5 Profiles in Courage and Cowardice in a Trump-Dominated GOP

“Even before last week’s deadly invasion of the Capitol, McConnell, to his credit, forcefully rejected efforts to challenge duly certified electoral votes for Biden. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he warned less than an hour before he was forced to flee the president’s enraged fans. “We would never see the whole nation accept an election again,” he added, and “every four years would be a scramble for power at all cost.”

Based on “sweeping conspiracy theories,” McConnell noted, “President Trump claims the election was stolen,” but “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale…that would have tipped the entire election.” He added that “public doubt alone” cannot “justify a radical break” from historical practice “when the doubt itself was incited without evidence.”

These were strong words, but they came two months too late. From the moment that Trump began insisting that he actually won the election by a landslide, it was clear that the president’s conviction had no basis in reality. Yet McConnell humored Trump, neither backing nor rejecting his wild claims, based on the premise that Biden’s victory should not be conceded until the president had exhausted his legal options and the Electoral College had met. In the meantime, the fantasy underlying last week’s riot grew and spread, unchallenged by all but a few Republican legislators.”

“Even McConnell and Pence are models of bravery compared to Sens. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), who led the legally groundless objections to Biden’s electoral votes in the Senate. In doing so, they cynically and recklessly reinforced the twin delusions that gave rise to last week’s violence: that Trump won the election and that Biden’s inauguration could still be prevented.

At the same time, neither Cruz nor Hawley had the guts to explicitly endorse those beliefs. They calculated that they could reap the political benefits of kowtowing to the president’s supporters without paying the political cost of looking like kooks. It apparently never entered the minds of these two Ivy League lawyers that they might pay a cost for so blatantly trying to advance their careers by sacrificing their supposed devotion to the Constitution. The crucial question for the Republican Party now is whether they were right to ignore that possibility.”

Rep. Liz Cheney has backed impeaching Trump — and even Mitch McConnell may be open to it

“Cheney is the highest-ranking Republican to commit to backing impeachment so far. In a scathing statement, she wrote that “the President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing.”

Cheney’s statement continues: “The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Not long before Cheney’s statement, Rep. John Katko (NY) became the first elected Republican member of Congress to commit to backing this impeachment. “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” Katko said in his own statement. “For that reason, I cannot sit by without taking action.” A third House Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (IL), announced his support for impeachment, too.”

Police bias explains the Capitol riot

“Across law enforcement agencies, many are echoing the same message: that no one anticipated an attack of this kind on Congress and the Capitol”

““You literally couldn’t have had more information,” R.P. Eddy, a counterterrorism expert and CEO of the intelligence firm Ergo, told Vox. But law enforcement agencies, starting with the Capitol Police, didn’t do what was necessary with that information: “The threat assessment, obviously, was a total failure.”
And the reason for that, he and others say, goes back to the inability of law enforcement officials to see Trump supporters — a group of mostly white Americans, some of them law enforcement officers themselves — as a real threat.”

“It’s only become clearer over the past six days that insurrectionists were planning their actions openly in the days leading up to Wednesday’s riot, and that many people had sounded the alarm. Posters in pro-Trump online forums were making plans to “encircle” Congress and “go after the traitors directly” and to “Bring handcuffs and zip ties to DC,” according to the Washington Post. And numerous watchdog groups and private citizens sent warnings to government officials about the threats.

“It’s not so much that the cops weren’t aware of it. It’s almost like they were willfully ignorant of the possibility of violence,” Marc Ginsberg, president of the Coalition for a Safer Web, who personally warned officials of his findings, told the Post. Tensions surrounding brutal police action against protesters this summer also left local and federal officials wary of a large police presence during the planned protest.

Law enforcement officials were preparing for a crowd in the “low thousands,” according to Crow’s call on Sunday with Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy — not the approximately 8,000 people who showed up. They were also prepared for “small, disparate violent events” like stabbings and fistfights, despite numerous social media posts about guns, ammunition, and kidnapping lawmakers. The Capitol Police also had not requested federal support in the days leading up to the riot, and both the Capitol and DC Metropolitan Police Departments had declined offers of additional National Guard backup, McCarthy said.”

“After Bowser and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund requested federal reinforcements shortly after 1:30 pm on Wednesday, federal officials worked to understand the situation for more than an hour, according to the call with Crow. Their efforts were hamstrung by the lack of an operations center in the Pentagon, forcing them to “manage the situation by tracking down previously unknown contacts of local law enforcement and making ad hoc calls in an office environment,” according to the call summary.

