Just a riot, not an insurrection. But Trump is still guilty.
Updated: Feb 26
A couple of notable trends have emerged in the media fallout from January 6 and the impeachment proceedings that have dominated recent media coverage.
House managers brought out some shocking and previously unseen footage, and the media got caught up exploiting it. Democrats seemed to hope that seeing the severity of the violence and recalling their personal involvement would shake some Republicans enough to join in the vote to impeach. That could never happen, though, as the political cost of angering Trump is enough to quell any qualms of conscience. (Besides, most politicians have long since sold their souls and there is honestly no prospect of redemption.) The Democrats’ political move, of course, is to tie the Republicans to Trump’s riot and bludgeon them with it in 2022. The scarier and more dramatic the footage, the more we will see it in the campaign.
However, I think Democrats have gone over the top in claiming that this was an attempted coup or insurrection. In my view, it was just a riot – one whose location and intent made it infamous, but basically just a protest that provoked a riot.
For an insurgency, you need an army, not just a few guys cosplaying Rambo. If you’re going to stage a coup, you have to be prepared to take over. You need a provisional government and replacement officials. Those components weren’t there. Instead, this was street theater.
Incidentally, this is the same dynamic we have seen with Black Lives Matter, where a protest goes off the track and some so-called anarchists seize the opportunity to do a bit of arson or looting. You get those whenever there is general chaos; the same thing happens during hurricanes and sports championship celebrations.
Notice that most of the MAGA protestors who moved into the Capitol behaved like tourists – following marked paths, taking selfies and picking up souvenirs. Engaged in street theater, entering the Capitol was just part of the play. These Trumpies had been led to think that their display of patriotism would somehow inspire Mike Pence to change the election results. Most were probably just responding to their idol’s call.
The ominous thing here is that the “Stop the Steal” rally was used by alt-right strike teams to gain access to the Capitol.
A cadre of Proud Boy types were there to enact their personal fantasies of patriotism. They live in a world where they compete for status by playing Rambo. These are the violent bruisers plotting office invasions and kidnappings. And this is the faction that the national media have covered so enthusiastically – the guy with the horns was just too photogenic to pass up. He’s probably got a career ahead of him as a right-wing spokesmodel, maybe the new My Pillow guy.
My point here is that two different things were going on, not one. We saw a poorly planned Trump rally that got out of hand and a small-scale insurgency using the rally as a cover.
I’d rather see the FBI going after the militia types than see people losing their jobs because they got photographed at the Capitol. In these impeachment hearings, Democrats have had no problem proving that the protestors were responding to Trump’s call. But did they show the former president had something to do with the insurgent types organizing for the invasion?
My bet is that if they pressure these insurgents, some of them will claim they did it because of Trump. That’s how we’ll lock him up.
Charles Watkins is webmaster for the Burnet County Democratic Party and the Highland Lakes Democratic Women and the guy who fetches voter lists out of the Party’s VAN database. He’s also Marble Falls Parks and Recreation Commission chair and longtime Visitor Center volunteer. He got his start in politics in the anti-war movement, and Elizabeth Warren was his candidate in 2020. Retired and spending a lot of time online, he has a good view of what’s going on in the blogosphere. He doesn’t do social media. He plans to post here often on Internet coverage of political issues – that is, what makes the news what it is.