A year after the Capitol siege, America’s democracy is still to the test

Washington (AFP) – A year after supporters of Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol and closed Congress, Americans are still awaiting judgment on the unprecedented challenge to the country’s democracy.

Was it a simple demonstration turned riot? An insurrection? A coup attempt fomented by Trump?

Videos from January 6, 2021 show the violence carried out in the name of the former president.

Assailants are seen beating security guards with iron bars and batons. A policeman is crushed in a doorway, screaming in pain.

Rioters dressed in assault gear chant “Hang Mike Pence,” as the vice president and Democratic and Republican lawmakers flee. A woman is shot dead in a hallway of the Capitol.

Americans were stunned by the hour-long assault, as were much of the world, accustomed to seeing the United States as a model of stable democracy.

A year later, the brazen attempt to bar Democrat Joe Biden from taking office after his November 2020 presidential victory needs an account.

A banner on the floor of the United States Capitol a day after the building was stormed by Trump supporters Olivier DOULIERY AFP / File

“Even during the Civil War, the insurgents did not violate our Capitol, the citadel of our democracy,” Biden said in July.

“It wasn’t dissent. It was mess. It posed an existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive.”

Defying trump

A year later, more than 700 people involved in the January 6 attack were charged with assaulting law enforcement officials and breaking into and desecrating the halls of Congress.

Trump supporters inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021
Trump supporters inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 Saul LOEB AFP / File

Investigations have shown a concerted effort by Trump and his allies to prevent Pence from leading Congress by certifying Biden as legally elected president.

The looming question is: how does Trump’s attack and effort tie in?

A special House of Representatives committee is investigating, but the deeper they get, the more sensitive it becomes.

If they find evidence to suggest that Trump knowingly instigated the attack, or conspired to illegally retain power, should they risk more unrest by bringing an unprecedented criminal prosecution against a former president?

For the first anniversary of Thursday’s bombing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered a “solemn observance” to Congress.

Trump, who remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, is planning his own January 6 commemoration in Palm Beach, Florida, which he says will focus on the 2020 “rigged” presidential election.

Although he showed no evidence that the election was fraudulent, polls show that about two-thirds of Republican voters believe him.

Former US President Donald Trump continues to falsely insist that the November 2020 election was
Former US President Donald Trump continues to insist, falsely, that the November 2020 election was “rigged” MANDEL NGAN AFP / File

And Republican lawmakers, aware that Trump can make or break them politically, have aligned themselves almost uniformly.

Even Pence won’t speak against him.

Instead, the party seeks to regain power in the 2022 Congressional election and in 2024, when Trump could run for president again.

Concerted effort to cancel elections

The arc of events leading up to January 6, 2021 has become clearer.

Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, seated in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on January 6, 2021
Richard Barnett, a supporter of US President Donald Trump, seated in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on January 6, 2021 SAUL LOEB AFP / File

Months before the vote, Trump said it would be fraudulent and he would not agree to lose.

On election night, when Biden’s victory was clear, he refused to give in.

For six weeks, Trump and his supporters sought to reverse the vote count in key states through lawsuits and pressure on leaders.

When that effort failed, they set their sights on Jan.6, when Pence was to summon both houses of Congress to certify Biden’s victory.

One of the points of attack was to summon Trump’s supporters to Washington.

“Big protest in Washington on January 6,” Trump tweeted. “Be there, will be wild!”

Another was to pressure Pence to suspend certification, based on questionable legal justifications developed and circulated by Trump allies, his chief of staff Mark Meadows and some Republican lawmakers.

These two efforts merged on January 6.

As Congress prepared to meet, Trump told his supporters at a White House rally that the election had been “rigged” and vowed to “never give in.”

Pence was the key, he said.

“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”

He urged the crowd to come down to Congress and “fight like hell.”

Thousands of people marched to the Capitol, including members of militant groups called the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, many of whom wore bulletproof vests and combat-style helmets.

At a nearby hotel, Trump allies operated a “war room” in contact with people on the streets, with Trump’s Oval Office, and with Republican lawmakers in Congress.

The ensuing violent attack shut down the Capitol, halting certification.

Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021
Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 Joseph Prezioso AFP / File

He scared lawmakers away and left five dead and many injured.

It took more than six hours for police and federal troops to regain control and eliminate the attackers.

Finally, in the wee hours of January 7, Pence officially certified Biden as president-elect.

Rush to complete the probe

Many believed that Trump’s swift impeachment over the next two weeks and Biden’s inauguration on January 20 would make the whole episode go down in history.

The U.S. Capitol is seen behind fences in July 2021
The U.S. Capitol is seen behind fences in July 2021 Olivier DOULIERY AFP

But Trump is not gone.

He secured his power over the Republican Party, dismissed all criticism and promised a comeback.

Democrats, appalled, demand public accounts.

“Inaction – or just moving on – is just not an option,” said Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson, who is leading the House inquiry.

The committee, which has already interviewed around 300 people, is due to complete its work before the November 2022 midterm election, when Republicans could regain control of the House and stifle the investigation.

In December, committee vice-chair Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans to back the investigation, made it clear that the panel’s views were on Trump.

“There has not been a stronger case in the history of our country for a Congressional inquiry into the actions of a former president,” Cheney said. “We cannot give in to President Trump’s efforts to cover up what happened.”

Experts say exposing the truths about Jan.6 poses enormous political risks for the Biden administration.

But leaving them buried is also dangerous.

“January 6 was the harbinger of a clear and present danger,” William Galston, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution, told AFP.

“The effort to overturn the results of a democratic election has failed,” he said.

“Will that be true in three years? It’s not so clear. Because the people who were determined to reverse the effects of the 2020 election have learned a lot.”

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