But whatever happened at the Defense Department, responsibility for Wednesday’s events really started with the Capitol Police, Eddy said. “Every event like this has a lead agency,” he explained: “one group who’s responsible, ultimately, for what’s going to happen.” In this case, it was the Capitol Police. They failed to prepare their officers — many of whom were in ordinary uniforms rather than helmets and riot gear — and they failed to prepare in advance for the federal reinforcements they would need, Eddy said. “They obviously failed to understand what the threat was going to be.””

“Many of the rioters had a lot in common with the officials in charge of doing threat assessments in the days and weeks ahead of the riot, he explained: “They probably were very similar in race, probably very similar in income, probably very similar religious beliefs.” That includes a number of rioters who are law enforcement themselves. Departments around the country have suspended officers for their involvement in the riot.

The failure to anticipate the violence of January 6 was a “failure to imagine that folks who look like you, who probably think like you, are going to come do something that’s wildly different than what you’d want to do, and they’re going to try to kill you in the process,” Eddy said.

And it wasn’t just about failure to prepare. While some Capitol Police officers were assaulted by rioters, others appeared to aid or at least do little to stop them, with one officer taking a selfie with a rioter (he has since been suspended, Rep. Tim Ryan confirmed on Monday) and others appearing to move aside barricades to let them get closer to the Capitol.”

““On one hand, different groups of people are deemed a threat when maybe they’re not because they’re peacefully protesting, whereas a group of rioters full of domestic terrorists are not seen as a threat,” Karim said. Addressing that “is going to take transformational change.””

Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot

“The precise composition of the mob that forced its way into the Capitol on Wednesday, disrupting sessions of both houses of Congress and leaving a police officer and four others dead, remains unknown. But a review by a ProPublica-FRONTLINE team that has been tracking far-right movements for the past three years shows that the crowd included members of the Proud Boys and other groups with violent ideologies. Videos reveal the presence of several noted hardcore nativists and white nationalists who participated in the 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia”

“in December, as the group’s leaders planned to flood Washington to oppose the certification of the Electoral College vote this week for President-elect Joe Biden, they decided to do something different.
“The ProudBoys will turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist…,” Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the group’s president, wrote in a late-December post on Parler, a social media platform that has become popular with right-wing activists and conservatives. “We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.””

“A journalist working with ProPublica and FRONTLINE encountered members of the Proud Boys in dark clothes walking through Washington on the night before the attack. The four men posed for a photo and confirmed their membership in the group. Few participants involved in the Capitol siege were seen wearing Proud Boys colors or logos.”

“since the incident, Proud Boys social media channels have flaunted their direct role in the attack and looting of the Capitol.

One prominent Proud Boys account encouraged rioters as the chaos was unfolding: “Hold your ground!!!… DO NOT GO HOME. WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF SAVING THE CONSTITUTION.””

“eight men, whose movements were captured on video, were identified by ProPublica and FRONTLINE as members of the Oath Keepers, a long-standing militia group that has pledged to ignite a civil war on behalf of Trump. Members of the group joined the protesters and insurrectionists flooding into the Capitol. Footage from later in the day shows Oath Keepers dragging a wounded comrade out of the building.”

“Several other of the participants ProPublica and FRONTLINE identified from video have direct links to the white nationalist movement, which has seen a resurgence of activity during the Trump era.

One was Nick Fuentes, an internet personality who streams a daily talk show on DLive, an alternative social media platform. Fuentes, who marched in Charlottesville during the 2017 white power rally there, speaks frequently in anti-Semitic terms and pontificates on the need to protect America’s white heritage from the ongoing shift in the nation’s demographics. He has publicly denied believing in white nationalism but has said that he considers himself a “white majoritarian.””

“Another figure inside the Capitol with ties to white nationalists was Tim Gionet, a livestreamer who uses the handle Baked Alaska and who participated in the Charlottesville rally, which left one woman dead. Gionet was photographed within the Capitol and apparently used DLive to stream from within the building as events unfolded.”

“Other extremist figures present either at the rally or within the Capitol included Vincent James Foxx, an online propagandist for the Rise Above Movement, a now-defunct Southern California white supremacist group.

Also on scene: Gabe Brown, a New Englander who helped create Anticom, a now-defunct organization devoted to physically combating leftists. In 2017, Anticom members posted a vast trove of bomb-making manuals to a private online chatroom.”

