AnalysisGuest Analysis

A year later, what are the lessons from the Trump-backed insurrection of January 6?

This article was originally published by People’s Dispatch

A year ago today, a fascist mob took over the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C., stunning the country and the entire world. Called to action by Donald Trump and instigated by his false accusation that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, the mob stormed the building and briefly stopped the certification of the electoral college votes. The attack would not have been possible without collusion from high-level military, police and security officials. Yet, none of them have been brought to justice. At the same time, Congress formed a special committee on January 6th which has no legal authority to persecute the people responsible for it.

The insurrection was a historic attack on one of the most fundamental tenets of US democracy – the peaceful transition of power between the two ruling class parties. Though Trump distanced himself from the events that day, developments over the year have done nothing to stomp out the movement that carried out the attack. In fact, this movement has been galvanized so much so that Donald Trump planned a press conference for the first anniversary of the insurrection at his resort in Mar-a-Lago.

To understand the root causes and implications of January 6, Monica Cruz spoke to Brian Becker, host of The Socialist Program and National Director of the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition.

Monica Cruz: Trump cancelled his press conference after receiving warnings from members of the Republican Party and the media establishment. What do make of the fact that he even planned to do this?

Brian Becker: When Trump decided to hold a press conference at Mar-a-Lago in Florida on the first anniversary of the violent assault that dispersed Congress, it was clear that he was trying to take ownership of what happened on January 6. He wanted to identify with it. He said in his statement announcing the press conference “Until then, remember, the insurrection took place on November 3rd, it was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th.” This meant that there was an effort to destroy American democracy by the theft of votes. As a consequence, he was deprived of his rightful re-election to the White House. And that the protest in January was not a violent insurrection, but rather a righteous effort to right a wrong, in other words, to save democracy.

So he’s completely back in the mode of encouraging, supporting and embracing those who carried out the violent assault on the Capitol. Now, what makes that important is that in the days after the violent assault, Trump distanced himself from the attack. He went on TV in fact, and said disparaging words about those who would employ violence. He said the people who carried out the violence didn’t represent him. And that showed that Trump was very much on the defensive in the days after January 6. But today, a year later, Trump is no longer on the defensive but is very much in an offensive, aggressive mode. And that’s a reflection of what has changed in the last year – instead of weakening Trump’s base, instead of weakening the right-wing movement in the United States, the events on January 6 and what took place afterwards have in fact consolidated the rise of this very far-right movement.

And Trump is the leader of that movement. His decision to cancel the press conference was because the Republicans in the Senate, the Republicans in the House of Representatives and Republican-oriented, right-wing media like Fox news – these are the more mainstream, but still very far-right forces within the Republican establishment and party politics – thought it was a tactical mistake for Trump to take ownership of January 6. They felt that it would diminish and weaken Trump, and they felt he was making a tactical error. So he listened to their counsel. So while he cancelled the event, it doesn’t change his political orientation or his feeling of strength. It’s simply a tactical decision not to directly be in the cross-hairs on the day when all of the media will be showing vivid images of the January 6 assault and just how violent it was.

MC: Can you summarize what the reaction of the Democrats and Republicans has been over the course of this year to the attacks on January 6?

BB: I think the most important failure of the Democratic party was the way they did not encourage the prosecution of the chief architects of the violent assault, meaning they did not file charges against Trump and his entourage who clearly planned this event. They were the ones who summoned tens of thousands of Trump supporters to Washington in the middle of the work week. People had to get on planes and come to Washington or come by other modes of transportation. But the reason they came that day in the middle of the week and not a Saturday was that it was when Congress was going to certify the elections after which there was no doubt that Trump was leaving the White House and Biden was coming in.

So this was a last ditch effort to bring people to Washington DC and at the rally at the White House, Trump told them to march on the Capitol, to fight and show no weakness and said he would accompany them. So when these people marched on the Capitol, they thought they were doing the bidding of their leader. And in fact, they were. Donald Trump was telling them that if Mike Pence doesn’t use his authority in the Senate to overturn the election outcome, he would be nothing short of a traitor, and as a consequence, when they got to the Capitol, they were chanting, “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!”

