Jan 6 Capitol
The riot on the US Capitol took place on January 6, 2021, as Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election Image Credit: Gulf News

The American establishment likes to describe what happened on 6 January 2021 in the Capitol Hill as merely ‘an insurrection’, a spontaneous mutiny by an angry crowd. However, what actually took place on that day was nothing but a coup attempt.

The establishment may want to pretend, and is hoping to convince the world, that it was just mob violence, instigated by a provocative speech earlier on that day by former president Donald Trump. The fact though is that it was not as spontaneous as many may would like to pretend. It was a pre-planned and coordinated effort to change the system — the right terminology for this effort is coup d’état. And it was not a first in US history either.

It all happened on live TV. As the special joint session of Congress was about to begin to certify the electoral votes to formalise the victory of Joe Biden in the Presidential elections, hundreds of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, seeking to disrupt the session and overturn the election results. The Capitol, the seat of the US power, was locked down and lawmakers and staff were evacuated, while the mob assaulted police officers, vandalised the offices and eventually occupied the entire complex for several hours. Five people were killed, including police officers, and hundreds injured.

As we all watched the bizarre scenes in horror, Trump must have been congratulating himself as he happily watched the attack on the large screen in the White House dining room, we later learnt. I myself, like many others, hoped the attack was just the result of emotions ran high, an adrenalin rush fuelled by a charged and provocative speech by Trump titled ‘Stop the Steal’- in reference to his wild claim that he had won the election but was fraudulently robbed in favour of Biden.

I hoped the attack on the Capitol was just that, an isolated attack, because any dent in the US democratic system is not good for the world. You might like the US, you might hate it, but there is no denying that a stable and strong US democracy is a must for the world. Imagine a world in which the US no is no longer what it is today. It will be chaos. What incentive for other regimes to commit to democratic principles when the US itself abandons the Lincoln principle; “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. It will certainly be a world full of authoritarian regimes.

The ideals of the US are universal necessity. One of those ideals is the constitutional, peaceful rotation pf power through the ballot. Trump tried in every way with all his power and money to change that. In political science, that’s called an attempted coup.

Despite the strength and the stability of America’s 200-year-old democracy, there have instances where some sort of attempted coup or a preconceived effort to disrupt the system, and at least once some historians point at as a successful coup, certified by the US apex court.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was one of the most direct attempts to overthrow a sitting president. A lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine veteran, was named as Kennedy’s assassin. However, the motive remains one of the US modern history’s great mysteries. A congressional commission report failed to shed light on if there has been a wider plot in the assassination.

Less than 40 years later, on 12 December 2000, the US Supreme Court in a narrow majority decision (5-4), reversed an order by the Florida Supreme Court for a selective manual recount of that state’s US presidential election ballots. The decision essentially awarded Florida’s decisive 25 Electoral College votes, and the presidency, to the Republican candidate George W. Bush. Till today, many believe that the Democratic candidate, former Vice-President Al Gore, was the true winner.

Historian Andre Gunder Frank, in a 2003 essay ‘Coup d’etat in Washington: Silent Surrender in America and the World’, concluded that “Bush’s accession to the presidency was in violation to the constitution. In the end he was not elected but was selected in the Supreme Court.” He noted that it was “the beginning of the violation of the constitutional separation of powers and checks and balances” because it was unusual for the court to impact the polls in a such a direct way.

A week after the 6 January 2021 attack on the Capitol, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for “incitement of insurrection”. He is the only American president to have been impeached twice — the first time was for his role in the famous case of the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, although he was acquitted on both occasions.

The House then established a select committee with seven Democrats and two Republicans to investigate the attack on the Capitol. Hundreds of people and several right-wing groups, including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percenters, have been charged in the attack. But as the committee questioned more prominent figures, more and more details began to point to a coordinated effort to take over the Capitol.

When all Trump’s efforts to reverse the election results failed, he and his right-wing allies mounted a social media campaign to obstruct the Congress session meant to certify the Biden victory. In the morning of the attack, a close Trump ally, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones told the committee, a group of prominent Trump allies that included his former speech writer Steve Bannon, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Jones and convicted Trump confidant Roger Stone met at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. No details so far on the purpose of the meeting but it is believed that it was meant to discuss organising the day’s rally that Trump was to speak in. Jones told the committee the White House “asked him to lead the march” to the Capitol. A day earlier, Steve Bannon said on his podcast, recorded at the Willard Hotel, according to the committee, that a “revolution” was about to begin. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he declared.

“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” Trump had tweeted on 19 December. “Be there, will be wild!” on December 30, the former president tweeted, in capital letters, “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!”. Meanwhile, he was on the phone telling Justice Department officials to declare the election was “corrupt and leave the rest to me”, the House committee was told.

On January 6 and after weeks of fervent calls on his supporters to rally in Washington, thousands of them turned out to hear the president telling them explicitly to march to the Capitol. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and Congressmen and women,” Trump told the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally. He urged his supporters to “fight” as he kept repeating: “We will never give up; we will never concede.” The rest is history.

According to a new book, ‘I Alone Can Fix It’, by Washington Post reporters, Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker, Pentagon officials were “worried Trump might attempt a coup to stay in power”. They quote sources saying that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley was worried that the former President might call on the armed forces to decide the outcome of the 2020 election.

When the Capitol was under attack on January 6, a horrified Milley noted that “This is a Reichstag moment,” the book says, in reference to the name of the German Parliament building. Milley was clearly comparing the Capitol events to the 1933 attack on the German parliament which Hitler used as justification to seize power and establish his Nazi regime.

The events on January 6, and with all the details that have come out recently in the House committee hearings, point to a carefully plotted attack on the seat of the US government. In other countries, that is called a coup attempt. The US establishment may like to call it insurrection, mob violence. But we all know a coup when we see one.