“Photos from within the Capitol showed one unidentified man carrying a Confederate battle flag and another wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a skull and the words “Camp Auschwitz,” a reference to the infamous Nazi death camp.”

“After the siege, a Boogaloo Bois group called the Last Sons of Liberty, which includes militants from Virginia, posted a video to Parler purporting to document their role in the incident — a clip that shows members inside the Capitol. A loose-knit confederation of anti-government militants, the Boogaloo Bois have been tied to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and to the murder of two law enforcement officers in California. ProPublica and FRONTLINE have been unable to independently confirm their involvement.”

“The Proud Boys also celebrated on social media. On Parler, one Proud Boys leader posted a photo of members of Congress cowering in fear and captioned it with a menacing statement: “Today you found out. The power of the people will not be denied.””

The online far right is angry, exultant, and ready for more

“On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, the message board TheDonald, and Parler, a “free speech social network” created in opposition to Twitter, some users blamed antifa for the attack while others claimed credit for it. Meanwhile, others were angry at the president for posting a video Thursday acknowledging a “new administration” would take over.

Even as the online right is divided about how to react to the events of this week, loyalty to President Donald Trump is still strong. Many online supporters refer to him as “GEOTUS,” or Grand Emperor of the United States, and have called fellow members to stand by him.

But there is fracturing within the movement: Some are confused about why they were asked to come to the January 6 rally if not to take extreme action, others are angry at Trump’s concession video posted on Twitter Thursday night where he described Wednesday’s events as a “heinous attack,” and others still are developing new conspiracy theories.”

“It’s hard to know how seriously to take any individual threat or comment made by members of these forums. Distinguishing between legitimate threats and trolling is difficult — and that reality is mirrored by the president himself. Trump will make “jokes” that target groups or individuals and undermine democratic norms. His supporters casually dismissed criticisms of these comments, or chastised observers for taking the president literally.”

“While the effort to remove extremism from mainstream social media companies could help curb the spread of extreme ideas to casual users of the internet, the ever-evolving web of right-wing social media and messaging boards will likely defy the control of these tech giants. Just take a look at TheDonald, formerly a part of Reddit; once banned there, it managed to migrate to its own outpost on the internet.”

Whiteness is at the core of the insurrection

“the whiteness of the insurrectionists acted as a shield — protecting them from being seen as a threat before, and while, they stormed the Capitol. For activists who endured violence at the hands of police when they were merely asking for them to stop executing Black people, this inequity is why they protested in the first place.”

“As I reported in September, research from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project found that out of 7,750 Black Lives Matter protests across 2,400 locations across the country, 93 percent of them were peaceful — yet images of burning and headlines of looting were plentiful, with the president referring to the protesters as “thugs.”
New research from the organization compares the difference in law enforcement response between left-wing protests (anti-Trump, pro-Biden, Count Every Vote, Black Lives Matter, Abolish ICE) and right-wing protests (pro-Trump, anti-Biden, Back the Blue, QAnon, Stop the Steal, etc.), finding that law enforcement was more than twice as likely to use force against liberal demonstrations between May and November.”

“What’s evident is that the organizers of Wednesday’s rallies were not taken seriously, as white extremists are often infantilized and given room to work out their feelings and blow off steam. We are told we need to listen to them, to try to understand their plight and psychology.”

The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection

“American insurrectionists, for the first time in the history of this country, stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. Offices were vandalized. Windows were broken. Statues toppled. A woman was shot and killed. Four others have reportedly died, including a Capitol Police officer. It was ugly, embarrassing, and seditious.

But it wasn’t surprising.

We’ve been inching, inexorably, toward this moment for years. I know this because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the course of this presidency thinking and writing about what you might call the “epistemic crisis” or the “post-truth crisis” or the “misinformation crisis” — it all refers more or less to the same thing.

The American mind, or a sizable chunk of it at least, has been deranged by a poisoned information system. The way millions of citizens learn about the world, the way they form core beliefs, is irredeemably broken. And because the media environment has been blown apart by digital technology, “there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics,” as Politico’s Tim Alberta put it recently.

If the depth of that crisis wasn’t apparent before Wednesday, it sure as hell is now.”

“The road to this dark place was paved by lots of hands over many years. But the evolution of right-wing media into a fantasy-industrial complex is at the center of the story.

