The Trump Cult Fantasy and the Capital Hill Coup
The Times of India called it the ‘Coup Klux Klan’. Others called it the ‘Capitol Hill Riot’. It has a long tail (longer than Trump’s four years in office) but the spark was the inability of one man to accept the reality that he had lost the election and the gullability of his followers to believe they could do something about it.
As I write there are five people dead after the Trump mob stormed the Capitol Hill building, including Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick who died after he was hurt responding to pro Trump riot. Police say he was “injured while physically engaging with protesters. He returned to his division office and collapsed.” This will be investigated as homicide.
As footage of Trump and his family watching the events unfold in a special tent with party music is revealed the realisation that this was a carefully curated event is crystal clear. As images of U.S. Capitol Police officers taking selfies with the Trump mob it becomes very clear that the cops were actively involved in assisting the coup effort. Video has emerged showing police taking selfies with the rioters and another shows police opening barricades so insurrectionists could enter the Capitol.
The reality that the far-right is not only aided and abetted by the police and security services but that there is significant cross-over and contamination between law-enforcement and white supremacy groups and Trump fanatics which will make policing the capital in the run up to inauguration extremely difficult.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a free speech and civil rights organization, have called for a “fully public investigation into the federal and local police planning and response to today’s events, and termination and prosecution of all officers and officials found to have condoned or colluded with the violent mob that attacked the Capitol today.”
A spokesman said: “What happened at the nation’s Capitol today could only have occurred because law enforcement allowed it to happen. Far-right mobs smashed windows and doors, stormed the Capitol behind a traitorous, terrorist Confederate flag, and broke into the Senate chamber,” the group said. “The images of police officers calmly allowing barricades open, letting the crowd enter, and taking selfies inside the building with those who have stormed it cannot go without investigation and penalty.”
As the Trump circus leaves town in a blaze of predictable violence and farce, the Republican party is shattering into shards of varying degrees of objectionable, reactionary opportunism as they clamber over each other for political advantage and try desperately to distance themselves from the mayhem they have created and enabled.
This was the day when the Trump Cult’s fantasy was extinguished, a fantasy cultivated on the multiple channels and forums where the Alt-right spend their lives exchanging disinformation and fanning the flames of their own paranoia and bigotry. The specific fantasy that the President and the Republican party had developed was the one that Mike Pence as VP had the constitutional right to annul the election. The fact that he never had such a power (and never could have had such a power) was irrelevant to the movement who are, as they say, a little ‘fact resistant’. But in a very Wizard of Oz moment, the curtain was eventually pulled back and the harsh reality that the Trump regime was very much over incensed the mob to storm Capitol Hill.
But how to analyse such a wonderfully weird American moment as this?
Certainly it’s ended the pathetic attempt by the Republicans to go through the role-play of protesting the election.
Certainly it’s brought some cold reality into the Republicans who toadied up to Trump’s regime then found themselves crouching in terror beneath desks as armed men banged on the doors.
Certainly the treatment of the ‘protestors’ as some media insisted on calling them was in stark contrast to the black lives matter protests which were met with lethal force and indiscriminate beatings.
Certainly the Democratic victories that mean they take control of the Senate as well as the Congress means that the incoming Biden administration is empowered and emboldened in a way that few thought possible only a few days ago. That Trump is largely responsible for these victories is icing on the Democrats cake, and the losses will add to his legacy in political history as a grotesque loser.
Certainly Trump incited the violent mob, telling thousands of supporters that gathered near the White House: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.” He may well be taken down for this, either through the 25th Amendment or impeachment.
But little else is very clear about any of this. The mob were a mixture of the absurd and the pathetic, the ridiculous and the highly dangerous. They were a mixture of fantasists and fascists. This was as much a coup as an exercise in neo-fascist cosplay. And, while the soup of disinformation that has been weaponised by the alt-right the role of the tech companies is deeply problematic. Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, Snapchat and Instagram have all shut down Trump’s accounts, permanently. Whilst this is being presented as ‘social media giants get tough’ – the truth is that on the day Trump used @Twitter to bypass the broadcasting media and speak direct to praise his fascist mob – the networks then dutifully re-played his message.
