Jan 6: The Truth About the Traitors (with Hugo Lowell)
It was apparent, even the day of January 6, what was happening and who was responsible.
“We saw it with our own eyes. Rioters menaced these halls, threatening the life of the Speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the Vice President of the United States of America.”
—President Joe Biden, January 6, 2022
A year ago yesterday, a MAGA mob besieged the Capitol, assaulting (and in some cases killing) police officers, smashing windows, breaking through doors, running amok through the building, smearing their own excrement on the walls.
It was apparent, even that day, that the besiegers were there to disrupt the certification of the vote—to thwart the will of the people and re-install lame duck loser Donald Trump in the White House.
It was apparent, even that day, that the besiegers were willing and able to use violence to achieve that end. Berserkers who fought their way through a barrier of police with brute force were not suddenly going to channel Mahatma Gandhi once inside the building.
It was apparent, even that day, who their targets were: VP Mike Pence, who in his capacity as President of the Senate was there to preside over the formal certification of the vote; and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, whose office they broke into, whose mirrors they smashed, whose staff they terrorized, whose desk they occupied. Why Pence and Pelosi? They were the next two people in the presidential line of succession. After them came the president pro tempore of the Senate, Chuck Grassley, who had issued a suspicious statement the day before:
It was apparent, even that day, who the planners and plotters of the coup attempt were. They were all in Washington the night before, all staying at the venerable Willard Hotel—where Abraham Lincoln had stayed in 1861 before being sworn in as President. Some had given fiery speeches on Jan 5, riling up the MAGA minions. There was the leprous traitor Steve Bannon; Rudy Giuliani, who demanded “trial by combat;” bombastic InfoWars host Alex Jones; the seditious general Mike Flynn, who said it was a “ten out of ten” that Trump would remain president; and professional ratfucker Roger Stone, flanked by his Oath Keeper bodyguards. They all knew what was about to happen. They were so excited, they couldn’t keep it to themselves. They practically flaunted their involvement. Anyone paying attention knew something ill was going to befall D.C. that day, so much so that one particularly astute observer predicted it almost exactly:
It was apparent, even that day, that the insurrectionists had allies and sympathizers in Congress: Josh Hawley, who fist-pumped the mob. Ted Cruz, whose seat in the chamber the besiegers sought out, under the impression that he was a leader of their movement. Tommy Tuberville, who was called by Giuliani. Mo Brooks, who’d given a bellicose speech the day before. Paul Gosar, friend to “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander. Lauren Boebert, who tweeted out Pelosi’s location as the Speaker was evacuating. Jim Jordan, whom the Former Guy reportedly had on speed dial.
It was apparent, even that day, that Trump was intimately involved. He was the beneficiary, he greenlighted the plan, he egged on his followers to march on the Capitol, and he watched the proceedings on TV with sadistic delight. He made no move to stop the besiegers, despite being begged to do so by everyone from Kevin McCarthy to Sean Hannity. He did not call in the national guard. The video we saw that day showed him in a tent, standing by his dour lieutenant Ivanka, watching a series of screens, while Don Junior and Mark Meadows gave enthusiastic thumbs up to the cameras, and the banshee Kimberly Guilfoyle danced to Laura Branigan. The Trumps had the same nervous-slash-excited energy on January 6 as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his family getting ready to watch Dallas in the Super Bowl.
It was apparent, even that day, that we were fortunate that the coup did not succeed. It was apparent that safeguards would have to be installed to prevent Trump from ever again holding office. And it was apparent that the likes of Bannon, Flynn, and Stone were going to keep at it until it worked, or they were either in prison or the sweet hereafter.
All of this was apparent a year ago yesterday. Don Winslow made this video four days after the insurrection:
A year ago yesterday, President-Elect Biden called on Trump to “go on national television” and demand an end to “this siege.” Even Republican stalwarts in Congress, folks like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, denounced Trump’s brazen attempt to seize power. Even members of the media seemed to grasp what had just happened. For a while.
Then Biden was sworn in, and the Super Bowl happened, and the pandemic raged, and the press resumed covering Trump as if he were any other incumbent who was not re-elected, rather than a career criminal who tried to topple democracy so he could stay in power and continue exploiting the office for personal profit.