Propaganda has always been a bipartisan game, but media-driven polarization has become more asymmetric in recent years. The left mostly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. However biased some of this reporting can be (and there’s plenty of bias), most of it is anchored by basic journalistic ethics.

This just isn’t true on the right. A 2018 book called Network Propaganda by three Harvard researchers is probably the best survey on this disparity, and it shows that American conservative media functions very much like a closed system, with Fox News at the center (at least until recently). The people who inhabit this system rarely collide with information beyond it, and the competition within it — on the supply side — is continually intensifying in order to meet the demand from audiences consuming the high-stakes narratives. As Brian Stelter, longtime media reporter and author of Hoax, told me in November, anchors at Fox are now struggling “to keep up with their viewers’ demand for propaganda.””

“Consumers of this stuff have been fed a daily diet of conspiracies and panicked claims about the death of the republic and the plot to steal the election.”

“If you watch Newsmax and OAN every night, if you listen to talk radio hosts like Mark Levin claim that “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are being destroyed by the Democratic Party and the media,” if you hear Sean Hannity (whose show pulls in 4 million viewers a night) insist, “We have a duty to investigate every legitimate claim of fraud and abuse,” if you’re inhaling QAnon fantasies online, you’re likely extremely deluded about the state of the world. Is it any surprise that we’re living in a golden age of conspiracy theories?

The president himself is the most consequential consumer of this stuff. Listen to his leaked hour-long call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and you’ll hear a hodgepodge of familiar conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and forgeries and collusion among various election officials. It’s all laid out and distilled, just as you’d hear it on Newsmax or read on 4chan or Parler, the right-wing alternative to Twitter.

All these fictions have coursed through the conservative media ecosystem, and the insurrectionists who flooded the Capitol have imbibed it for months. It’s why they chanted, “Stop the steal,” and it’s why you can hear them saying, “They don’t get to steal it from us, they don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” And it’s why something like 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair.

So we reached this precipice because millions of Americans have had a firehose of falsehoods blasted into their brains for months on end. They believe the election was rigged and stolen. And they believe that because they’ve been told exactly that, not just by the president but by a vast network of grifters and online provocateurs and political entrepreneurs who have cultivated and reinforced conspiracy theories about the election and god knows what else.

And all of this is facilitated by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, both of which, as Warzel told me last year, pretend they’re not “arbiters of truth” and insist they “don’t want to weigh in at all” — but they’re already in that position and have been for a long time. These tech companies may not be putting their thumbs on the scale in the conventional sense, but as Andrew Marantz, author of Antisocial, pointed out to me in a recent interview, they’re “outsourcing those decisions to algorithms” that continually push users into blackholes of mutually reinforcing content. Whatever their intentions, these companies helped lead us to this moment.”

“If you believed — I mean really believed — that the president you supported won a landslide victory that was systematically undermined by seditious Republicans and Democrats, and that that conspiracy was being covered up by a crooked and compromised media, and at the same time you saw over 100 Republican House members and multiple senators questioning the validity of the election, and the president was telling you to do something about it, it’s not hard to see how quickly you might move from shitposting online to storming the Capitol.”

“Everyone who participates in this system of misinformation shares responsibility for what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday. We are reaping what they sowed. Still, Tucker Carlson goes on Fox News primetime hours after a violent assault on the Capitol and, naturally, casts blame elsewhere: “We got to this sad, chaotic day for a reason. It is not your fault; it is their fault.””

“It was obvious when a man walked into a DC pizza shop in 2017 with a gun because he believed a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring. It was obvious when armed protesters occupied the Michigan Legislature to protest Covid-19 lockdowns after an incendiary Trump tweet. It was obvious when we learned the Nashville bombing suspect reportedly believed in various conspiracy theories about aliens and lizard people. As this Wall Street Journal report shows, it was obvious in recent weeks as various watchdog groups warned of growing threats online. And it’s painfully obvious now after we saw the Capitol ravaged by rioters who believed, without any evidence, that an election had been stolen from them.”

“Every member of the Republican Party — from senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to the toadies working in the Trump White House — bear special responsibility for this crisis. They’ve known exactly who and what Trump is from the start, and they rode the tiger straight into the abyss.

