It was the tablecloth for what was to come. On Tuesday evening, nearly 2,000 people gathered in Washington for a “Rally to Save America”. Spokesman after angry spokesman fueled conspiracy theories about stolen elections and name-checked sworn enemies: Democrats and weak Republicans, Communists and Satanists.
Still, the crowd seemed a little dizzy at the prospect of helping President Trump reverse the election result – though the language sometimes conjured up a call to arms. “It’s time for war,” said a spokesman.
As the audience thinned, groups of young men appeared in Kevlar vests and helmets, some holding clubs and knives. Some were associated with the neo-fascist Proud Boys; others with the three percent, a right-wing extremist militia group.
“We’re not retreating anymore,” said a man with fresh stitches on his head. “This is our country.”
That night reflected an unsettling mix of freedom of speech and some threat; of everyday Americans supporting their president and extremists willing to commit violence for him. Everyone had gathered in response to Mr. Trump’s repeated appeals To take part in a march to the Capitol the next day that he had promised would be “wild”.
It was. On Wednesday afternoon, a close group of Trump supporters – some exuberant, others bent as hell – were brought down together into disgrace. A mob overran the nation’s Capitol as lawmakers hid in fear. Wholesale vandalism. Tear gas. Shots. A woman dead; an officer dead; many injured. Chants of “USA! UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.!”
But the uprising failed.
It had been the culmination of an ongoing attack by the President and his enablers on fact-based reality that began long before the November elections but assumed a feverish urgency as certainty about Mr. Trump’s defeat grew. For years he had demonized political opponents and the media and focused on sloppy behavior in his rallies.
Since losing to Joseph R. Biden Jr. he had launched a campaign of lies that the presidency had been stolen from him and that the Capitol march was the last chance to stop it. For many Americans, it looked like another feel-good rally to save Mr. Trump’s wounded ego, but some of his followers heard something completely different – a battle cry.
Now dozens of them have been arrested – including an Alabama gunman who had Molotov cocktails in his car and a West Virginia lawmaker who was illegally charged Enter the Capitol – and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seeks help in identifying those who “actively instigated violence.” Many participants in the march are desperate to delete digital evidence of their presence for fear of being fired or harassed online.
Mr Trump has now largely been condemned and cut off from his social media megaphones as a new administration prepares to take power.
Kevin Haag, 67, a retired North Carolina landscaper, who climbed the steps of the Capitol as the crowd pushed forward, said he did not go in and disapproved of those who did. Even so, he said he would never forget the feeling of empowerment when he looked down on thousands of protesters. It felt so good to show people, “We are here. See us! Pay attention to us! Pay attention!”
Now, after a few days of reflection, back home, Mr. Haag, an evangelical Christian, wonders if he’s gone too far. “Should I get on my knees and ask for forgiveness?” Mr. Haag said in an interview. “I ask myself this question.”
But the experience only seemed to have hardened the determination of others. Couy Griffin, 47, a Republican district commissioner from New Mexico, spoke in a video he later posted on his group Cowboys’ Facebook page of organizing another Capitol rally soon – one that could lead to ” Blood flows from this building “for Trump.
“At the end of the day, you mark my word, we will put our flag on Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s desks,” he said. He paused before adding, “And Donald J. Trump if it matters.”
Plans are taking shape online: “Grab a crowbar”
The pre-solicitation for the “March for America” had been robust. Aside from the president and his allies’ repeated promotions in tweets, the upcoming event was welcomed on social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
But woven through many of the messages of standing up for Mr. Trump – and, if possible, blocking the confirmation of the election by Congress that he claimed won – was language that flirted with aggression, even violence .
For example, the term “Storm the Capitol” was mentioned 100,000 times in the 30 days leading up to Jan. 6, according to Zignal Labs, a media literacy company. Many of these mentions appeared in viral tweet threads discussing the potential storms of the Capitol and giving details of how to enter the building.
The word “storm” had a particular resonance for followers of QAnon, the intricate collection of conspiracy theories that falsely claim the country is dominated by deep-seated bureaucrats and democrats who worship Satan. Followers have often pointed to an upcoming storm that would see Mr Trump presiding over a new government regulation.
In online discussions, some QAnon supporters and militia groups investigated what weapons and tools to bring. “Pack a crowbar,” read a message on Gab, a social media haven on the far right. In another discussion someone asked, “Does anyone know if the windows on the second floor are reinforced?”
However, the many waves of communication did not seem to result in a broadly organized plan of action. It is also unclear whether the mobilization was big money or coordinated fundraising, although some Trump supporters appear to have found funds through opaque online networks to fund transportation to the rally.
