7. Never has an American Presidential election in which both parties felt so strongly the other’s victory would strongly harm the nation’s future, propelled by different maps of the nation and national belonging, and alternate images of patriotism if not alternate realities. And never had a Presidential election been contested through the eve of Inauguration Day. At rallies across America, Trump developed his tie to crowds in alternative realities of denied electoral victories, airing grievances in different cities, ramping up accusations of theft and assailing electoral integrity, developing his personal ties to audiences of digital soldiers by entertaining doubts and mounting legal challenges in multiple states as others were thrown out or dismissed. Much has been made of what exactly was literally delivered at the Ellipse: but as Canetti described the ability of soldiers to respond to unspoken commands, that need not be made explicit, as the soldier “lives in a permanent state of expectation of commands,” and is in a “sate of conscious expectation of commands,” the success of forming a crowd and calling it into being as a unity need never be explicitly delivered: but the moment where the crowd is engendered and kept alive ready to show their love for him by focusing their attention on his desires.
The function of flags to stage these alternative rallies, as if in odd counterpoint to the cluster of unfurled flags that whipped in the wind behind the former President, and the claims of nation, country, and patriotism in which he wrapped himself. In describing his plans in early December, before the Electoral College met, to “challenge this fraud,” by making the nation “know the problems with mail-in balloting. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, and most other states” that would dishonor the nation by challenging alleged fraud, he evoked an alternative map of a field of flags in which “all over the country, people are together in holding up signs, ‘Stop the steal’” affirmed a new version of electoral consensus–a consensus that was recreated in the flags that were held by many of the digital soldiers who advanced on the U.S. Capitol and broke through police lines.
These alternate realities seem to have gelled in the consensus that the crowd assembled on Constitution Avenue on January 6-7 felt; not only their proximity to power boosted the intensity of their feelings of patriotism. The crowd assembles a new sense of itself, and of its goal, as it gains its own voice, and the crowd did so at the conclusion of his hour long speech. Before they began to move to the Capitol beneath the battle cry “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump!,” he reminded them fourteen minutes in how “Democrats enacted policies that chipped away our jobs, weakened our military, threw open our borders and put America last,” lest Joe Biden meet his alleged pledge to “get rid of the America first policy.” The certification of electors about to conclude, only the crowd present could stop this from occurring, without needing further permission to do so.
Theories of crowds and power that might be used to explain Trump’s dissimulation of populism and ties to Americans–or to a limited sector of them–came to a culmination at the Capitol Riots. For in the midst of dissimulating unity with the assembled crowd as his days in office were about to draw to a close, Trump activated the crowd on January 6, 2021, or invited it to “discharge” its identity as a crowd, to use Canetti’s terms and theoretical formulation , by strategically baiting crowds through “to a quickly attainable goal” of increased violence, lead to a release of license of aggression unprecedented in scale. For Canetti, the act of baiting crowds was a strategy of excluding a group of people from a certain political space–as Trump had promised to exclude undocumented aliens from the political space of the United States, or undocumented immigrants from the 2020 U.S. Census, affecting apportionment of votes and federal funds, or identifying votes of undocumented citizens as a basis for a rigged election.
Canetti saw the formation of the mob that formed not as a direct incitation to violence. But as it moved down Pennsylvania Avenue, flags unfurled, holding the weapons that they would later use to enter the U.S. Capitol, between the lamenting pack of a funeral procession that begins t the very moment when news arrives that death is near, as hope for the person who is sick has been all but given up, and the pack breaks out in a rabid howling of bodies that refuse to defer the lamentation until after death, and who try to augment their density and their collectivity into a space midway between life and death, and the hunting pack that moves consumed by its hopes to inspire fear, who exult in their diminished distance from their quarry, and who grow in excitement as they move in space, each member of the crowd set to try to strike out at its quarry with spears or arrows, but that once it reaches its goal–or the kill has occurred–are overcome by disorientation and “undergoes a sudden change, as sharp and clear as its goal had been,” as they lose the intensity of feeling of unity that radiated among them as the prey has been captured.
While the crowd that had assembled in the seats before podiums and Jumbotron on the Ellipse for the Save America March was an “open crowd,” the crowd that has no sense of what size it may be, or can be determined, the crowd that filled the U.S. Capitol was not what Canetti described as the ‘modern crowd,’ of mass culture, that wants to grow without limits, but is the crowd of special purpose and intent, often of martial purpose: as it moved down the mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, like a river, it defined itself by the crossing of boundaries as the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and by prying into the doors that were guarded by Capitol Police, to meet heir sacred purpose of sanctifying their own sovereign role within American government, and erasing the formal pretense of the authority of the state. animated most of all by the direction it gained as it streamed down the tributaries of Pennsylvania NW, The Mall, Constitution Ave., and Madison Dr. NW, as it gained new sense of feeling itself as a crowd in moving with a fixed goal in mind, gaining a sense of definition as they moved along streams to converge in the Washington, D.C. topography and street plan on the Capitol building, from which all vehicular traffic had been purged for them to exercise their First Amendment rights.
