Yet, because those rioters were acting on behalf of Trump and, by extension, conservative and right-wing politics, their actions have been excused as an understandable response to the imaginary crisis Trump has touted. There was a spate of responses to the storming of the Capitol that came in the form of “violence is bad, but” — with the “but” generally referring to concerns about election security (concerns amplified and exaggerated by Trump) or about other Democratic actions. With new threats reportedly looming in Washington, Trump’s allies have begun suggesting that Democrats bear the blame for any future violence, as well.
“We see what’s happening around this country, how 50 statehouses are being threatened on Inauguration Day,” “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade said on Tuesday morning. Referring to one of those reported threats, he said that “this is the last thing you want to do” — that is, impeach Trump for his role in what happened at the Capitol.
One can certainly argue about the utility of impeaching Trump. What one can’t do in good faith, though, is suggest that if there are attacks at statehouses later this month, it’s a direct function of that impeachment. After all, the threats already exist! The anger is already there! An attempt to institute repercussions for deliberately encouraging that anger is not the proximate cause for the anger.
Kilmeade, himself angry, continued to rail at the idea that Trump should be impeached.
“It would be as dumb as Nancy Pelosi hopping on ’60 Minutes’ last night,” he later added, referring to a segment Sunday night, “and saying the president is an imminent threat and has to be derailed.”
This has been an undercurrent to the push to impeach or remove Trump from office: that he might continue to use his platform to explicitly or tacitly encourage the sort of threats demonstrated at the Capitol on Jan. 6. His removal from Twitter on Friday certainly limited the reach of such entreaties, as did the revocation of access to other Internet-based communication tools. But on Tuesday, addressing reporters as he prepared to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border for an event, he sought to rationalize the anger at his political opponents.
Like a teenager who sees one episode of “Law & Order” and comes to believe that police officers have to identify themselves, Trump interlaced his rhetoric with insistences that he opposed violence.
“As far as this is concerned,” he said in reference to the Capitol events before boarding Marine One at the White House, “we want no violence, never violence. We want absolutely no violence.”
Then the pivot.
“And on the impeachment, it’s really a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in the history of politics,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous. This impeachment is causing tremendous anger. And you’re doing it. And it’s really a terrible thing that they’re doing. For Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger. I want no violence.”
Got that? The danger and anger that exist moving forward are being caused by the reaction to what occurred last week, not as a continuation of the fury that led to Trump’s supporters storming the Capitol.
That Trump frames this as a continuation of the “witch hunt” — a by now sweeping reference to every time Democrats have sought to investigate Trump’s behavior or otherwise hold him to account — makes clear that he understands what the real source of the anger is. Trump ran in 2016 as an opponent of the Democratic left and managed his presidency largely through the lens of goading or frustrating progressives and his political opponents. Every question about his campaign or his tenure, from his campaign’s contacts with Russian actors in the 2016 election to attempting to leverage the United States’ relationship with Ukraine in hopes of influencing the 2020 contest, is positioned as Democratic partisanship run amok. Trump has accrued five years of grievances against his opponents, which culminated in his false claims that Democrats stole the election from him — and which, when pushed up against the wall of his defeat being formalized, erupted into the violent invasion of the seat of the country’s legislature.
After Marine One landed at Joint Base Andrews, Trump continued to press his case that it was everyone else who was amplifying the danger of the moment. The technology companies who shut off his access, for example, were causing “a lot of problems and a lot of danger.”
Then another shift to defend his and his supporters’ actions on Jan. 6.
“You have to always avoid violence,” he said. “And we have — we have tremendous support. We have support probably like nobody’s ever seen before. Always have to avoid violence.”
Who was fomenting violence? Why, the left, of course.
“If you read my speech — and many people have done it, and I’ve seen it both in the papers and in the media, on television — it’s been analyzed and people thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said of his comments at a rally shortly before the Capitol was stormed. “And if you look at what other people have said, politicians, on a high level, about the riots, during the summer, the horrible riots in Portland and Seattle and various other places, that was a real problem, what they said. But they’ve analyzed my speech and my words and my final paragraph, my final sentence, and everybody to the T thought it was totally appropriate.”
Trump has apparently internalized the idea that suggestions that he bears responsibility for what happened at the Capitol stem largely from what he said that morning. The article of impeachment, which is likely to come to a vote in the House on Wednesday, does identify that speech as an incitement for insurrection. But it puts his remarks that morning in the context of two months of falsehoods about the sanctity of the election itself, remarks that led thousands of Trump supporters to go to Washington in the first place.
“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election,” he claimed — falsely — in a tweet on Dec. 18. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Regardless of whether Trump’s words on the morning of Jan. 6 spurred the rioters to attack the Capitol, the rioters were unquestionably there because of Trump’s words before that point.
It’s not clear what Trump’s referring to when he asserts that “other people” said things that were the “real problem” in advance of the violence following protests over the summer. It is clearly the case, though, that what happened at the Capitol was of much higher importance and at a much different scale than what happened over the summer — even if his assertions about incitement by his opponents were accurate. Last Wednesday, hundreds or thousands of people misled about the 2020 election injured numerous law enforcement officials as they tried to physically interrupt the final confirmation of Trump’s electoral loss. One injured police officer later died.
What Trump said on Tuesday was an effort, however nonsensical, to redirect blame for what happened that day toward his opponents. It was an attempt to rationalize as acceptable what happened and his role in it. It was interlaced with “no violence” insistences, statements that may well be sincere in their intent. But his comments were a reinforcement of the idea that his people were doing something justified and justifiable and that, should they again get out of hand, it’s not his fault but his opponents’.
The president lied about losing the election for two months, and his supporters, conditioned to believe him, came to Washington to prevent the election from being “stolen.” By framing what ensued as part of a years-long effort to reduce his power, he simply reinforced the perceived scale of the fight. By refusing to explicitly denounce those who raided the Capitol (beyond in the most vague terms) and by refusing to acknowledge his own role, he again promoted the idea that the bad actors were the ones trying to introduce accountability for what occurred.
Every American should hope that no further violence occurs. If it does, we should be clear-eyed about who encouraged it and how.