Opinion and Analysis: How January 6, 2021 Unraveled

They were a rather odd collection of Americans—husbands and wives, CEOs and locksmiths, millionaires and the unemployed. Yet together, driven by divisive rhetoric pushed by an insidious media apparatus and encouraged by an obsessively self-centered president, they achieved a first in 207 years: a full-scale breach of the Capitol.

They were a rather odd collection of Americans—husbands and wives, CEOs and locksmiths, millionaires and the unemployed. Yet together, driven by divisive rhetoric pushed by an insidious media apparatus and encouraged by an obsessively self-centered and self-serving president, they achieved a first in America’s 207 year history: a full-scale breach of the Capitol.

On January 6, 2021, President Donald Trump spoke to his followers at the “Save America March,” a protest organized by those on the right seeking to delegitimize the results of the November election. He urged his followers to march to overturn this “egregious assault on our democracy,” telling them to “march to the Capitol” and that they “will never take back this country by weakness.” And so, thus inspired and encouraged, the thousands of “protesters,” armed with masks, zip ties, shields, and batons who stormed the Capitol.

What happened next was perhaps even more appalling: Capitol police officers, overwhelmed by the sheer size and anger of the mob, gave way. The resulting chaos led to five deaths. Ashley Babbitt, a veteran from San Diego, was fatally shot in the neck while attempting to break through the doors leading to the Senate floor, and Capitol policeman Brian Sicknick was murdered by protesters with a fire extinguisher. Three other deaths resulted from medical emergencies that couldn’t be addressed during the stampede.

The man seen here, Adam Johnson, was formally charged with stealing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern during the riot. Johnson is one of many being charged after the seditious siege of the Capital on January 6th.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle were disgusted and horrified at the display of violence on the Capitol, and the work to certify President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ win was completed that night. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), once vocal supporters of the President, denounced the violence and the motion to overturn the results of the election.

But to properly deliver justice and to move toward the more “perfect union” that the United States strives for, it is crucial to hold those who have wronged this nation accountable.

Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have played an clear role in mounting this insurrection. Ambitious and opportunistic, Mr. Hawley and Mr. Cruz saw in this certification vote an opening to appeal to Trump’s base; their opposition was an attempt to insert themselves into the national news cycle in order to generate support for their 2024 presidential campaigns. 

Mr. Cruz is particularly unabashed about these goals. Indeed, Mr. Cruz has continued to defend Mr. Trump even after Mr. Trump had made personal insults about Heidi Cruz (Mr. Cruz’s wife) and his family four years earlier. He has remained a loyal supporter of the president, so his faux outrage over the violence in the Capitol rings hollow in the face of his very clear role in inciting this violence.

Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have remained loyal supporters of the president, continuing to object to the certification of votes even after the riots.

The person who has most wronged our nation, however, has only received justice from Twitter and Facebook, with a ban on Donald Trump’s account occurring two days after the insurrection. This is most likely in response to his refusal to order his supporters to leave the Capitol Building, instead tweeting for them to “stay peaceful,” even as they smashed through windows, beat up cops, and yelled profanities at officers. Finally, after two hours, Trump asked them to “go home” through a video posted on Twitter. In between this peaceful message were claims of a fraudulent election and of understanding his followers’ “pain” and “hurt.” He ended the video directed to these domestic terrorists sieging the Capitol with, “We love you. You’re very special.” 

Never in our history have we seen a US president provoke a coup on the government. Never have we seen the Confederate flag fly in the Capitol Building. And never have we seen the 25th Amendment invoked, which Republicans and Democrats alike are calling for, especially after Vice President Pence himself condemned the Trump-incited violence. This is certainly a counter to the earlier “firsts” of the week that were decidedly more positive: Jon Ossoff being the youngest senator elected and the first Jewish senator from Georgia, and Raphael Warnock being the first African-American elected as senator for Georgia.

But the bedrock of this democracy remains secure. Mr. Bruce Cain, professor of political science at Stanford University, optimistically notes that “Our Democracy is holding up. That is the good news. The bad news is that the anger and tensions will not go away soon.” Our collective response to this insurrection will determine the course of this nation, and the unity that we so desperately need in these trying times will only come when all politicians, regardless of political party, embrace accountability. Only then can we reaffirm the democratic values that we hold so dear.

Click here for a visual timeline published by The Washington Post.