The President urged them to “never concede,” as he looked, like Yertle the Turtle, over a crowd as ruler of all he surveyed, watching an undulating sea of separatist flags, banners and MAGA hats, opening before him, as if all responding to his request to accompany him from one point to march to an undisclosed location. Much as Canetti argued crowds erupt, often slowly, from one fixed close location, as the red star where they had been invited to join the march, it erupted from that point, developing its own voice as a crowd, to gain a life of its won as it moved form Constitution Avenue to take the Constitution into its hands, and enter the joint session of the US Congress in the ouse they viewed as rightly their own, seeking to “save America” by allowing states the opportunity to “correct their votes,” as Trump had tweeted that very morning an 8:17 a.m. to right alleged “corrupt process [that] never received legislative approval,” correcting multiple “irregularities and fraud” which only “extreme courage” might achieve.
Canetti framed the complicity of crowds and totalitarianism that many felt were suited to explain how Trump had ridden a wave of crowds to political victory few anticipated in 2016 not as fascist, or in familiar categories of American politics: Trump loved crowds, and used a sense of dissimulation before crowds he described his love for as “American”–often activating them by baiting them against an enemy, to exclude from the nation, and convincing them that he could give them license to destroy that threat, and they could be stronger from it. If Trump had tweeted incendiary invitations to his followers to be in Washington DC during the certification of electoral votes on December 27, December 30 and January 1, the U.S. Capitol building materialized vaguely but identifiably in the background of images, as a site where it was time to “hold the line”and defend America with patriotism.
The U.S. Capitol became the frontier at which the election fraud must not be permitted, and where the line was to be drawn to defend the rights of Americans were to be defended. While the destination of the U.S. Capitol had not been declared openly in invitations, the Capitol building clearly loomed large in the background, mesmerizingly if elusively, in online invitations even if they did not specify a location to support the outgoing forty fifth President to reverse time, by preventing electoral votes being certified to mark his loss. The rally’s organizers had filed a parks permit for a “first amendment’ rally not designed to conclude with a protest march, but from which “some [event] participants may leave to attend rallies at the United States Capitol to hear the results of Congressional certification of the Electoral College count” to defend the rights–first amendment rights, second amendment rights of gun ownership, and liberties; if it would not “conduct an organized march” per the permit, was described as a rally, the planned destination and disruption were clearly in mind for protestors who would “hold the line” of ensuring a red electoral map be retained by guaranteeing the 2020 election’s official results.
Was this not the new frontier to defend American liberties, lest the fraud of the election be enacted at the doorstep of the Capitol.
8. Multiple sanctioned strategies of hunting humans prey had multiplied in the Trump Era–from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The hunting culminated in an open promise of permission to have no “fear of the penalties for their perpetration” by collectively the crowd to defend its own interests, “as if they all belonged to one and the same creature.” At “the point of greatest density” at the Capitol building, the crowd, having left Trump behind, could move with “no risk because the crowd has immense superiority on their side.” The theft of the vote had not only trended on social media, since the election, but as diffused in local demonstrations across the nation, many including presence of militia, in an eery harbinger of violence at the Capitol–
Was the early January explosion of the hashtag on social media, if shadowed by the hundreds of thousands of tweets immediately after the election, an acceleration of panic and alarm, equivalent to a siren song summoning groups to Washington, DC?
–that were mirrored in the social media deluge that animated the March for Trump busses whose circuit moved across the United States, trying to reach states where Trump lost to Biden to protest electoral results, claiming fraud without offering proof and casting the ability to overturn the election as a patriotic act. Organized to culminate in a mid-December rally when the electors met, the March to Save America used heightened urgency to attenuate the election and diminish Trump’s loss, which receded into a fog of contestation and lack of transparency, manufacturing an alternate reality, sanctioning outrage and anger, before the Electoral College casts its votes, replicating the marches that had been organized before the electors had met to cast their ballots. On the alternate caravan that the My Pillow guy helped create across contested states that began with a late November kick-off in Florida, the busses of Women for Ameica First would head directly to Washington after moving across the borders of eighteen “contested” states, crossing the borders between states like Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, before heading to Washington, DC to arrive on December 12, when the electors met, affirming an alternate reality of a Trump fist pump, calling for the vote to be fully audited, suspending belief in the completion of the election, and suggesting something like a dry run for January 6.
If the electoral votes were argued to procedurally outweigh the popular vote in 2016, the March organized by sponsors of the Save America March and the My Pillow guy postponed the conclusion of the election, arguing it rested in the meeting of the electors or the certification of electoral votes, baiting crowds by arguing mass voter fraud created a system whose lack of transparency demanded and licensed objection to its betrayal of a democratic process: “Trump needs to hear from us, We The People, that we do not want him to concede. We will March for Trump to demand transparency and protect election integrity,” became fighting words. They accepted the invitation that “we” had been defeated, and “we” refused to concede or be deffeated.