We were not even certain the Department of Justice was taking this seriously. Sure, the FBI was making arrests, but the Q Shaman and the asshole who put his feet on Pelosi’s desk were only footmen. Until this week, Merrick Garland had only addressed the subject in passing—during his inauguration speech, and answering a question asked by Senator Whitehouse during a Senate hearing—and in the broadest of terms. The AG’s remarks on Wednesday left little doubt that the DOJ is on the job:
The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last. The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy. We will follow the facts wherever they lead.
I’ve been calling for him to speak for months, and I’m grateful that he did. Even so, Garland doesn’t seem to grasp the urgency. “As long as it takes for justice to be served” sounds pretty, but the correct answer to “how long will this take?” is “As soon as fucking possible, because the clock is ticking, and we know the stakes are nothing less than democracy itself.”
The President was more emotional in his speech on the anniversary of the insurrection—“Angry Biden” was trending on Twitter, approvingly, because he is right to be pissed:
Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America — at American democracy.
They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here in rage — not in service of America, but rather in service of one man. Those who incited the mob — the real plotters — who were desperate to deny the certification of the election and defy the will of the voters.
But their plot was foiled. Congressmen — Democrats and Republicans — stayed. Senators, representatives, staff — they finished their work the Constitution demanded. They honored their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Look, folks, now it’s up to all of us — to “We the People” — to stand for the rule of law, to preserve the flame of democracy, to keep the promise of America alive.
Fuck to the yeah!
Meanwhile, the January 6 House Select Committee has been revelatory. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, and company have revived public interest in the insurrection, and we are learning more about it every day. Crack journalists like the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell, today’s guest on the PREVAIL podcast, have provided scoop after scoop, deepening our understanding of the worst attack on our democracy since Booth shot Lincoln. The role of Mark Meadows, for example, then the White House Chief of Staff, is more important than I realized. As Lowell told me, if anyone knows everything about January 6, it’s probably Meadows.
And there’s much we have yet to uncover. We still don’t know the exact contours of the plan. Did the coup plotters seek only to delay the certification until Jan 7 or 8, later than specified in the Constitution, hoping to throw the thing to the House? That plan, the so-called “Green Bay Sweep,” is what former Trump advisor Pete Navarro has been pushing on his little propaganda tour. Was that the only plan? Or were they all-in on violence?
What would the besiegers have done if they got to Mike Pence? Ashli Babbitt sure looked like a Terminator robot programmed to take him out. How about Pelosi? Was the intention to kill Pence and Pelosi? To occupy the building and take hostages? The “Wolverine Watchmen” who planned to kidnap the governor of Michigan shared sadistic sexual fantasies involving bondage and rape; what would the besiegers, presumably kindred spirits of the Wolverine Watchmen, have done if they captured VP-Elect Kamala Harris, or AOC?
What’s the deal with the pipe bombs at the RNC and DNC offices? Who planted them, and why? Were they meant to detonate as a distraction? To pull police away from the Capitol? To assassinate the VP-Elect?
Finally: why did Trump want this? He hated being president, was bored by the chores of governance, wanted to be in Florida on the golf course. Was it all about power, which had corrupted whatever part of him was not already corrupt? Was it pure ego? Bitterness that, as Lowell suggests in our interview, he lost to an old man? Was he so humiliated by the ass-kicking that he convinced himself he’d won? Was he angling for a more pliant vice president to grant him a full pardon, so he could resign and not have to worry about the consequences of his crimes? Did Putin insist? Or was it about money—the spigot slowing down to a trickle as soon as he was no longer the most powerful man in the world?
The only way to move on from this dark period in our nation’s history is to address the issue head-on. As President Biden said yesterday, “This isn’t about being bogged down in the past. This is about making sure the past isn’t buried. That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth, they face up to it. Sounds like hyperbole, but that’s the truth: They face up to it.”
He is right. We must learn the truth about what happened a year ago yesterday. We must, as Garland vowed this week, hold “all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law—whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy” and “follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Spoiler alert: they lead to Donald Trump. That was apparent a year ago yesterday. The sooner he is brought to justice, the sooner the country can move forward.
A year after MAGA besiegers tried to overthrow our democracy, Greg Olear talks to the Guardian’s Congressional correspondent, Hugo Lowell, about the January 6 House Select Committee, the insurrection’s key players (Bannon, Stone, Flynn, Meadows, etc.), Trump’s motives, and what to expect in the months to come. Plus: a gift for the guy who has everything.
Follow Hugo Lowell:
Hugo’s work at The Guardian:
Thanks to BetterHelp for sponsoring this episode. Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/greg.
Subscribe to the PREVAIL newsletter: