The interregnum period, from the November elections to the inauguration of the new president on January 20, was always fated to be the most unpredictable and inflammatory chapter. The lie “militarized” by Trump to activate his base has produced the cognitive dissonance many had already warned about, and led the country to the inevitable and entirely expected denouement of the Trumpist parable.
Trump is anything but an outlier in his political mode of presentation, built on ranting speeches, rambling rallies and capital-letter-strewn proclamations on Twitter (at least until the block put on his social media accounts). There was little mystery about the program for the January 6 insurrection. However, there remains an inscrutable mystery around the role of law enforcement in it.
In the unfolding of his populist narrative, he had started calling his people together some time ago. For weeks, social media conspiracy accounts swarmed with announcements and proclamations. Right-wing talk radio produced an uninterrupted barrage of statements about wanting to “stop the steal,” i.e. prevent the imaginary theft of the election. The message calling the militias from across the nation to come to Washington was a deafening call to arms for a whole week of excesses.
So, how do we explain the glaring inadequacy of the security measures that opened the doors of the Capitol to the angry mob? The insurrection quickly precipitated starting from the rally where Trump repeatedly pointed to the Capitol, urging the crowd to march on the building and “take back our country.” And the crowd found little resistance in getting inside what should be one of the nation’s most fortified buildings. Why?
The Capitol Police, specifically tasked with protecting the building, employs 2,000 officers with an annual budget of $460 million. Since 9/11, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on additional security measures including vehicle barriers and a network of underground passages. However, only a small handful of unprepared police were there to counter the advance of the rabble, without a shadow of reinforcement.
All this in the center of power of a country with a police force with notoriously militaristic and brutal habits, and in a place very close to Lafayette Square, where, just six months ago, peaceful demonstrations by Black Lives Matter were violently repressed by a veritable army of law enforcement officers called in from neighboring constituencies, federal departments, special forces and the National Guard.
Back then, agents armed with rifles dispersed a peaceful crowd and were liberal in their use of batons and stinging gas against everyone, in order to clear a path and allow Trump to be photographed holding a Bible. The abysmal difference between these two moments is a snapshot of the supremacism institutionalized by Trumpism. It’s hard to dispel suspicions of connivance by law enforcement, at least on some level.
A week earlier, the Secret Service had announced the upcoming replacement of the presidential security agents in anticipation of Biden’s arrival, as many agents in the current presidential escort might be “too loyal to Trump.” Then, there was the letter signed by ten former defense secretaries, which didn’t calm the waters; on the contrary, it raised further questions, as they warned that “the time for questioning the results [of the elections] has passed.” Why did these former officials, with good knowledge of defense circles, feel the need to draft such an appeal? What did they know about the mood in military circles?
Since his early campaign days, Trump has made a point of swearing loyalty and proffering love for law enforcement, dotting his itinerary with selfies with officers and group photos with cops in every city he has visited. Each of his speeches contained praise of law enforcement. Officers are often made guests of honor at his speeches, especially those of the Border Patrol, engaged in the campaign of rejection and ethnic cleansing on the border, elevated to a personal Praetorian Guard for the president and deployed against BLM and “against Antifa” in the bloody clashes in Portland.
All experts agree in calling these events a catastrophic and inexplicable failure of law and order. In order to hope to get out of the serious constitutional crisis and crisis of conscience the country is going through, answers will be needed to the questions which are going to be asked by a number of members of Congress who were forced to take refuge under their benches amidst chaos, in the face of the angry hordes set off by Trump.