The truth is also that over the past decade, Big Tech have been extremely reluctant to moderate Trump’s posts, even as he repeatedly violated hate speech regulations. In June last year he retweeted to his tens of millions of followers a video of one of his supporters shouting “white power!” in 2020 June. He encouraged violence against Black Lives Matter protests in a message shared to multiple platforms that included the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
But the deeper question is not just how do we respond to societal level racism and bigotry but how do you democratise these forums, because whilst the immediate response may be to celebrate the shutting down of someone who is inciting a riot, there are bigger questions about freedom of speech.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Finally, how do we assess the seriousness of this moment?
It was extraordinary and people died, in fact it’s a mystery that many more didn’t.
The President was inciting a riot telling his rally south of the White House to “walk down to the Capitol,” adding, “You will never take back our country with weakness” as his Republican henchman and family urged the crowd on. The mob contained heavily armed men who ransacked the building. Many of them could and should be described as “domestic terrorists” even if the Trump entourage is a giddy blend of Nazis, Neo-fascists, Q conspiracists and the socially awkward.
Whilst some of this is deeply dangerous and serious some of it is comic and tragic. Take poor Elizabeth from Knoxville Tennessee who got maced by the police. Asked why she was there she said: “We’re storming the capitol, it’s a revolution.”
Poor Elizabeth’s day-out was ruined.
But if some of it is funny most of it is sickening.
Last night top-Trump supporter Sen. Ted Cruz has tweeted about the Capitol police officer who was killed after the pro-Trump mob rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday. The Texas Senator says that he and his wife Heidi are “lifting up in prayer” the family of Brian Sicknick. The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Cruz was one of the Republican senators who, even after the assault on the Capitol, still voted against the certification of states’ votes when Wednesday’s joint session to confirm Joe Biden’s election eventually got underway.
This may be the end of the road for Trump and his dynastic regime, but it won’t be for the movement of white supremacy he has helped create. The truth is the mob didn’t come from the Rustbelt they came from the Internet. They aren’t the deprived or the oppressed they are the deranged and the dysfunctional. They are the worst aspects of the American Nightmare made manifest in the real world, they are like every chat room and forum come alive in fantasy role-play. Whilst it’s quite right that social media companies ban people who incite violence, the wider question of civil liberties and freedom of speech will not be resolved if we allow such massive new platforms to be unregulated or privately owned. While Biden’s emergence will be a grateful relief to the toxic violence of the Trump era, the scale of the trauma and crisis in American society is deeper and more tragic than anyone could have imagined.
But if anyone is prone to trivialise this event, to suggest that these people shouldn’t be taken seriously, to suggest this wasn’t really a coup, that they weren’t really terrorists, that they aren’t really fascists, this film of events inside the Capitol building is required viewing. It outlines how the mob came intent to kill Mike Pence, equipped with kit for hostage-taking and a noose. But whilst people will be arrested and Trump’s family will be ousted, the far-far right will be emboldened by the fact that they could just do this – live – seemingly without any serious opposition or consequence.
Mike Davis has written (‘Riot on the Hill’): “… the True Trumpists have become a de facto third party, bunkered down heavily in the House of Representatives. As Trump embalms himself in bitter revenge fantasies, reconciliation between the two camps will probably become impossible, although individual defections may occur. Mar-a-Lago will become base camp for the Trump death cult which will continue to mobilize his hardcore followers to terrorize Republican primaries and ensure the preservation of a large die-hard contingent in the House as well as in red-state legislatures. (Republicans in the Senate, accessing huge corporation donations, are far less vulnerable to such challenges.)”
For those pundits squealing endlessly “this isn’t fascism” (“it doesn’t have the historical factors required blah blah … blah blah) they should read well the words of Richard Seymour (‘A return to civility will not begin to quell the threat of fascism in the US’):
“This is all indicative of an incipient fascism, laying the cultural and political groundwork for a violent, extra-parliamentary mass movement of the right. It is a mistake to assume that fascism must take the form of dictatorship. Far-right movements today are shaped by the same factors: the decomposition of parliamentary legitimacy and their inherited organisational weaknesses. In that context, wielding the power of office is a pedagogical, formative experience. It allows movements with thin civic roots to project influence at a national level and try things out. Fascism does not arrive on the scene with full uniform and programme.”
It’s very easy to see these rioters as an aberration, a comic outpouring of paranoia and American drug culture fused with conspiracism and Confederacy, but it’s far worse than that. As Seymour concludes: “Trumpism is not an aberration, but a mass phenomenon. Trump greatly expanded his base between 2016 and 2020, adding more than 10 million votes to its total.”