The congressional inquiry into the far right assault on the US Capitol in Washington on 6 January 2021 is even more of a show than usual. It was set up by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. The Republican leaderships in both houses of Congress refused to cooperate and stopped the Senate from participating. Only a few Republican representatives are taking part—notably Liz Cheney, daughter of George W Bush’s vice-president. Congressional hearings are usually designed to advance the careers of those mounting them, but this one will probably finish Cheney’s.
Its aim is to destroy Donald Trump, preferably by laying the basis for criminal charges. Cheney said Trump “summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack”. Even if this fails, the inquiry aims “to make a difference at the ballot box,” according to ex-ambassador Norman Eisen. “They needed to show that the 2022 and 2024 elections are going to be referendums on whether we want our country to go the way of democracy or Trumpery.” The evidence on show at the first day of the hearing last Thursday was devastating. Most powerful was a film that assembled all sorts of footage taken on 6 January, including from security and police body cameras.
It showed two far-right organisations, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, rallying paramilitary contingents to mount a coordinated assault on the Capitol. There is also footage showing the leaders of the two groups meeting in a parking garage beforehand. The main film also shows how the fascists on the ground coordinated with the speech Trump was making at the “Stop the Steal” rally nearby. In particular, they echoed the demands he was putting repeatedly on his vice-president Mike Pence.
Pence was chairing a special session of Congress inside the Capitol to certify the results of the November 2020 election, which Joe Biden had won. Trump wanted Pence to halt this process and allow him to continue as president. We see the well-equipped far right columns overwhelming the outnumbered and disorganised police. But we don’t see much of what happened inside. Maybe the first impression of a confused mob uncertain what to do with their success was correct. Maybe they and Trump expected Pence immediately to cave in.
Instead, the US national security state, which had allowed the fascists to penetrate the Capitol, finally kicked in. They evacuated the Congress session and protected Pence and the senators and representatives. And, after some bureaucratic to- and fro-ing, they cleared the Capitol of the invaders. The Congress reconvened later that day and confirmed Biden’s victory. Whatever complicity with Trump and the fascists there was in the lower echelons of the national security apparatus, there seems to have been little sympathy from the top.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said to his aides while he watched Trump’s speech, “This is a Reichstag moment. The gospel of the Fuhrer.” But if the 6 January hearings are giving a much clearer picture of what happened, they are unlikely to finish Trump. The official Republican boycott of the hearings reflects his continuing huge influence on the party. The leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers have been charged with sedition, but their organisations are active at the Republican base. And Cheney faces a difficult re-election campaign in her home state of Wyoming.
The Washington Post reports, “Wyoming’s Republican Party has been slowly taken over by conservatives who identify more as Trump supporters than Republicans. The state party is now led by Frank Eathorne, a member of the Oath Keepers who stood on the Capitol’s West Front during the insurrection, walkie-talkie in hand.” According to Joe McGinley, a former local Republican official, “This was planned over several years, very organised and very dedicated. And they had a long-term goal to take first, the county parties, then the state party, then the legislature, and then all of the other elected positions.” For the far right, 6 January was just the beginning. This isn’t over.