The question of what sanction Trump offered this crowd is difficult to answer: insurgents who seized the opportunity to move to enter the Capitol building were the “digital soldiers” who Michael Flynn and others had long extolled, ready to disrupt the process of certification of electors that they saw as the last change they would have to change the nation. Their actions were encouraged not by what Trump said, although he used provocative and incendiary words, but by the echo chambers of a disrupted election that had long accumulated on the internet in subreddit spaces and chatrooms, responding to assurances of “an effort to steal the presidency of the United States” that was “not about Donald Trump”–if, of course, it all along was: “we become president and you become the happiest people” if the egregious assault on democracy was stopped. Trump had promised permission without any fear penalties for perpetrating a crime, confirming unfounded rumors of extensive voter fraud and stolen votes triggered as a new simulacrum of strength. The claimed “no way we lost this election” was followed by a refusal ever to concede, prolonging refusal to accept the transition all the way up to the eve of his departure from office. The meandering speech reminded one that in evoking broad values from Make America Great Again to America First, Trump was working hard to conceal the self-serving nature of a political career that was openly transactional and rooted in grift.
Facebook groups using the term “Stop the Steal” grew beyond ninety, but the variety of near substitutes as “STOP THE FRAUD,” “stop the rigged election,” or “The great 2020 election theft” seemed to elude social media censors. For the election’s schedule had mutated even by the December 12 as rallies affirmed “It ain’t over until Jan 20,” as if different Americas followed distinct calendars–but asked his supporters to save the date of January 6-7, 2021 for a final struggle to “Stop the Steal.” While Trump seemed to thank gathered supporters when he credited them collectively for the phrase as “a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, he recapitulated the bond that he had created with his many followers on social media–even though the social media battle cry that had provided a basis to divide the nation after the election was first deployed by none other that Trump’s consigliere, Roger Stone, whose Political Action Committee launched the first website to use the phrase some four years previous, urging at the time that in the event that “if the election is close” the Democrats would “STEAL IT,” echoing Trump’s own reluctance to agree to concede if he should lose. The accusation of a “steal” was an excuse for the escalating beyond the decorum of politics as usual, but was deeply tied to demonization–Trump campaign initially accused a “Bush-Cruz-Kasich-Romney-Ryan-McConnell faction” of perpetrating the theft of the Republican nomination, again baiting his base by taunting hinting in October “Donald Trump thinks Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are going to steal the next election”–the ploy of demonizing one’s opponents and all but inviting violence against them.
Was the strategy of national division in play, long before the crowd assembled on the Ellipse?
The bonding over social media hashtags had provided a new form of tribalism that the showcasing of Trump’s political brand had long allowed. But Stop the Steal had criminalized political divisiveness and polarization, investing them with an accusation of criminalization that shook the foundations of government sovereignty and the law, by privileging the personal ties to the president above a legal calendar of electoral certification established political process by mobbing and flooding the U.S. Capitol in false claims of political transparency.
If mob rule was long seen as a danger to democracy–and a danger to the Founding Fathers in 1787, as they drafted the Constitution later ratified–the disruption of the process of government and of a presidential transition ha multiplied a mob over social media for weeks since Election Day. The mobbing of media staged and literally crowd-sourced the riot that has been called the “Capitol Siege,” during which political polarization became weaponized in competing Americas: competing social media platforms revealed filter bubbles, as “#capitolriots” and “#removetrumpnow” trended in the Twitterverse, while parlays “stopthesteal,” “maga” and “trump2020” dominated Parler, long after the election had occurred. But the apparently sudden emergence of #StoptheSteal as a popular hasthag seemed to trigger a crowd that was waiting to be discharged.
Is there any surprise one saw an escalation of militia presence at these increasingly regular rallies, stoked by false allegations of a miscarriage of justice?
The myth of the “stolen election” was nourished, of course, not only in online forums, but in the “Stop the Steal” rallies that had occurred in previous months, where tempers grew and a sense of the need for agency had developed in the previous month, as if in a Petrie dish. The charge did not need to be explicit; it was apparent in the many “TRUMP 2020” banners that the rioters brought into the U.S. Capitol on January 6, invigorated by a two-day rally. The “digital soldiers” who entered the Capitol building seeking to avert the certification to be part of a collective action able to change the country by a live-action form of role-playing–a revolution produced for live streaming. Sebastian Gorka’s assertion that “It ain’t over til Jan 20th” was accompanied by an urging everyone “prepared to die for the Republic” to “make them quake.” When Trump cajolingly congratulated the crowed assembled January 6 for recognizing that he having caught the “criminal enterprise” of electoral fraud, he duplicitously claimed to be adopting “a favorite term that all of you people really came up with,” but was coined five years previously by his advisors, Steve Bannon and Roger Stone.