So it’s clear that Donald Trump was the architect of the whole operation. And so instead of prosecuting Trump, which would’ve really made a big difference, or his entourage, the only negative thing that happened to him was he lost his Twitter account. Meanwhile, the government then prosecuted hundreds of rank-and-file people who were basically following the direction of their leader. And instead of prosecuting Trump, they decided to impeach him, which was nothing other than political theater, performative theater, because Trump was on his way out in two weeks at the time of the trial. So that allowed Trump, who did not face serious criminal prosecution, to make the argument to his political base: ‘Look, they’re impeaching me even as I’m leaving, which makes no sense.’ He could claim that the impeachment was one more indication that all of this was a political hit job. And so he was able to reframe what January 6 was and what happened afterwards as him being politically persecuted. In other words, he was able to assume the position of a victim of a political adversary, rather than what he really was, which was the architect of a seditious conspiracy to overturn a constitutionally mandated process.

That was a great boost for Trump and afterwards, Biden came in and failed to deliver on his Build Back Better program or any of the other far-reaching promises. So there’s been disillusionment and alienation from Biden while Trump has been able to not only ridicule and mock Biden as ineffective, but also portray himself as the victim rather than the aggressor to his base.

MC: The House of Representatives panel set up to investigate the incidents does not seem to have been very effective. It seems to be moving towards sending a criminal referral, which really does not have any true substance in terms of actually bringing the main architects and the people at the highest level of the military and security state to justice. Then, of course, there were the tens of thousands of people who participated, whose faces you know because they posted on social media. A few people have been charged and sentenced to short terms in prison. But there really haven’t been any major consequences for those at the highest level who participated. So can you talk about the role of this committee, its power or lack of it, and what that says about where the ruling class is at?

BB: 700 people have been charged with criminal activities, but many were not key players at all. These include those who were just lingering around the Capitol building afterwards and people who didn’t even go into the Capitol. Thus, the people who are being prosecuted are the foot soldiers, or some of them were just along for the ride. This allows Trump to become their advocate and say, ‘See, they’re punishing these poor people who are just coming to demonstrate.’ Meanwhile, as you mentioned, the congressional committee that’s investigating this has issued some subpoenas for contempt of Congress for failure to show up, and will make some criminal referrals to the Department of Justice that have no legal teeth.

They are simply recommendations to the Department of Justice. So I think that the Democratic Party is grandstanding by looking like they’re big and strong against Trump when, in fact, what they’re doing is the opposite. He is not facing criminal charges. As for the other charges, the contempt charges in Congress will be in fact the political rallying cry for Steve Bannon and the other parts of the Trump entourage. So again, it’s performance theater by the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, it is using these events so that people can send millions and millions to the Democrats as they prepare for the next round of elections. And you also have Trump using the allegation of election fraud to raise lots of money – hundreds of millions of dollars.

So it doesn’t appear to be serious because it’s not serious. And if anything, it provides Trump with a sort of easy-to-attack adversary. He’s not facing real consequences, but he can say, ‘look, they’re parading every day on TV. They’re holding me and my friends and colleagues in contempt again.’ It’s actually very useful for the right wing. The right wing is mobilizing. The right wing is consolidating its movement right now, while on the Democratic side, there’s this alienation and disaffection with the ineffectiveness of the party leadership and the complete worthlessness of the Biden administration in terms of doing anything meaningful to help the working class and poor people.

MC: I think one aspect that shocked many people was the paralysis that the ruling class was experiencing during the insurrection and its slow response to what happened in the days following. What do you make of this response?

BB: I mean, this is part of a perplexing topic. When one examines January 6, what Trump tried to do was prevent the peaceful transfer of power from one ruling class party to the other. This is a cornerstone of the legitimacy, or perceived legitimacy, of the American system of governance – the fact that when one side loses the election, it doesn’t, you know, end up in street fighting or civil war, which would be the hallmark of an unstable system of governance. The US has acknowledged this peaceful transition, at least since the end of the civil war in 1865. So what Trump did is he violated this basic rule – the cardinal rule of politics in America – by putting his own interests ahead of the interests of the capitalist system to demonstrate stability in its form of governance.