“Patriots, if you need financial help to support President Trump on January 6, please visit my website,” wrote a QAnon supporter who identified himself as Thad Williams of Tampa, Florida three days before the event Twitter. He said he raised more than $ 27,000. (After the attack on the Capitol, PayPal and Stripe closed his accounts. Mr. Williams did not return a phone message, but his organization’s website, Joy In Liberty, said it spent $ 30,000 on transportation for ” deserved patriots. ”)
Other rally goers set up donation accounts using the GoFundMe online service. Buzzfeed News quotes at least a dozen, and GoFundMe has since closed them.
One of the most noticeable characters in the Capitol attack – a shirtless man with a painted face, a spear with flags, and a fur hat with horns – was linked to the online fundraiser. Jacob Anthony Chansley, a 33-year-old voice actor, is known as the pro-Trump rally in Phoenix and is known as Q Shaman. He opened a GoFundMe account in December to help fund transportation to another Trump demonstration in Washington, but the trouble According to reports only made him $ 10. Mr. Chansley retweeted Mr. Williams’ funding offer on Jan. 3, but it is unclear whether he benefited from it.
On Tuesday, the eve of the march, a few thousand people gathered in Freedom Plaza in Washington to take part in the “Rally to Save America,” which was approved as a “Rally to Revive.” The different interests of the participants were reflected in the speakers: well-known evangelists, old-right celebrities (Alex Jones of Infowars) and Trump loyalists, including his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the self-described Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, he had both pardoned.
The speakers repeatedly encouraged participants to see themselves as foot soldiers fighting to save the country. Americans, said Mr Flynn, were ready to “bleed” for freedom.
“The members of the House of Representatives, the members of the United States Senate, those of you who are feeling weak tonight, those of you who don’t have the moral fiber in your body, are getting some tonight,” he said. “Because we, the people, will be here tomorrow and we want you to know that we are not going to stand up for a lie.”
Then came tomorrow.
Inside, the Capitol is in chaos
It was President Trump’s turn. At around noon on Wednesday, he emerged from a spectator’s party in a tent, stepped onto a stage in a park south of the White House, and delivered a stream of inflammatory words for more than an hour.
He admonished the more than 8,000 people to march to the Capitol to put the legislature under pressure: “Because you will never retake our country with weakness.” You have to show strength and you have to be strong. “
Before he had finished speaking, people were moving east toward the Capitol. The crowd included supporters traveling in trailers from across the country, Trump flags waving in the wind, and people so moved by the president’s call for support that they’d jumped and driven in their cars for hours.
The transition of the president
They traveled from different corners of resentment in 21st century America. Whether motivated by a sense of economic disenfranchisement or distrust of the government, by bigotry or conspiracy, or by believing that Mr. Trump is God’s way of preparing for the rapture, they shared a loyalty to the president.
Now the moment had come, a moment that combined the thrill with the ominous.
“I’m happy, sad, afraid, excited,” said Scott Cyganiewicz, 56, a flooring contractor from Gardner, Massachusetts, as he watched the crowd of Trump loyalists roam the streets. “It’s an emotional roller coaster ride.”
Mr. Cyganiewicz said he was on his way out of town. He didn’t want to be there when violence escaped. Only part of the wider crowd entered the Capitol grounds.
News soon spread that Vice President Mike Pence – who would oversee the pro forma count of votes for Congressional certification – had announced that he would not participate in the president’s efforts to overturn the election.
“You can imagine the emotions that went through people when we received that word,” said Mr. Griffin, the county commissioner of New Mexico, in a video he posted on social media. “And then we go down to the Capitol and they set up the initiation for Joe Biden.”
He added, “What do you think would happen?”
Many in the crowd clearly spoke of violence – or even some other civil war. A man named Jeff, who said he was an off duty cop from York County, Pennsylvania, said he didn’t know what would happen after he and his wife Amy reached the Capitol. But he felt ready to participate if something should break out.
“There are a lot of people here who are ready to take orders,” he said. “When the orders are given, the people will rise.”
By the time most of the crowd reached the building, its leading edge had turned into an angry mob. A man barked into a megaphone: “Go on! Fight for Trump, fight for Trump! “
“Military courts! Hang her! ”Shouted someone wearing a cowboy hat.
“Arrest Congress!” shouted a woman in a flag scarf.
People rushed past some Capitol police officers to knock on the windows and doors. Lots Since then, eyewitness accounts and videos have surfaced conveying the pandemonium as hundreds of people overwhelmed the inadequate law enforcement presence. In several instances of role reversal, for example, rioters are seen firing pepper spray seemingly at police officers to keep mobs from getting any closer to the Capitol.
After a few minutes the crowd broke through and streamed into an empty office. Shards of glass crunched under people’s feet as the scene sank into chaos.
Some stood in awe while others took action. As a group prepared to break through an entrance, a Trump supporter picked up a bottle of wine and shouted, “Whose way?” To which the crowd replied, “Our way!” There was confusion. “Hey what’s the Senate side?” said a tall man in camouflage and sunglasses. “Where’s the Senate? Can someone google it?”
