As I watched the videos presented by House impeachment managers this week, I was gripped by two realizations. The first was how narrowly Congress’s escape from the insurrectionists really was and the second was how close we came to a massacre of the crowd.
On the first day of the impeachment hearings, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the House’s lead impeachment manager, played a gripping video of the attack on the Capitol. The 14-minute video is in chronological order and shows some previously unseen footage of the attack, interspersed with clips from Donald Trump’s speech that morning. If you haven’t seen the video, you should definitely watch it.
Chilling security video from the Capitol was shown on the second day. This presentation included previously unseen footage of Officer Eugene Goodman ushering Senator Mitt Romney to safety (7:11) and a different perspective on the now-famous footage of a solitary Goodman standing off a crowd of rioters (8:30). Vice President Pence and his family are seen being evacuated by Secret Service agents (12:30). The video is interspersed in clips in an hour-long presentation but is well worth the time it takes to view.
The insurrectionists appear to have come within minutes of confronting the vice president and members of Congress. We don’t know what would have happened if the crowd had found the officials that they were looking for, but we do know that many members of the crowd had murder in their hearts. The crowd is on video chanting “hang Mike Pence” and “bring out Pence” (14:15). Other videos have shown members of the mob looking for Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well (21:57). We also know that before the insurrectionists got their hands on the vice president or members of Congress, the crowd would have taken massive casualties.
Think about it. Over the past few years, we have had an ongoing debate about the use of deadly force by the police, and what we have learned is that there is a very low bar to justify killings by police. Essentially, if a police officer feels threatened, he is justified in shooting. And can anyone doubt that every officer at the Capitol on January 6 felt threatened?
Police audio (54:30) recorded officers reporting that the mob was using bear spray against them and then ultimately calling in, “We have been flanked and we have lost the line.” Body camera footage and testimony by the officers (58:00) show the viciousness of the attack against police guarding the entrance to the Capitol.
The insurrectionists had broken the law in breaching the Capitol building and their purpose was unquestionably both violent and illegal. Police would have undoubtedly been justified in opening fire on the crowd to protect Congress and the vice president. One of the officers uses the phrase “medieval” to describe the battle and that seems entirely appropriate.
Why didn’t the Capitol’s defenders open fire? The best answer that I can give is that there were more members of the mob than there were bullets immediately available.
If the police had opened fire on the attackers, there would have been two possible outcomes. One possibility is that the crowd would have panicked and retreated. The other possibility is that the mob would have become enraged and more violent.
In most cases, when a mob is fired upon it will probably disperse, but I’m not sure that would have been the case here. We know that many of the members of the crowd came to Washington with the express purpose of attacking Congress to prevent the counting of the Electoral College votes. These people came prepared with tactical gear, zip-tie handcuffs, and weapons ranging from baseball bats to guns to pipe bombs. The militants, many of them combat veterans, might not have been so easily frightened off.
The idea of the Capitol police firing into a crowd of protesters brings to mind a couple of historical incidents. One is the Kent State massacre of 1970 in which National Guard soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd of demonstrators, killing four. But that crowd was unarmed and peaceful, unlike the MAGA mob at the Capitol.
The incident that I imagine that the Capitol battle would have most resembled does not come from US history, but from South African and British history. In 1879, about 140 British soldiers faced off against about 4,000 Zulu warriors at Rourke’s Drift in what is now South Africa. The heavily armed British fought off the Zulus, most of whom were armed only with spears, inflicting heavy casualties. The battle of the Capitol probably would have ended similarly.
In the actual history of January 6, only one person was shot. Ashli Babbitt, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran and QAnon adherent from California was killed by police as she attempted to climb through a window into the House chamber. The moment was captured on video below and from a different angle at 41 minutes into the second impeachment video.
The officer who shot Babbitt has been cleared of wrongdoing by officials who investigated the killing. This should not surprise anyone. If police killings of an unarmed drunken man in a hotel hallway or private citizens in their own homes are justifiable, then shooting a woman who has illegally entered the Capitol and is in the act of attacking Congress in an attempt to overturn the election is certainly justified.
If anyone is responsible for Babbitt’s death (other than Babbitt herself), it is the man who brought the mob to Washington and provoked the attack on the Capitol. The sole question that should be asked and answered in the impeachment hearings is “Would the attack on the Capitol have happened if Donald Trump had accepted the election results?” To that question, there can be only one honest answer.
On January 6, Donald Trump not only betrayed his country and the Constitution, but he also betrayed his supporters. President Trump told his followers, “I’ll be there with you” as we “walk down to the Capitol,” but Trump actually took a car back to the White House after sending his supporters off to what could easily have become a massacre.
As has been established many times, even after the attack began, Trump did not try to rein in his supporters. Vice President Pence was removed from the Senate at 2:13 p.m. Less than 10 minutes later, at 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” a message clearly calculated to further inflame the crowd.
Fourteen minutes later, Trump tweeted, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!" It was not until 4:17 p.m. that the president uploaded a video to Twitter calling for the mob to “go home in peace” and telling the insurrectionists “We love you. You're very special.”
President Trump was perfectly willing to let his supporters risk their lives and freedom in an unconstitutional and ill-advised attempt to steal the election. Some of Trump’s supporters realize that they’ve been had. The “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansely is reportedly now “deeply disappointed in former President Trump,” especially after leaving office without issuing pardons for the MAGA rioters who heeded his call. Others, like the majority of Senate Republicans, are still onboard the Trump train.
Some people say that Trump’s total disregard for the wellbeing of his supporters makes him a psychopath. I’m not a psychologist and won’t try to diagnose the former president, but I will say that his willingness to throw away the lives of his supporters for his own personal gain makes him a very dangerous man. Donald Trump is easily the most dangerous president that we have ever had.
The Senate has now followed precedent and firmly established that it has jurisdiction to try a former president who committed an egregious breach of trust against the American people. Senators should now look past their partisan allegiances and their next election and do what is right for the country by disqualifying Donald Trump from ever holding federal office again.
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