So you would think, wow, that’s pretty big. If that’s the cardinal rule, it would be the cardinal sin of bourgeois politics to show that American democracy isn’t that great. It’s not that stable because it weakens the image of the empire globally. But even though Trump was obviously doing this openly, the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, reacted in a very sluggish, haphazard and ineffective way. I mean the FBI knew well in advance that there would be a mass right-wing movement coming to the capital with the intent of overturning the election. It was publicly advertised as that. Anybody who had a Facebook or a Twitter account didn’t need FBI intelligence reports to know what was coming. I was in Washington D.C. at the time. There was so much right-wing violence in the days and weeks beforehand that most of the Black Lives Matter protests scheduled for the evening of January 5 and 6 were actually canceled because people knew that blood would be flowing in the streets.

We all knew this. And yet, when the march took place, only one-fifth of the US Capitol Police Force was present. This force has 3,500 members and they have one job which is to protect the Capitol, which is where Congress sits with all of this intelligence flowing in about what was coming. Why would only one-fifth of the Capitol Police be on duty that day? Why was the National Guard not activated? Why was the National Guard’s assistance not immediately dispensed when requested? I mean, if this had been a demonstration of Black and Latino or socialist organizers marching on the Capitol with efforts to intervene in a constitutional process, there would’ve been like a massive military show of force and there would’ve been a lot of repression. But none of that happened. So what was going on remains one of the big unknown elements. Why was there paralysis at the top, given the fact that this was a cardinal sin being committed by the president of the United States that would obviously diminish the standing and image of US imperialism on the global scale. Again, one of the big unanswered questions.

MC: To bring this all together, what do you think are major takeaways for the people of this country and the people of this world to better understand where the US ruling class is at, as well as the state of the US working class?

BB: Fascism is an organic feature of capitalism and especially capitalism in crisis or capitalism in decay. Before World War II, it wasn’t only Germany and Italy and Spain that were fascist. The entire continental Europe – capitalist Europe – had devolved into fascism in the midst of the global economic crisis of the 1930s. That’s the reality. And inside the United States, there was a strong, very pro-German current within the US ruling class. Of course, the United States and Germany became enemies during World War II because of geo-strategic differences over who would control this or that part of the world. But before that, there was a lot of support for fascism within the ruling class in America. In 1939, a pro-Nazi rally was held in Madison Square Garden. That’s tens of thousands of people right here in New York City.

You know, fascism in power or fascism evolving and moving towards power like the Nazis in the 1920s and 30s actually also borrowed a page from the United States. The idea that there was a master race – the white race – and that the Black population must be suppressed or relegated to permanent second class status or subject to murder and repression, should it try to rebel – that was the reality in the United States in Jim Crow America, a system of capitalism premised on the slavery of kidnapped Africans, and then the apartheid system that was maintained in the hundred years after the Civil War. The Germans actually looked to the United States and its racial system in order to model themselves on it. So there’s also a connection between old democracy in America, which is centered and connected and anchored in white supremacy and racism and the rise of classical fascism in Europe. So fascism isn’t simply an expression of a part of the population that seems to have gone mad with fascist ideology. It’s part and parcel of capitalism in crisis.

And the function of fascism ultimately is to regiment, repress and oppress the working class at a time when it might be in rebellion. What we’re witnessing now is not identical or completely analogous to what happened in Nazi Germany. But it is important to remember that Hitler came to power in January, 1933 not through a coup d’état or not through an armed uprising or through a Nazi revolution or a counter-revolution. He was appointed chancellor by center-right politicians, and once in power, he used his authority to attack and destroy the left in Germany. There was a deal made between the German military and the German capitalists on the one hand and the fascists on the other to suppress the left. The former figured that once they suppressed the left, Hitler would sort of move into their camp. Well, he didn’t fully move into their camp, but he never did appropriate big industry. He was able to sort of make a deal with the capitalists that they would retain their capitalist property and become ever richer. And in exchange, he was able to impose this fascist dictatorship on the German working class. These are important things to learn about, to know about [so that we do] not think of them simply as cultural or national or ethnic or historical phenomena, but rather phenomena that’s rooted in the capitalist economic order, especially one in crisis.

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