Although we imagined that the barbarians crossing government barricades would arrive from the edges of empire, the edges from where the acting President had been mapping threats of their arrival for five years, imagining the crossing of caravans from south of the border with near anticipation, these barbarians arrived from all over the nation, from outside of the gridlock of Washington, DC, but to the Capitol building, to reclaim it for the people. While we focussed on the crowd assembled at the Rally to Save America as an event announced as an event that “will be wild,” on December 19, as if to make plans before Christmas to attend a final rally in Washington, DC, a final event to “swing victory to Trump” on the eve of the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden.
Trump approached the crowd of admirers less as a farewell speech than one energized by being surrounded by MAGA gear, affirming losing the 2020 Presidential election was “statistically impossible” to an assembly he had convoked to affirm “Today is not the end. It’s just the beginning. This might seem the last address he would offer to the nation, or perhaps it was the first address to a new nation the would arise, phoenix-like, from the destruction of old election laws and the fire that presaged the end of an earlier regime that would arise, as an old new America, from its ashes–not only a domestic resurgence of a Christian right, but a revisiting of the tortured reinterpretation of the confused message all but evident in the tea leaves of the electoral map.
Trump’s speech intentionally triggered the onrush of a crowd. His words created a set the stage for a reversal of the election’s results–and led so many of the MAGA crowd to bring election garb and flags to the event organized to stave off a peaceful succession. The January 6 Committee found Trump consciously energizing the armed crowd to charge the U.S. Capitol–a script that echoed Hitler’s instrumental use of lies to undermine the workings of government by appealing to a love of country and nation to the Nazi party. But his energizing of the crowd created an energy among them that ran around the justice of the nation’s governing body. Trump recast the election as invalid, and the incoming President as a criminal, enabled by a corrupt system, and demanding the reform of electoral laws as a legal end-run to secure his Presidency, all but intimating saving the country by an overthrow of the government–“calling on Congress and the state legislatures to quickly pass sweeping election reforms, and “you better do it before we have no country left,” he began his speech by saying, in an End of Times rhetoric, even as he assured the crowd that it was “Today is not the end. It’s just the beginning.” If his speech animated a March on the Capitol that would end in a disastrous fiasco as much as Hitler’s 1926 Munich Putsch, it may have allowed a new theater of the creation of national martyrs–as David Gumpert has argued–it mobilized a politics of grievance that was as steeped in fundamentalism and white christian nationalism and forged in a media ecosystem that whose retaking of the nation from news media that were “the enemy of the people,” as if convoking a personal redemption and a redemption of the nation.
The attention was heightened by what was a final chance and opportunity to reverse the incorrect results of the national election, resolving and a moment of a crisis of state by revoking the election and changing election laws to recognize the true nation he had assembled in the Ellipse. Trump electrified the assembled crowd to ready themselves to advance, as a crowd, united if not recognized by the media, to move across police barriers, past the capitol police, into the halls of governance, in a collective body, trying to fill the legislative chambers to retake the nation. Were they not being given permission to enter teh halls of state from which they had been wrongly exlcuded? Trump would recast January 6 not as an armed insurrection but as inevitable: one of those “things that happen when a sacred landslide victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” The issue was personal, but far beyond personal, as it reflected the entire question of the security of the nation on which he had entered politics to defend, and with which his entire public service career had been oriented toward protecting: “This is not just a matter of domestic politics, this is a matter of national security.”
How can we question Trump’s responsiblity for orchestrating the attack on the hall of governance? The crowd was energized to assemble as if they were the true representatives of the nation, annointed by their ties to him. Trump had staged an attempted coup–or a half-hearted attempt to improvise one–inviting admiring acolytes to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” as a body to halt the joint session of Congress tabulating electoral votes–in an invitation to enter the halls of government with violence to overturn the election on that day, or create a good story of preserving the nation–and capital-“C” Country. The term “Country” invoked over forty times in speech transcripts are not capitalized, but he ad-libbed an invitation supporters to move toward the Capitol, framing the march as an attempt to prevent what “will be a sad day for our country,” urging them to “stand strong for our country, our country [as] our country has been under siege for some time,” invoking opponents eager to “hurt our country,” reminding them, eighteen minutes in, “you’ll never take back our country with weakness.” The “lying media” failed to report even “the magnitude of this crowd”: “Even I, when I turned on today,” identifying him as just another ember of the collective television audience, “I looked, and I saw thousands of people here, but you don’t see hundreds of thousands of people behind you because they don’t want to show that.” The rejection of the story or the judgement that he had lost the election, broadcast on news and by tabulation machines, was also not the full story, but was only a false story that the crowd must reject, as they assumed their true nature to remake the nation, energized by his speech.
Trump had elevated them as the real, true representatives of the nation, able to forestall a sliding of national grandeur that would leave the actual borders of the nation, and the border walls he built, and had campaigned on, vulnerable to the barbarians. He had, he told them, “ever seen anything like it.” They were ready, indeed, to become the new barbarians themselves, lest they invite the barbarians waiting at the border to invade the nation. And they had come, he assured them, as a mirror image of the barbarians or refugees that were waiting at the border, “from all over the world, actually, but they came from all over our country,” ready to reverse the false results of an election which “they rigged . . . like they’ve never rigged an election before,” evoking the fears of a “rigged” election of 2016, rehabilitating the word to which the audience would have cathected, as he converted them into an image of armed barbarians ready to enter the chambers of government. This was a false populism like never before, equipped with a vendetta of betraying the basic promise and function of representation.
Telling the rump of constituents that had congregated at the Ellipse they were “protecting the country,” the master of extended ellipses crafted a speech at the Ellipse rich in innuendo and and suggestion of danger to the nation–and mentions of “Country” that the transcripts of the speech cannot fully capitalize. The identity of the crowd that Trump created was planned over the long term–not crafted in twenty days between the call to assemble in Washington DC on December 19 and January 6. We might well map the arrival of energized participants in the culmination of Stop the Steal rallies across the country, a rally that promised to Save America as if to echo the end of times, by flared arrows, as they migrated down Pennsylvania and to the Capitol, as if on the street directions issued by the outgoing President.
Trump was verbally mapping an image of a dysfunctional country, where other barbarians were standing at the gates, not at the Ellipse. Channeling the rhetoric of hell-fire preachers promising redemption and national will, as if to go back in time to undo the election as Inauguration Day approached, the question of whether the crowd gained its unity as the President spoke, urged on by militant groups on the way to the Capitol may be debated. The master of the ellipsis found his stride at the Ellipse, basking in the display of signage and flags, perhaps, to stray from his Teleprompter to improvise an ad-libbed call to advance to the capitol, directing his followers to advance to the Capitol building as if to sanction their unity as a violent group, before they moved toward the Capitol grounds and moved to breach its perimeter, and the “rally” assumed new organic force.
The almost entirely all-white crowd of men–and very few women–carried signs of starkly ideological bent that seemed to overflow on television screens, as if designed to throw civil society off balance rather than allow the election to conclude. They mapped their own progress in the name of the multitude of flags they bore, dominated by the flags of the election that they refused to admit they had lost, as if to elevate the claims of election fraud Trump promoted as a crusade for the country. The crowd he assembled so provocatively, heard how a “system absolutely, totally rigged” had led to a stolen election was not only marked by “massive, widespread, total fraud,” as he had insisted since November, but had found the moment to “fight to expose this voter fraud and demand transparency and election integrity” by advancing to the Capitol. The call to erase any gap between political representation and voters was a call to arms masquerading as a call for transparency, mobilizing a crowd as truth-tellers who might invade the Capitol while fully armed as one body. When Elias Canetti pondered the force acquired by a crowd as an entity, and the consolidation of a crowd in terms of an elemental power, he addressed fascism, but also raised questions of the responsibility by which a crowd could be invested that seem to remain on the table after the hearings of the January 6 Committee have ended.
If the January 6 Committee after exhaustively interviewing the Trump White House staff and campaign associates found Trump consciously assembled and riled up a crowd to enter the Capitol to prevent the ceremonial transfer of power, creating a crowd as the crucial backdrop of consensus to flaunt the election’s results and to rewrite history. The staged coup was a way of marking a final attempt to retain the Presidency, it may have echoed the prominence that Hitler would assign the Bavarian Beer Hall Putsch in his prison memoirs, the forward to Mein Kampf, a book Trump once kept on his bedside, and that echoed the disgust with which Trump queried the loyalty of the American military while in office–“You f—ing generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”–as if to model the subservience of the American military he imagined German generals had for Adolf Hitler, shortly after his election, in 2017. Hitler had commemorated the 16 party members killed by state police as he tried to kidnap government leaders by gunpoint became the propaganda victory for the Nazis, calling them martyrs in the preface to Mein Kampf, and burying them in “temples of honor” in downtown Munich where he staged party rallies to their remembrance on the anniversary of the putsch even after he was elected chancellor, celebrating their devotion to Germany. Trump had not only adopted increasingly violent language by the summer of 2020, but was immersed in these speeches: presidential historian Michael Beschloss set off a social media flurry over Trump’s relation to Mein Kampf or a volume of collected speeches My New Order, a sequel of Nazi propaganda repeatedly cited the Putsch as critical point of the Kampfzeit and sacred history of the Nazi Party– Heilsgeschichte–whose martyrs were commemorated in national parades in the German Reich, its “martyrs” buried in sacred temples.