As the dissimulation of justice and the creation of a sense of collective wronging grew, the false patriotism of Trump’s candidacy magnified, entering new territory of magnifying fears of collective disenfranchisement and calls to action, “#CrosstheRubicon” trending and rallies grew of increased violence or militia presence that ‘sourced’ a crowd that would assemble near the Ellipse on January 6 to stop the formal process of electoral certification. The escalation of the presence of militia at post-election Day Stop the Steal rallies had escalated, as rallying cries grew on social media: the direct participation of militia expanded significantly, the lower chart shows, after votes were cast on Election Day. Over ninety groups perpetuating claims of electoral fraud grew on Facebook even after Facebook tried to remove content from all pages with the phrase Stop the Steal: “it may take some time to scale up our enforcement of this new step but we have already removed a significant number of posts,” the social media behemoth assured the public, on January 11, in preparation for inauguration day, as the crowd-sourcing for the January 6 riots had begun.
The astounding rise in militia’s active engagement and participation in Stop the Steal rallies widely promoted on social media outlets offered an alternate form of belonging perpetuating an alternate reality, directing long sanctioned anger at migrants and undocumented to the certification of electoral votes–an essentially formal and procedural process that only a QAnon follower would believe would alter electoral results: they believed that they might forestall the unfortunately un-transparent nature of an electoral certification behind closed doors.
Were they not the very “well-regulated militia” that the Second Amendment protected, believed to sanction the rights of a “citizen’s arrest” that had been falsely in its “sovereign citizen ideology” of anti-federalism. Urged to proceed by the dissimulation of offense by allegations at the scale of trickery in the 2020 election, Trump removed the crowed from fear of prohibitions. Elias Canetti the absence of prohibitions on violence is central to how a crowd is activated: Trump had broadly baited the crowd both as a candidate and President without impunity, claiming Freedom of Speech: but the sustained baiting of Stop the Steal and other alternative news media presented a sustained baiting Canetti had never foreseen. The alternate realities that QAnon and other news agencies invited and inspired citizens’ arrests of lawgivers, from Bill de Blasio to Adam Schiff; justifications of citizen’s arrests on “probably grounds of suspicion” had been the basis for recent slayings, and is widespread in both vigilantism and patrol groups focussed on undocumented migrants and minorities. The unwarranted expansion of grounds for making citizen’s arrests beyond detention of someone caught in the midst of committing a crime, was not only encouraged by the Stop the Steal groups: entrance into the U.S. Capitol to prevent certification acted out fantasies of lawfulness by arresting legislators, under encouragement from an anonymous leader posting 8chan message boards urging “Americans Prepare for War” who diffused social media echo chamber with the voice of President RealDonaldTrump.
9. The promotion of such false freedoms was a promise for a liberating aggressive catharsis, with impunity. Rather than rooted in an ideology of fascism, the “freedoms” were rooted in unprecedented acceleration of the extreme license of neoliberalism. Trump had long, while dissimulating liberty, championed a license for hatred and exclusion, starting from the migrants as government organs encouraged citizen’s arrests, that extended to minorities in a vigilante culture of extremism. On January 6, the flags and banners announced an even greater license to aggression, channeled not against migrants but the refusal to stop the vote from proceeding, triggering a panic at what was proclaimed a “deep crisis of our survival” as a democracy that demanded the disruption of politics as usual. Elias Canetti described the generation of panic in a theater–as by crying fire in a crowded theater–as occasioning a disbanding of the crowd, that fragments into individual interest. But the interest of the party were elevated in the weaponization of the rhetoric of political polarization as a rhetoric of survivalism. If shouting fire in a theater were famously described as a common sense limit case of Free Speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes, the panic of an purported “theft” of an election that Trump had repeatedly asserted rightfully his, illustrating his own deft survival skill as the basis for a new collectivity, beyond political party or ideology, through its own tortured logic of charges of fraud and duplicity.
For the panic of survival was collective, and collectively streamed by multiple voices on radio, social media, and television who all seemed to be saying the same thing. Framed as beyond parties and beyond politics as usual, Make America Great Again promised to resolve the pathological politics of parties and democratic politics as normal to adulating crowds, if only for some Americans; if Trump’s long dissimulation as a new political force framed Trump’s appeal as beyond parties, the Siege of the Capitol was the culmination of the state of exception that he had long promised of direct participation by the sanctioning of violence against the political system. It was not rooted in fascism, but a dissimulation of a direct democracy to serve Trump’s own ends and need for political survival even if it had been framed as a defense of constitutional liberties and freedoms of speech, assembly, and owning of guns. The Presidential election was lost, but these freedoms animated the logic for never conceding. The crowd that Trump staged, as if in a culmination of his trademark political rallies, was an utter catharsis of disruption, confusion, and acceleration of personal allegiance.
