On January 6, 2021, a joint session of the United States Congress assembled to count the electoral votes that would formalize Joseph Biden’s victory in the Presidential election of 2020. Nearby, in another part of the city, President Trump was addressing a large crowd of his supporters. Despite his failure to have courts void election results in certain key areas, Trump continued to insist that he had had been cheated and that he was the real election winner. Obviously, he believed this to be true, and he wished that Congress would not confirm Biden as President. It was a situation rife with the possibility of conflict. Trump was wrong to have a rally at that place on that day, even though he urged his followers to express their frustrations in a peaceful manner.
Later that afternoon people began drifting away from the Trump rally and walking toward the U.S. Capitol. There they joined others already gathered in front of the capitol building, perhaps several thousand altogether. What followed can best be described as a riot.
The mob surged around the Capitol. In some places they physically broke into the building. At other places outnumbered Capitol police simply let them walk in. Once inside the building many of the protestors simply milled around and gawked like tourists. A small number, perhaps 5% to 10% of the total, engaged in acts of violence. 138 Capitol police and probably slightly more protestors suffered injuries. One protester was shot and killed by an officer. Senators and representatives were evacuated. More police arrived on the scene, and the situation was quickly brought under control. The Senate and House members returned to the Capitol and resumed vote counting, and Biden’s victory was confirmed that evening.
The assault on the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, has been called an “armed insurrection”, and some commentators have described it as the most dangerous threat to the nation since the Civil War. I believe such characterizations to be gross exaggerations of the facts.
A small number of those moving on the Capitol building were intent on mischief, and that included members of right-wing organizations such as the Proud Boys. It appeared that most of the crowd was there to peacefully demonstrate. Few arrests were made at the scene, but subsequent to the event about 670 people were charged, many with misdemeanors such as demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. Of those charged, only 82 were identified as having a weapon. These weapons included things like trash can lids, walking sticks, crutches, batons, etc. etc. Five demonstrators were charged with having a firearm, and none of them fired a gun. Six defendants were said to have a knife, four a taser, three an axe, and four a baseball bat. Although there were instances of physical fighting, only one officer was considered to have suffered life-threatening injuries, and only one demonstrator was killed (by a policeman’s bullet).
There have been some reports that certain White House officials and Republican members of Congress were involved in planning the demonstrations, but there appears to be no proof. The same is true of the Republican allegations that Democrat agent provocateurs actively promoted the break-in. The inquiry goes on, but thus far investigators have found scant evidence that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result; nor was the violence centrally coordinated by far right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump. Investigators did find that cells of protesters, including followers of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups, had aimed to break into the Capitol; but they found no evidence that the groups had serious plans about what to do if they made it inside.
As armed insurrections go, it was a complete bust. There was no planning. There was no organization. The insurrectionists were inadequately armed. It would be more accurate to describe the event as a spontaneous riot rather than characterize it as a dire threat to the Republic.
Of course, the enemies of President Trump seized upon the occasion to launch another impeachment effort, and the trial was conducted after Trump had left office. It was a purely partisan proceeding that had no chance of success.