And so many of them performed this ridiculous two-step, parroting Trump’s nonsense in one breath and winking quietly while doing it. Even on Thursday, before the dust has settled at the Capitol, Republican House members like Paul Gosar (AZ) and Matt Gaetz (FL) are spreading baseless conspiracy theories suggesting the assault was some kind of “false flag” perpetuated by antifa. And despite everything that happened in the past 48 hours, nearly 150 Republican lawmakers formally objected to the election results anyway.

If the fantasy-industrial complex churning out lies and conspiracy theories wasn’t bad enough, we’re also dealing with a much more pervasive problem in the press. As I tried to explain last year, we’re facing a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age, something known as “flooding the zone with shit.” It’s less about perpetuating alternative realities and more about overwhelming the public with so many competing narratives, so much misinformation, that even well-intentioned people don’t know what to believe.”

“Without some kind of reckoning in right-wing media, there is no sustainable path forward for the country. And even if the complicit pull back from the brink, it’s probably too late anyway. So much of the damage is already done. The conspiracy theories that radicalized that mob are already out there, already implanted in millions of minds. Like some kind of political pathogen, they will keep working their will on the body politic.

That is our hell for the foreseeable future.”

Behind the Strategic Failure of the Capitol Police

“It wasn’t just the building that had them horrified. In the past two decades, the Capitol Police has grown into one of the largest, best-funded and most single-focus police departments in the country, with a budget of more than $460 million and around 2,000 sworn officers to guard just 2 square miles of the capital. (By comparison, that’s half the size of the entire police force for Washington, D.C.)”

“Appalled experts, watching the crisis unfold, asked themselves: Where was the protective intelligence? Where was the quick reaction force? Where were the long guns? Where were the helmets and batons? Where were the tall, secure fences that normally ring the Capitol during high-profile protests? And perhaps most important: Where was the strategy? Word on Thursday evening that the Capitol Police evidently twice turned down offers of reinforcements only deepened the sense of disbelief.”

“Minute by minute, individual officers sometimes acted bravely, but hour by hour, Wednesday’s events demonstrated a top-to-bottom failure by a key federal law-enforcement agency. The crisis can’t even be called a failure of imagination, as 9/11 is sometimes seen, because in many ways the idea that the pro-Trump mob might march on the Capitol to disrupt the proceedings inside seemed all but obvious. Nor was this an incident that just slipped under the radar. The joint session inside was the single biggest news event in the United States that day, and the rioters had been planning disruptive protest for weeks, in the open.”

“The Capitol Police, which until the 1990s had perennially struggled for resources—more a team of security guards than an elite force—has undergone a sea change since four Capitol-altering events: The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, a 1998 attempt by a gunman to storm the House whip’s office, the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent spate of anthrax-laced letters targeting Capitol Hill leaders. Until those events, most members of Congress saw little value in its police force beyond, as one police leader told me, “Where’s my parking space, and can I get a better one?”
The Capitol Police, as much as any federal law enforcement agency, has been the huge beneficiary of the boom in government security spending, nearly tripling in size in the past quarter century—in no small part because it’s the agency in charge of protecting those who appropriate the money in the first place. It has also consolidated its control of Capitol Hill, merging in 2009 with the previously separate Library of Congress police.

Today, the Capitol Police boasts advanced resources equal to the largest and best police departments in the country, including a bomb squad, intelligence unit, hazmat units and specialized dignitary protection agents, as well as crowd control and riot gear and access to an arsenal of weapons that would impress many small armies. Its officers are well-wired with other local and regional police departments and participate in FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Plus it has the entire federal government and numerous local and regional D.C. police departments to call upon for help when needed.

And, at its core, its whole job is to protect about 270 acres, a land mass less than a third the size of New York’s Central Park—including, and especially, the 58-acre Capitol and grounds itself. That unusual balance—immense resources and an extremely specific zone to protect—makes its colossal failure Wednesday so much more stunning to law enforcement experts.”

“The Capitol Police should, in theory, have had the crowd-control skills to meet the moment. It’s an agency uniquely experienced in handling First Amendment protests and protesters—on issues as varied as abortion rights, health care or anti-war activists. After run-of-the-mill traffic offenses, protest-related arrests account for the majority of the department’s total arrests; it probably arrests and confronts more protesters than any other police department in the country. Nor are the Capitol Police a stranger to securing high-profile events, from presidential State of the Union addresses to the inauguration set for later this month on the very scaffolding and stands that the Trump mob rampaged over Wednesday.”

