Investigations of the terrible crimes committed against the United States at the Capitol last week had scarcely begun when the usual suspects launched a right-wing cover-up. Rather than blame the motley swarm of #MAGA fanatics, white nationalists and habitual criminals whom we all witnessed storming into the citadel of democracy to stop certification of the 2020 election, they pointed the finger to the antifa and Black Lives Matter movements.
But such a preposterous political alibi, premised on nonexistent evidence, won't stand up to the kind of scrutiny that must now be brought to bear on these momentous events. Long after President Donald Trump's impeachment is over and done, and regardless of whether he is convicted or not, the myriad investigations and trials of the perpetrators of the Capitol insurrection will go on for years. Justice will be done; the truth will be revealed; and the breadth of the assault on our constitutional democracy will stun even the jaded and cynical.
Combining vanity and stupidity, the shock troops who carried out the assault recorded themselves in the process of the attack. Perhaps they believed that they would be pardoned by Donald Trump. Knock, knock. Now the FBI is sweeping them up across the country to face federal prosecution.
More than a few of these individuals have prior convictions for serious crimes. These predicate felons, who exemplify the extremist wing of Trump's movement, are likely to crack under prosecutorial pressure and disclose what they know. And no matter what they expected, Trump probably won't dare to pardon them. He is reported to be upset at the low class of his diehards apparently willing to kidnap and assassinate in his name.
While much of what occurred on Jan. 6 and the days and weeks leading up to the attack still remains somewhat murky, it is already clear that the insurrection was not a spontaneous uprising. The mob that assaulted the Capitol included highly trained fighters who came prepared with tactical gear of all kinds, often superior to the equipment of the police officers trying to hold them back, as well as a communications system. What they needed from the thousands of dupes whipped up by Trump and Rudy Giuliani was an overwhelming physical force to enable an unstoppable rush into the building.
We don't know the extent of coordination, if any, between the White House, various ultra-right members of Congress and fascist gangs like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers that came to Washington bent on bloodshed. The initial clues, however, raise deeply troubling questions. Why were members of Congress escorting groups of Trump supporters around the Capitol on Jan. 5, the day before the attack, when the building was supposed to be closed? Why did the attacking vanguard leave the Trump rally at the White House early and proceed to the Capitol? And why did the Pentagon fail to send National Guard reinforcements in time, despite desperate pleas from the Capitol Police?
The support structure for the demonstration that turned into an insurrection ranged across the Trumpist movement, encompassing figures like Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, and Charlie Kirk, who runs the far-right college outfit Turning Point USA and boasts close ties with Donald Trump Jr. Both of them have tried to erase evidence of their organizing efforts.
Equally intriguing is the role of Ali Alexander, who takes credit for staging the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, whose militant rhetoric set the event's tone and who now seems to have gone into hiding. He has a long history of connections with Trump confidant Roger Stone and Stone's proteges in the Proud Boys. He has also received funding in the recent past from the billionaire Mercer family, which lurks behind many of the nation's most toxic far-right elements. And Alexander says that he worked on the insurrection with at least three Republican members of Congress — Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., and Mo Brooks, R-Ala.
Here it is worth recalling that Stone oversaw the "Brooks Brothers riot" in Miami that stopped the vote counting in Miami-Dade County and swayed the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Since last November, he has repeatedly called for Trump to impose martial law to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The events of Jan. 6 represented the worst threat to democracy and the rule of law that we have seen in our lifetimes. The violent authoritarian impulse within the Republican right has metastasized under Trump into a potent and very dangerous force. Uncovering the roots of that threat and isolating its sponsors will be a lengthy and complicated process that will involve the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, state and local law enforcement, the attorney general of the District of Columbia, many committees of the House and Senate, and almost certainly a national investigative commission on the order of the 9/11 commission. And there will be trials.
Nothing less will suffice to defend our democratic republic from its enemies, foreign and domestic.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit Tyler Merbler