Meanwhile, members of The Oath Keepers, a self-proclaimed civic militia, appeared to be on guard – for the violators. They wore olive green shirts, helmets, and patches on their upper left sleeves that read “Guardians of the Republic” and “Not on our watch.”
American flags fluttered next to “Trump 2020” flags, and people wearing “Make America Great Again” regalia moved next to people carrying anti-Semitic slogans. The chants “Hell No, Never Joe” and “Stop the Steal” broke out, as did the chants “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner”.
West Virginia-born Derrick Evans, elected Republican state delegate just two months earlier, wandered the halls of the Capitol, filming himself and occasionally singing. Once he shouted, “Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!”
Outside the building, Mr. Griffin, who was once photographed wearing a 10 gallon hat and sitting across from President Trump in the Oval Office, was now cheerful Address the camera from one of the crowded decks and declare “a great day for America”. When he said, “We came peacefully,” he was interrupted by a man wearing a jacket with a hand grenade logo and said, “Believe me, we are well armed if we have to.”
Amid the cheers and excitement, questions were asked what to do next. Some can be heard looking for certain members of Congress, including House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, whose office was broken into by several people. They and other lawmakers hid out of fear for their safety.
One picture showed a slender man walking through the Senate Chamber in paramilitary regalia: camouflage uniform, Kevlar vest, mask and baseball cap that covered his face. He was carrying a stack of flex cuffs – the plastic cuffs used by the police. The picture raised a question that remained to be answered: why wear shackles when not in use?
Several rioters carried fire extinguishers. One stood on a balcony on the west side of the Capitol building and sprayed on police officers trying to hold off the crowd. Others carried them into the building itself, one into the statue hall and one onto the steps in front of the Senate Chamber and sprayed at journalists and police officers.
“Our president wants us here,” says one man in a livestream video in which he is standing in the Capitol. “We wait and take orders from our president.”
Despite the hopes and expectations of his supporters, President Trump was lacking in action as rioters raged through the convention halls. It would be hours before he finally appeared in a somewhat muted, videotaped appeal for them to leave.
“We must have peace,” he said. “So go home, we love you, you are very special.”
Some of Mr. Trump’s supporters expressed frustration or even disbelief that the president appeared to have given up after they got in line for him.
Mr. Haag, the retired landscape designer, was among the disappointed. Still, he said, the movement would continue without Mr. Trump.
“We represent the 74 million people who have been disenfranchised,” he said. “We’re still out here. We are a force to be reckoned with. We’re not going away. “
A man walked away from the Capitol at dusk and shouted angrily through a megaphone that Mr. Pence was a coward, and now Mr. Trump had told everyone to just go home.
“Well, he can go home to his property in Mar-a-Lago,” the man shouted, adding, “We have to go back to our shops, which are closed!”
While some rioters face failures, others consider repeating it
After what Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called a “failed insurrection,” many of those who have responded to the president’s ardor are now facing reckoning.
A primary target for investigators will be whoever hit Brian Sicknick of the Capitol Police with a fire extinguisher; The 42-year-old officer died Thursday after being injured in the riot. At the same time, authorities are investigating the fatal police shots of Ashli Babbitt, 35, an Air Force veteran who joined those who violated the Capitol.
Individuals previously charged with federal crimes include Mr. Chansley, the so-called Q shaman; Mr. Evans, the West Virginia legislature – who resigned Saturday; and Richard Barnett, a man from Arkansas, featured in a popular photograph, with his foot on a desk in Ms. Pelosi’s office.
Meanwhile, Mr. Griffin, the New Mexico commissioner who runs Cowboys for Trump, saw his group’s Twitter account banned and calls for his resignation.
The anger, resentment, and conspiracy-tinged suspicion that led to Wednesday’s chaos did not dissipate at dawn on Thursday. Coupled with the shattered furniture in the Capitol, there were shattered expectations of a continued Trump presidency, the accountable legislature, and the fulfillment of sacred prophecies.
Signs of potential violence have already surfaced. Twitter, which canceled Mr. Trump’s account on Friday, noted that “plans for future armed protests have already increased online,” including “a planned secondary attack on the US Capitol and the US Capitol buildings on Jan. 17” .
The urge for more unrest is being discussed in the usual dirty corners of the internet. Private chat groups about Gab and Parler are peppered with talk of a possible “Million Militia March” on January 20th, which would disrupt Mr Biden’s inauguration.
There is talk of carpooling, where to stay in the Washington area – and what to bring. Maybe baseball bats or assault rifles.
“We took the building once,” wrote one commentator, “we can take it again.”
The coverage was contributed by Sabrina Tavernise, Sheera Frenkel, David D. Kirkpatrick, Campbell Robertson, Mark Scheffler and Haley Willis.