I watched the event in real time. 6 January 2021, I was spending about half of each day working from home and that morning, I was running late. Mr. Trump was still claiming he'd been snookered out of the Presidency and Congress was going to sit down and made an official count of the Electoral College vote. I figured I'd stay home until the counting was done
; surely even Donald Trump would accept the official result and politics could return to normal. Memory persists
. Amid ongoing pandemic-related weirdness, that day marks the end of "normal" for me.
TV coverage of the Trump-aligned rally on the Ellipse was ongoing. Coming up on one p.m., then-President Trump told the attendees, "...And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you, we're going to walk down, we're going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we're going to walk down to the Capitol, and we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong...."*
Things started to go off the rails about that time, as violence began to break out. Live TV coverage of a large and growing crowd at the U. S. Capital climbing steps and walls, moving aside barricades with varying levels of conflict with police, beginning to force doors and break windows.
Sergei Eisenstein has much to answer for with his dramatized version
of the Soviet storming of the Winter Palace, all blood, thunder, explosions and smoke. An armed and essentially military operation, the actual event was not nearly as exciting. Nevertheless, the official Soviet version is what lingers in popular imagination, the foundation for what we think an insurrection or armed coup must look like.
Once the January 6 mob was inside the Capitol
, they did everything from break doors and clash with police to mill around in a more or less peaceful manner; camera shots available to the TV networks at the time showed the confusion. Eisenstein it was not. Pick the right set of images, ignore that the rioters had broken into a closed building and put Congress to flight and hey, there are periods in which they do look mostly like tourists, give or take flags, signs, a few helmets and other bits of military-looking or frankly bizarre kit.
That does not change what happened. Commentators on Fox can stitch together carefully selected snippets of video and show whatever they want, but the damage to people, institutions and the building remains. The harm is real. Intervals of peaceful-looking behavior once their intended victims are out of reach left a lot of scope for violence, and violence was indeed done. Senators, Representatives, the Vice-President, their staffs, Secret Service and Capitol Police were threatened and some were harmed. The process of Constitutional government was halted.
At the time, I was concerned that the insurrection would spread, that this gang of yahoos and nitwits had managed to screw up Federal government so badly that some kind of civil war would follow. I realized that I was on the side of the Federal government. Despite all of its flaws and failings -- and they are many -- it's better than the alternative. If you want to know what "Burn it all down" looks like, go look up how things were in Russia after the October Revolution, especially during the six years of civil war that followed.
Let's not do that. Especially let's not do so based on the efforts of a second-rate TV commentator to keep his ratings high, or so a spineless Speaker of the House can try to maintain flimsy control of a fickle, fractious and thin majority.
* He was, in fact, not with them. He's all over the place in the speech, everything from urging listeners to "peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard," to telling them, "We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore." You can take from that anything you like, from a suggestion to have a lovely sit-in to exhortation for armed and violent riot. And you can read the whole speech for yourself.