Trump’s attacks on immigrants were fighting words, and they made sense to repeat before the mob approached the Capitol, if only to ramp up their adrenaline with an onrush of energy and righteous indignation. It was telling that the enforcement of the border as a defense against the undocumented was presented as the sacred cow of Make America Great Again melded with the collective cry to “Stop the Steal.” If Trump had suggested that his followers had “come up with the beautiful phrase” to capture their individual indigation, in a directly transparent register of complaint, the term was coined or copyrighted for diffusion on social media by Roger Stone, who had launched the phrase on a proprietary website not in 2020, but 2016, tied to the Tea Party–predicting “Democrats and Hilary Clinton are going to steal this election,” in the Republican primaries, as a destabilization of democratic process, long before the hashtag spiked on social media accounts as it was introduced to activate the “Count Every Vote” and “Protect Every Vote” as a protection of nation, of an urgency that echoed the aggression Trump had sanctioned against immigrants and minorities removed from American greatness. The phrase long predating the conscientious scrubbing of social media platforms Facebook and Twitter of the infectious meme, promoted by StolenElection.us to channel unproven claims of election fraud. If, as fears of disrupting the inauguration of Joe Biden as President grew, Twitter unprecedentedly permanently suspended 70,000 accounts after the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, they only “cleansed” these accounts after the phrase had indeed “lead to offline harm” at the U.S. Capitol.
From the Trump campaign, the wall was a purifying of nation and promise of security; in contrast, the vision of a world without that wall Trump evoked January 6 sought to terrify. “What’s that all about, get rid of …? How do you say, ‘I want to get rid of America first?’ . . . Unbelievable what we have to go through, what we have to go through, and you have to get your people to fight.” And rather than imagine migrants storming the border, to keep America First, it was time to storm the Capitol. Biden had clarified “‘America First’ means ‘America Alone,'” to remind us of dangers of isolationism rather than global re-engagement, but withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO) in a pandemic made it difficult to magnify the dangers America faced from across its southwestern border. But the isolated attribution helped invest urgency in the assembled America Firsters to take matters into their own hands, lest the security that Trump promised of “Jobs, not mobs” not materialize.
The territorial exclusion of the undocumented was personalized as a site of raging against politics as normal that would reverse the longstanding exclusion of the undocumented. More than ever, the border seemed the illusion of the threat of the border was magnifed as a feint designed to stage claims to power. Was border security but a pretense that disguised the transformation of the interior of the nation? Rather than piercing or breaching the southwestern boundary of the nation prioritized for national security for four years to be policed by the Customs & Border Patrol, a red “line” of defense against the poor, refugees, persecuted, the chaos on which the President thrived was brought to Washington DC and had entered the perimeter of the United States Capitol, on busses provided by political action groups to defend the nation.
If the line of the border provided a perimeter that allowed one a powerful means to envision the exclusion of migrants from political space as a geopolitical strategy–and a site of pronounced national vulnerabilty.
10. The image that suggested the need to amplify border defense echoes those that justify and exapnded budget for the costs of stopping and apprehending migrants in oppositional terms. Trump rallies promised catharsis and stirred up indignation, promising to sanction outrage and violent redress, turning back time to a fictional alternate reality of America, defiend by a different and more circumscribed notion of who was an American.
The collective bonding Trump promised in rallies was to defend a vision of nation that existed on the map, perhaps, but largely in virtual space, if it was a vision that was activated by maps: it was a vision based on individual economic integrity, individual security, and disenfranchisement. For the invasion of the Capitol did not cross red lines that marked national divides, or at the edge of empire, against border guards. It was not on foot, but advanced with guns concealed in backpacks, wreaking havoc with improvised weapons from flagpoles to pitchforks to axe-handles, in an overt display of individualism, including spray painting the scaffolding of the upcoming inauguration with political slogans and defacing public buildings of government with political slogans, breaking furniture, lamps, windows, and even, in an attack on government as usual, improbably raiding the office of the Senate parliamentarian, already directed by President Trump to interrupt business as usual that the Vice President, though he could have in his capacity as President of the Senate, had failed to stop.
A sense of emergency had long been instilled online, and did not depend on receiving a clue or sign to begin the hunt for their victims. Members of the crowd had gathered, at the apparent personal invitation of the Trump, on websites like TheDonald, long lived subreddit where self-described Patriots nourished memes of support of his Presidential campaign in a filter bubble from June 2015 until July 2020, nourishing a community that arrived for Trump’s last campaign rally–this time to preserve the country. Many of the 790,000 members of the “never-ending rally” promoted on the subreddit would migrate to TheDonald.win, perturbed and offended at the banning of a lively forum for promoting racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, and misogyny that seemed four pillars of America First, where, indignant at suppression and silencing, they championed “a patriotic drive to preserve our country.” Members of online community created an ecosystem of information and disinformation that nourished a healthy filter bubble or information silo had hived off as a separate space of meaning, whose once-vibrant community reassembled on The Ellipse to protest theft of the Presidency. They didn’t need to be explicitly encouraged, because their offense was already so strong, and their convictions firm in their own patriotism, as they signaled to each other through quasi-patriotic flags.
The crowds assembled on the Washington Mall, a mob crowd-sourced, whose fight or flight responses were stimulated across their vagal nerves, were ready to sack the Capitol building, invading the offices of congressional representatives as if to interrupt a peaceful transition of Presidential power. The problem was embodied in the “fake news” map that had announced the electoral tally that mandated a transition of power.
The crowd was here to push back against that map, convinced that “the media is the biggest problem we have as far as I’m concerned, single biggest problem,” and they could end the distortion of what he insisted was a rigged election that he honestly said was well-rigged to prevent any surprise from occurring as in 2016. Although President Trump would later urge the assembled to “stay peaceful,” the rally was an exercise in brinksmanship that seemed planned on the inside of the very chambers where the certification of the election was occurring, but which his own Vice President, Mike Pence, had let the world know he would not stop in his role as President of the U.S. Senate, and seemed destined to proceed without sudden, divine intervention.
11. Trump had invited those who denied he had lost the election to arrive in Washington, DC to interrupt the process of certification and tell the joint session of congress their concerns. The mobs that assembled outside of the Capitol as the electors were being certified were not the mobs Trump promised his election would prevent the nation from facing, in the form of marauding antifa, or lawless “illegals” he claimed to have kept at bay lest their search for better lives compromise American workers’ wages. Rather than the crowds of which Donald Trump had warned the nation since assuming office–crowds of gang members, drug dealers, child traffickers, or rapists–announced to threaten American values, this crowd sought to protecting American values, but more directly threatened representative government. And they brought a sea of separatist flags to do so, cocooned in a patriotism, orchestrated by Team Trump, summoned by the siren call magnified on social media to “SAVE AMERICA,” even if that meant by overturning representative democracy and supplanting it by the apparent consensus of a crowd, behind the image of an American flag in the tweets he had used to invite supporters to assemble by the Ellipse for a special event.
As rioters later climbed over the inaugural scaffolding prepared for the peaceful transition of power, hundreds were incited to rip open the fencing before the Capitol building, breach security barriers, as Alex Jones seized a megaphone and stood atop a car on the Capitol lawn, urging the crowd to attack the eastern side of the building, as a large crowd had already formed on the west side of the building, as a thin line of police kept a line to stop rioters from stairs of the Rotunda that led to the congressional chambers.
The revolution was broadcast, or at least streamed. We were already all glued to our televisions as the riots unfolded, escalating blood pressure and panic as the transition of power we all had come to take for certain seemed finally called into question again. There seemed limited coverage on the ground–not as cel service had been cut by the government, who did not–as rumored–seek to jam wfi signals, but as the crowd indeed so massively streamed the images they sought to broadcast across the nation to overwhelm the limits of 4G networks, even as they engendered more conspiracy theories as they overloaded the limits of technology: “no one has signal, so no one knows jack shift about anything beyond what they can see,” wrote @socialistdogmom in panic on 12:42, feeling the rush of the crowd to have so heightened that she was so worried about a stampede that she decided to leave the Capitol building, rather than remain, just before 3:00 pm. The blessing of non-functional connections may have prevented a broader sense of panic from engulfing the nation, but also provide a quintessentially American conundrum of pressing against the limits of technology that they deem “free” and a vehicle for “free speech”: broadcasting ability was circumscribed by the abilities of a 4G LTE cell sites to carry a hundred users at a time, and although AT&T T-Mobile, and Sprint all have cells sites near the U.S. Capitol that include multiple cell sectors, 14,000 simultaneously streaming connections could overload their abilities, as no additional truck-based cell sites were brought for the rally.
The riots occurred with human bodies, and were human actors, but the crowd that was activated by the speeches they had heard warning of “trial by combat” and Donald Trump’s affirmation of a refusal to concede defeat of the election and to overturn its results are best collectively tracked as a crowed that spread on social media, by the GPS signals of the Parler social networking service that many of the Trump base has promoted as an alternative platform for streaming, since suggested to be the platform for coordinating the attacks. The non-mainstream alt tech provided a way to broadcast the insurrection nation wide, and a space since closed by many service providers, but can also map positions of users in the insurrectionary space around the Capitol building–not a real space, but an alternative world of urgency to overturn the election. Moving from the National Mall to make their voices heard in the U.S. Capitol building, the crowd gained purpose as it moved from where Trump had spoken as they moved to breach the Capitol building to interrupt the electors being certified, whose “discharge” became a violent riot as it congregated about the chambers of Congress, without ever feeling that they had “breached” a barrier or crossed a line.
The disembodied data of the rioters who used alternative social media networks the alt right preferred may be the best way to track the negative space into which they had entered, an image of the social isolation of individual phones’ geolocation, against the black field of the U.S. Capitol they had come to desecrate in the name of a great sacred cause of nation, and the continued Presidency of a man many called the Savior of the nation in redemptive terms that improbably echoed a strain of American politics one prominent in the masterful social messaging of Barack Obama: but the rioters who were inspired by the redemptive calls for retaining Trump as president sought to disrupt an election already completed by claiming it was corrupt, motivated by claims that were long disseminated on social media of the election’s lack of transparency.
The crowd that assembled form datapoints of Parler–the very platform that provided an alternate home for MAGA folks viewed as more transparent than mainstream social media platforms–to celebrate the ideals of “Free Speech” the alt right had identified on social media from 2015: the streaming of video may indeed map the storming of the Capitol well, for it tracks the intense social messaging that the insurrection sought to provide, in response to Trump’s own assurance that the magnitude of the event would not be shown in mainstream media. They filmed their own progress in the Capitol as they entered, in order to broadcast in real time an image of their progress of blocking the electoral tally to alt right across the nation, as if in hopes to spread a revolution by broadcasting the insurrection.
