What-ifs are a common theme throughout history. What has occurred is the result of a number of diverse decisions made at various points in time, judgments that quietly or drastically altered the trajectory of what was to come — and which often prompt a single question: What if another road had been taken?
The riot in the United States Capitol on January 6th is an example of such an occurrence. It, too, is an earthquake in American history, the result of a series of choices, the majority of which were made by President Donald Trump. What if he hadn’t made several misleading assertions regarding the election? What if he hadn’t made that day a source of stress? What if he’d opted not to bring thousands of supporters to D.C.?
And what if he’d attempted to halt the violence once it started?
On Monday evening, America learned more about the degree to which Trump’s vast network of supporters, ranging from Fox News presenters to Republicans within the Capitol building, had pressured him and his aides to attempt to stop the disturbance while it was still in progress. We knew from the start that Trump was unwilling to intervene when the Capitol was besieged and Congress and his vice president were rushed to safety. But, until today, we haven’t fully understood the variety of voices that, as events unfolded, were pleading with him to more aggressively deconstruct the behemoth he’d built.
Whatever he and his friends say about the events of that day now, many were clear in the moment: a group of individuals was capturing and then controlling the seat of American legislative power — and Trump could put a stop to it.
But he didn’t even try until the devastation had been done.
The first barrier was overrun on the west front of the Capitol while Trump was still speaking at his rally on the Ellipse south of the White House. Even as he was telling his audience that “when you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules” and that “we must stop this deal and then we must ensure that such outrageous election fraud never happens again, can never be allowed to happen again,” protesters were already approaching the building from within the already-established perimeter. Capitol Police were reporting injuries less than 10 minutes after he urged the crowd that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Rioters had stormed the Capitol building at 2:12 p.m. Vice President Mike Pence was promptly escorted out of the building. A few minutes later, Fox News interviewed a man from Tampa who expressed disappointment that Pence had opted not to support Trump’s plan to keep power.
“I think there’s several hundred thousand people here that are very disappointed,” the man said, live on air, “but I still believe President Trump has something else left.”
Trump normally watches Fox News and was watching TV at the start of the violence, however we don’t know whether he witnessed that man’s statements. He did, however, deliver his first remarks since the Capitol was assaulted at 2:24 p.m.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify,” he tweeted. “USA demands the truth!”
At the time, national security advisor Keith Kellogg assured Trump that Pence was safe, but that “nobody’s carrying a TV on their shoulder,” according to the book “Peril.”
“You need to get a tweet out real quick, help control the crowd up there. This is out of control.”
The main cable networks, including Fox, had already claimed that the Capitol had been entered by that point. However, Trump did not make any visible attempt to stop the violence until more than 10 minutes after his assault on Pence. Finally, a lukewarm message: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
Ashli Babbitt was shot four minutes after that tweet as she tried to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, which is next to the House floor. She died as a result of her injuries.
By this moment, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was getting several texts from supporters on Capitol Hill and Fox News studios. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo. ), vice-chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 incident, reviewed a sequence of communications addressed to Meadows that afternoon on Monday.
Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s son, begged Meadows to persuade his father to denounce the violence. “ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.” Meadows concurred. Trump Jr. said that his father “has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Similarly, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham urged Meadows to persuade Trump to act, adding that “this is hurting all of us” and that Trump was “destroying his legacy.” Meadows received a similar message from the network’s Brian Kilmeade. Sean Hannity proposed that Trump make a statement in order to persuade people to leave the Capitol.
Other lawmakers sent Meadows, their erstwhile comrade, depressing updates.
“Hey, Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol. Breaking windows on doors,” one texted, according to Cheney. “Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?”
“POTUS has to come out firmly and tell protesters to dissipate,” one wrote. “Someone is going to get killed.” Another: “TELL THEM TO GO HOME.”
Trump made a belated plea to his fans at 3:13 p.m., an hour after the Capitol was initially invaded and with Congress and Pence in hiding.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful,” he wrote in a tweet. “No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order — respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
Another hour passed. He published a video message to his supporters.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us,” he said. “It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side, but you have to go home now. We have to have peace.” He later added: “We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home and go home in peace.”
Rosanne Boyland was crushed to death less than 10 minutes later when a throng on the Capitol’s east side assaulted police officers in an effort to gain inside. After 5 p.m., the National Guard arrived.
It was apparent from the start of the violence at the Capitol that day why it was being carried out and who held main responsibility for it. There would have been no riot if Trump had decided not to accentuate bogus charges of fraud and if he had not urged people to go in large numbers. In the months following, there has been a concerted attempt to divert attention away from that fact, to pretend that the riot was unrelated to Trump’s policies and actions.
On that day, though, as the Capitol was being overrun, many individuals in Trump’s entourage regarded him as the trigger. They realized that if anybody could put a stop to the issue, it was Trump. Trump, on the other hand, did not. He was watching it on television. His supporters attempted to utilize the delay in the counting of electoral votes to put pressure on lawmakers to reject them.
Consider that Trump’s own son attempted to get Meadows to interfere in Trump’s case. The message is clear: Trump was disregarding everyone else’s pleas. It’s not as if Sean Hannity or Donald Trump Jr. didn’t have the president’s ear.
He was deliberately deaf to their appeals.
Trump tweeted one last opinion just after 6 p.m.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Trump wrote. “Go home with love & in peace.”
Then he added one last thought: “Remember this day forever!”
We got that order, Trump. Done.