By 2020, the concept of an “insurrection” had suddenly come home to roost, ready to be staged for national television, as the term if it loomed large in people’s minds. The nativist tenor of the March on Washington seemed reflective of a weird, old crazy America, reborn to prevent a stolen election, and the dire consequences that from such theft–as if it were akin to a new Original Sin, might ensue. The advance of barbarians were invented by the founders of democracy, the Greeks, Mary Beard argued, animated by the fears that their conquest, either imaginary or real, would be destined to triumph–from Persia or, later, from tribes living in German lands–but the fears were born from the awareness that the true barbarians lay within their midst, even if the fears were projected beyond the borders of the democratic nation or the boundaries of the city-state.
Barbarians Who Attacked and Destroyed the Roman Empire
Barbarian Invaders Filling the Vacuum of the Disappearance of Late Roman Empire, c. 480 AD
The entrance of migrants into the United States is perhaps a primal fear of globalism or globalization among the Trump crowd, of crossing boundaries, breaking boundary lines, and violating the nation and its sanctity.
We had all been waiting for barbarians for some time. The President had, for over six years, mapped the threat of the barbarians advancing from across borders as a security threat. but these barbarians came not from Mexico. For those ready to accept a wall between the United States and Mexico as a function of good government, it made sense to breach the Capitol, lest that border wall not be built . The fear that the charismatic leader who had been elected against the mainstream media’s prediction, and the interests of political elites, was about to be removed from office, and the borders of the United States in danger of opening to immigrants, gangs, and drugs, in the imagery of Trump supporters who feared the rising tide of globalism that Trump had staunched about to overwhelm the nation. He had declared a national emergency against the threat of the arrival of migrant caravans, and the arrival of “unprecedented numbers” of immigrant refugees at our borders.
The energized crowd surged over barriers to cross the perimeter of the U.S. Capitol lest forces of globalization from entering the nation to undermine its sovereignty, but entered the capitol only to venting their rage and vandalizing the government building. The barbarians entered the gates of government to prevent the erosion of the nation and follow the call to Make American Great Again–national integrity was in danger of being undermined, insisted online misinformation, detailing how nefarious foreign forces had shifted the result of the 2020 vote, as the software of electronic voting threatened to disenfranchise Republicans and end democracy. The danger of the subversion of the vote would require complete auditing of votes, lest ballot counting systems be allowed to maliciously delete over 2.7 million votes by voting systems in twenty-eight states, from Pennsylvania to Michigan to Georgia–causing rioters to arrive from all over the nation to defend the President, if we track those Proud Boys who arrived in the Capitol by their geotagged tweets.
Vigilantes had patrolled the border for years, animated by an ethos of defense of national borders, and mobilizing within the Customs and Border Patrol to find meaning in the slogan to defend deportations of migrants that “we need strong borders,” and “we have no country if we have no border,” as if he were defending American families, and the “blood” of those families, and celebrating his defense of borders and accusing his opponents of open borders. But the border of the U.S. Capitol was rendered open on the morning of January 6, 2020, as the Congress was about to confirm the electoral votes as barbarians entered, as if invited, into the Capitol, to make their voices heard.
This crisis was occasioned by the sudden loss of a charismatic center, and by the consecration of the crowd with new psychic energy to affirm the restoration of the Trump to power. With YouTube channels live-streaming fake projections as maps of election results as polls closed to hundreds of thousands, framing the narrative of the election as a theft of the nation, as self-made maps proliferated and confused all clear consensus and interpretation of electoral results, it made sense to enter the halls of government to force the issue of Presidential succession in a decisive manner that was fully merited by the distortion of the electoral results, and the incorrect tabulation of ballots, lest America was going to just stand by.
The poster and invitation to the event that was disseminated online in December as a last stand of indignation didn’t specify a time or location at first, when issued online, but the meme generated energy from across the nation, with an energy that evoked not only the fear of the end of a Trump Era, but the fears of an end to the collapse of a vision of globalization, maintained by that charismatic center, a wall built around the nation against immigrants more than against Mexico, a defense of unfettered wealth, and white privilege, a call-and-response rally able to generate a massive dynamo of popular wildness and will to secure America’s red, white, and blue whose philosophy was all there in black and white set the terms for the license of January 6.
Trump sanctified the crowd, as the Preacher in Chief, as an alternative assembly of the nation. This was a nation whose borders we could strengthen by overruning the Capitol itself. Did Trump aim at creating a similar moment of national commemoration, akin to the bizarre National Garden of American Heroes he had imagined on July 3, 2020, while attacking the “angry mobs . . . trying to tear down statues of our Founders [and] deface our most sacred memorials”? The rhetoric of sacralization that was implicit in Trump’s address may well have anticipated a memorial of a scene that was of truly historical proportions, Trump implied, for those who were willing to participate. It was an alternative history in which they could take part, akin the bizarre Garden of American Heroes that had been the closest attempt he had ever made of a positive map of America, rather than one bound by poured concrete walls.Continue reading