The tracking maps how they were moving in real space, in the imaginary space of an alt right mediasphere, as much as a civil space. Trump had urged them to use the phones that had become an emblem of free speech to share their voices–“Turn your cameras please and show what’s really happening out here because these people are not going to take it any longer. They’re not going to take it any longer. Go ahead. Turn your cameras, please. Would you show? . . . . it would be really great if we could be covered fairly by the media. The media is the biggest problem we face“–and the location of Trump supporters flooding the Capitol building uploaded their progress as they moved onto federal property to defend “election integrity” and “transparency” merged their real progress in space and commitment to a virtual community they imagined also indignant Vice President Pence would conclude procedural debates to certify as thousands had arrived to interrupt this process.
Their destination–the Capitol building–clearly long loomed large in the background, mesmerizingly but clearly if unconsciously, in the invitations to attend a final event in support of the defeated forty fifth President–technically, the forty fourth–and prevent electoral votes being certified to mark his loss. Despite the failure to name a specific location or time, the parks permit not yet been filed by Women for America First, in a “first amendment’ rally from which “some [event] participants may leave to attend rallies at the United States Capitol to hear the results of Congressional certification of the Electoral College count” but would not advance itself to the Capitol Building. The evocation of first amendment rights, and the implicit defense of second amendment rights of gun ownership, made the rally–which would not feature or “conduct an organized march” per the permit, was described as a rally, but clearly had a planned destination and disruptive intent in mind.
As these red dots If, as theorist Elias Canetti has argued, individuals lose their identity in crowds as it the crowd gains an identity in which they are submerged in a moment of “discharge,” that moment was prompted not only by the speech, but the collective performance of filming the attacks on the Capitol and uploading them to alternative social media wove a web of crowd-formation, as they assumed identity as “American patriots committed to the honesty of our elections and integrity of our glorious republic,” invested with a mythic transcendence of defending republican ideals bestowed invigorated purpose on the audience, redefining a crowd with purpose.
Unlike the sea of separatist flags and their geographical fantasies of secession they entertained, Trump spoke from a relatively protected station of a field of stars and stripes, behind bullet-proof glass and in black gloves, eyeing the crowd warily as he began a speech that affirmed boastfully that he had won two elections, the second “much bigger than the first.” The alternate reality of the March to Save America had begun, beginning from “proving that we won this election, and won it by a landslide.”
Surveying the crowd whose size he would magnify, in ways that echoed his compulsive exaggeration of the inauguration day crowds he faced in the same space, four years before, the inaugural lie of attracting “the largest audience to witness an inauguration ever” to mark the identity change of Donald Trump, entertainer and Reality TV performer, to Donald Trump, politician, who would reveal the hard, cold truth of terrorist attacks not reported by the media, the vulnerability of our national borders, and the deep untruth he had been elected by a massive, popular mandate that rejected the political class.
As if this crowd size might validate his new status, Trump based in increased estimates of the current crowd, that grew in size in the word picture he painted for them from 250,000 to an “all-time record,” as if he drew an audience able to establish his victory, approaching the 1.3 million tweets sent to twitter followers since Election Day on the account from which he would soon be booted. Many chatrooms had gleefully predicted would be in the millions the morning that the march was planned–sharing images of the absence of barriers as if dreaming of overwhelming police barriers to affirm their collective status as a vox populi.
12. Trump was not in direct contact with the men and women who had assembled–or with their members–but had celebrated the size of a crowd he had called “completely peaceful” even as he delivered a fist bump that might be seen as a neofascist fist bump he had adopted to communicate militancy, pride, resistance, and a fight against the oppressive status quo even if it might be traced to the first “antifa” who had trademarked the raised fist to fight for their convictions. And if he urged later in the day, after he insurrection in which hundreds intruded into federal property, to “stay peaceful,” peacefulness grew farthest from his mind as he addressed the crowd.
If the salute was pioneered by anti-Nazi Red Front Fighters in 1928 as a site of resistance to the fascism, the adoption of the gesture was adopted during the 2016 inauguration, and adopted or emulated when Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. stopped in his arrival to the U.S. Capitol to addressed the crowd before they stormed the building. It was a basis to sanctify, bless, and unite the crowd, who had united for a benediction before they began the march, and had gained a sense of unity and purpose after Trump completed the speech, when they progressed not with the President–whose Secret Service protection refused to let him lead the crowd, as he had been told, but said he would in his January 6 speech–or on-site alternative leaders from the ministry of half-truth, as Roger Stone, who declined, Alex Jones, who organized Stop the Steal, or Rudy Giuliani.
