the president."

1:00 a.m.: Trump suggests Mike Pence has the authority to reject electoral votes in a tweet about the vice president's role presiding over the certification.

8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets that states want to "correct their votes" and calls for Pence to "send them back to the states." He tells Pence it's "time for extreme courage."

2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets that Pence "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution."

2:38 p.m.: Trump urges people to "support our Capitol police and law enforcement," and tweets that "they are truly on the side of our country. Stay peaceful!"

Pausing here to add that the Oath Keepers, inside the Capitol at this moment, interpreted this tweet to mean it was open season on members of Congress and egged one another on to find some in their voice chat.

3:13 p.m.: Trump posts on Twitter that he's asking people at the Capitol to "remain peaceful" and not engage in violence: "Remember, we are the party of law and order–respect the law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!"

4:17 p.m.: Trump posts video of himself speaking to supporters telling them to leave the Capitol.

Pausing HERE to note that several more incidents of egregious violence happened after this video posted, including the assault on police at the Archway at 4:27 pm that I read out above, though this can probably be explained by limited bandwidth for streaming video up there and the difficulty of hearing Trump’s words if you did. The way most of the mob had learned of his tweets throughout the day was by people reading them out over bullhorn.

6:01 p.m.: Trump tweets a post suggesting that the Capitol riot was the result of a fraudulent election. "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!" he says before deleting the tweet.

To note: this was the post that tipped the platforms over toward suspending Trump from reaching people on their websites with election-related misinformation. Within an hour, Facebook and Twitter had removed this and his other posts and frozen his accounts.

It took a while for the invaders to leave and be cleared from the interior. Slowly, the crowd outside dispersed. Some headed back home. A few huddled in their hotels and pondered what Trump might do the next day.

The Capitol Police didn’t declare the building secure until 8:00 pm. Six minutes later, the Senate had reconvened, followed by the House at 9:00 pm. The Congress worked well into the dark morning of January 7th, dispatched challenges to Arizona’s electors along the way, and got the certification done.

Pence, running the session, allowed for statements to be made before the vote eventually took place. This was where you saw many Republican lawmakers take their one and only stand against President Trump for inciting the attack. But allowing this could be seen as a violation of the Electoral College Act because the speeches pushed the time past the proscribed two-hour limit. John Eastman—bizarrely after it was clear Pence was not looking for an excuse to help the attempt—jumped on that decision to AGAIN agitate for the Vice President to send electors back to the states. Pence had said the Electoral College Act was a reason he could not do Trump’s bidding, and now he had broken the Electoral College Act. Might as well go ahead and dispense with that law altogether now, according to Eastman at this late hour. Logic!

Of course we all know how the day ended. The certified vote became official-official despite the mob’s attempt to prevent or delay it and John Eastman’s heckling. The Capitol looked as though it had been sacked by an invading army, and it was a little later than it should have been, but Congress got the job done.

Importantly for our aim to differentiate the true from the untrue, though, the gaslighting about and rewriting of January 6th had already begun. 

From the start, the lies took advantage of everyday Trump supporters’ shock that people on their side could have done such a thing. And disbelief that Trump, who loves America so much, could have encouraged it. The easiest play for the propagandists was to pin blame on someone else.

And so it was that the fairy tale “antifa did the insurrection” was born into the world. Antifa here being a shorthand for militant leftists of all kinds, a go-to bogeyman for Republicans whenever lawlessness is done or perceived.

To be clear: this was not antifa, or leftists at all, or in fact anyone other than genuine fans of Donald Trump. There is no evidence to suggest Democrats or Marxists or BLM or the deep state moved about the crowd and stirred them up to anger, agitating good people to break the law so they would make Trump and his movement look bad.

Head Oath Keeper Stewart Rhodes, over private comms at the height of the attack told his colleagues, who had asked if it was people in disguise there to “cause trouble,” that it was ACTUAL patriots—supporters of the President—who had made their moment of triumph happen. The reward he got from his one-time allies for fighting for Trump? Media personality Lara Logan and others called Rhodes himself a fed plant trying to turn public opinion against real patriots.

Still, this fairy tale was later tried as a legal defense in at least one instance, but it failed because no video could be produced of peaceful protesters being incited to do violence.

Having no evidence, unfortunately, wasn’t seen as a problem for these bad faith accusers, who started saying exactly these kinds of things. Rumors of busloads of antifa rolling into the city before the attack surfaced—the buses story is a familiar one in conservative circles, so its emergence here kind of makes sense. On the floor of the House that night Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida cited an invented analysis that facial recognition technology had supposedly cross-checked identities and spotted several antifa people inside the building, masquerading as Trump supporters. Fox News—whose hosts were texting Trump and co. during the attack to make it stop—was soon running with the antifa narrative.

Tucker Carlson told his viewers that a man on the front lines at the Capitol—in red face paint and a “Keep America Great” hat—was really an agent provocateur in disguise. A fed to set up the false flag. The man has nothing to do with the federal government, but he is (or was) a fan of Tucker Carlson.

For people who don’t appreciate how easily these lies are ginned up, it started to feel like there was a lot of substance to what—in reality—was a factually bankrupt counternarrative to confuse them about what had really happened.

How effective was this rapid response disinformation and the reinforcement it was afforded in the year and a half to follow? A YouGov survey conducted in June 2022 found that about three-quarters of Republicans say “leftists” deserve blame for the attack. This is roughly three times the percentage who blame Trump.

These early narratives were to be embellished and expanded upon, and combined with new nonsense, as the propagandists came up with it. We are well on our way to seeing how Americans have been purposely misled about the story of the Capitol attack—and what Trump wanted Pence to do, and the fake electors scheme, and Trump’s attempts to use the Justice and Defense Departments to reverse his loss, and the people who criminally gained unauthorized access to voting machines, and how insincerely Sidney Powell believes in the Kraken when speaking under oath. And, surreally, still, even about which candidate won the 2020 election.

January 6th has rippled through our society, and misinformation about all of these aspects has in most ways strengthened, not diminished. In the next installment, I will attempt to answer the questions, “how has the legend of January 6th changed”? and “how has it changed us?” Implications and aftermath, in our fourth and final part.