“The failure to plan meant that the die was cast as soon as the Trump mob began walking to the Capitol. In the military, the saying goes “prior planning prevents piss-poor performance,” and the Capitol Police lost the battle for Congress on Wednesday hundreds of yards away from its famous steps—as soon as the mob pushed over and past the first low metal fence far down on the west grounds of the approach to the building.
But from there, the department continued to fail, collapsing in a way familiar to any 19th-century general watching an army in retreat. At every turn, officers seemed at a loss to respond, indicating both training lapses and catastrophic leadership failures. There were failures at the start: A video, with unclear context, circulated on social media of Capitol Police even opening and removing barricades to allow the rioters close to the Capitol. There were failures as it unfolded: Other videos showed officers posing for selfies with rioters inside occupied Capitol office buildings. And there were failures as the crisis wound down: An officer even held a woman’s hand as she was escorted out of the building and down the steps. By late afternoon, police had made fewer arrests (13) in the storming of the U.S. Capitol than are typically made at the New York Giants stadium during a home game (21).

It took more than five hours for control to be reestablished, and only after thousands more law enforcement and military resources were rushed to the Capitol from across the city and neighboring states—resources desperately requested from the Pentagon and the FBI, among others, that Capitol Police leaders had turned down in the days and hours ahead of the mob’s arrival.”

Trump Has Always Been a Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing

“On Nov. 5, 2020, just days after the election, Vice President Mike Pence offered a classic of the genre. As Trump declared the election stolen, in terms as clear as a fist to the face, Pence tried to take him seriously, not literally; to signal solidarity with Trump’s fury while backing away from the actual claims. “I stand with President @RealDonaldTrump,” he tweeted. “We must count every LEGAL vote.”

But Trump did not want every legal vote counted. He wanted legally counted votes to be erased; he wanted new votes discovered in his favor. He wanted to win, not lose; whatever the cost, whatever the means. And every day since, he has turned up the pressure, leading to the bizarre theory that took hold of Trumpists in recent weeks that the vice president was empowered to accept or reject the results of the election on Jan. 6; that Pence could, single-handedly, right this wrong. And so, after years of loyal service, of daily debasements and constant humiliations, Trump came for Pence, too, declaring him just one more enemy of the people.”

“On Wednesday, at the Capitol, those who took Trump seriously and those who took Trump literally collided in spectacular fashion. Inside the building, a rump of Republican senators, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, were leading a feckless challenge to the Electoral College results. They had no pathway to overturning the results and they knew it. They had no evidence that the results should be overturned and they knew it. And they did not act or speak like they truly believed the election had been stolen. They were there to take Trump’s concerns seriously, not literally, in the hopes that his supporters might become their supporters in 2024.

But at the same time, Trump was telling his supporters that the election had actually been stolen, and that it was up to them to resist. And they took him literally. They did not experience this as performative grievance; they experienced it as a profound assault. They stormed the Capitol, attacked police officers, shattered doors and barriers, looted congressional offices. One woman was shot in the mayhem and died.

If their actions looked like lunacy to you, imagine it from their perspective, from within the epistemic structure in which they live. The president of the United States told them the election had been stolen by the Democratic Party, that they were being denied power and representation they had rightfully won. “I know your pain,” he said, in his video from the White house lawn later on Wednesday. “I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it.” More than a dozen Republican senators, more than 100 Republican House members, and countless conservative media figures had backed Trump’s claims.

If the self-styled revolutionaries were lawless, that was because their leaders told them that the law had already been broken, and in the most profound, irreversible way. If their response was extreme, so too was the crime. If landslide victories can fall to Democratic chicanery, then politics collapses into meaninglessness. How could the thieves be allowed to escape into the night, with full control of the federal government as their prize? A majority of Republicans now believe the election was stolen, and a plurality endorse insurrection as a response. A snap YouGov poll found that 45 percent of Republicans approved of the storming of the Capitol; 43 percent opposed it.”

“The Republican Party that has aided and abetted Trump is all the more contemptible because it fills the press with quotes making certain that we know that it knows better. In a line that will come to define this sordid era (and sordid party), a senior Republican told The Washington Post, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change.” What happened on Wednesday in Washington is the downside. Millions of Americans will take you literally. They will not know you are “humoring” the most powerful man in the world. They will feel betrayed and desperate. Some of them will be armed.”

“The problem isn’t those who took Trump at his word from the start. It’s the many, many elected Republicans who took him neither seriously nor literally, but cynically. They have brought this upon themselves — and us.”