Despite Trump’s bold assurance for “jobs not mobs” he seemed to have animate the mob of insurrectionists that were the last audience of a public Presidential address. He promised that he would bestow the concrete benefits to all of an America First policy, during the final Presidential debate, that his opponent, Joe Biden, could not be trusted to guarantee. But he was so despairing at an election he lost to orchestrate the “discharge” of the crowd that progressed to invade the Capitol building to prevent duly certifying Joe Biden as President, as Trump energized the base by tersely announcing no intent to attend Biden’s inauguration. President Trump assured all assembled at the Ellipse that he would never concede the race he had called into question since Election Day. He urged all assembled to never concede–his supporters tweeted, all evidence to the contrary “TRUMP WILL RETAIN THE PRESIDENCY”–as he encouraged them to enter an alternative world, remaking truth, protocol, and the law in his projection of conviction and spin. Trump had all but excepted himself from reality, using Twitter and social media engines to refashion a world where he was able to entertain all possibilities, and dismiss the truths advanced on any other platform save his personal account. The March to Save America seemed to preempt the inauguration per Trump’s attention span.
The culmination of the Trump Presidency was the unfounded demand the Presidency not end. The preceding evening, his lieutenants Stone, Giuliani, and Don Jr. met with a rump group of “several senators” from red states–including Senator Josh Hawley, possibly joined by the other six United States senators who may have delayed the process of certification of electors that immediately preceded the invasion of the Capitol to certify the results of the 2020 election and force an emergency recess, including southern senators John Kennedy (LA); Cindy Hyde-Smith (MI); Ted Cruz (TX); Cynthia Lummis (WYO), Roger Marshall (KA) and Tommy Tuberville (AL). The “rump” Senate meeting in Trump International Hotel on the eve of the protest seems akin to a “strategy session” with Donald Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, and the savage Corey Lewandowski, which Trump may have been attending via speakerphone.
The mobs that assembled at the Capital, arriving on busses from red states as they had before the electors met on December 15 would be there to ensure the problem of electoral security. Some, sponsored by the MyPillow guy, Mike Lindell, had brought many to DC before for December 15, to protest the electors casting ballots; this time, Conservative activist Charlie Kirk bankrolled at least eight busses to the Capitol, and Roger Stone had solicited funds to transport more for Stop the Steal. The nominal organizers of this rally–Women for America First, the foremost MAGA group of the President’s re-election campaign–had been, with many others of the supporters of the January 6 “March”–as that of December 15–were on the payroll of Trump re-election campaign, from campaign aides to members of the MAGA committee–and the attempts to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory by breaching the capitol as, in some twisted sense, but a continuation of the Presidential campaign by other means. The permit for the rally that was signed by the manager of external affairs and director of finances of Trump 2020 suggests that the “march,” or final campaign rally, two months after the Presidential election, was an attempt to force the outcome of an election Trump noted “we were getting ready to win,” before he addressed his faithful with the ominous warning that “[Demcrats] are trying to steal” his rightful victory, a claim he repeated in contesting individual states, calling for recounts, and auditing the vote, trying to keep hope alive.
Rather than arriving from across the border, or on foot, this time they came on busloads, airplanes, and cars, in busses, many paid for by the final Trump evangelist, the Republican donor Mike Lindell, who believes the President chosen by God. And they arrived on itineraries to Washington, DC, that PeacefulRedStateSecession had mapped, hoping to disrupt the election that they had been long warned had been disrupted by practices of voting by mail–described as “near-universally condemned as inherently insecure by many notable scholars and public officials,” by the Heritage Foundation, which on FOX had raised concerns of how the alteration, forging, and stealing of ballots would disrupt voter integrity, citing “election law reform experts” demanding implementing new protocols to ensure voter integrity, Donald Trump tweeted incessant predictions that 2020 would be a great national embarrassment, as the “most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” all caps of course his,” as government officials raised false charges that Universal Mail-In Voting revealed a shifting of game-plan as “Democrats proposing an entirely new system . . . that will result in enormous delays in the electoral results,” designed to disrupt Americans’ desire for instant gratification and security. Trump, the King of Fraud, and an expert on it, staked such exaggerated claims of fraudulence to unmoor his followers from any truth claims. Was not the devaluation of truth, as Hannah Arendt argued was the crucial role played by propaganda in totalitarian regimes hoped the result of “consistent and reliable substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie” but to destroy the very categories of truth and falsehood and so alter our ability to take bearings in the real world–and to be empowered to attack the institutions of representative government.
13. The instability and uncertainty–indeed fraudulence–of the election had long primed fears to dislodge the electoral map. If these midsummer musings about the benefits of delaying the election promised a permanent Trump presidency, dismantling the fixity of Presidential terms of office, in ways no President but Donald Trump has ever proposed, Heritage Foundation “election reform experts” raised possible fears of a drawn-out election, noting that the drawn out verification of the 2020 election might, due to extraordinary circumstances, should the election remained in doubt by the date of inauguration,”due to litigation and/or the long delays in counting mailed ballots,” the Constitution provided a path, in its twentieth Amendment, that the U.S. Congress “may by law provide … who shall then act as President.” The lack of moorings on due process and the systematic devaluation of the electoral process might, indeed, sanction the crowd to attack the very chambers of the U.S. Congress as they were shown to have abandoned their constitutional responsibilities.