This all happened a month ago, but, like so many other things in modern American culture, feels far more distant. In that time, Trump was impeached for the second time and, a week later, left office. Jan. 6 seems to be obscured by fog, something that Trump’s impeachment defense clearly hopes to rely on. The paragraph above is a distillation of the events that led to the deaths of a Capitol Police officer and four rioters, scores of injured police officers and hundreds of subsequent arrests — but we’re so familiar with the narrative that we can forget the effects of the day’s violence.
So it’s worth putting a fine point on two things. The first is that the effects of the day’s violence are still very tangible and, second, that its proximate cause is no less murky.
Hours before the impeachment trial began in the Senate on Tuesday, federal law enforcement officers in Georgia arrested Benjamin Torre, one of those accused of breaching the Capitol on that day. Like so many others who’ve already been arrested, Torre left a wide trail on social media pointing to his participation in the day’s events.
Torre is only the most recent person to be arrested, though he may not be by the time you read this. Nearly every day since Jan. 6, law enforcement officials have arrested someone allegedly involved in storming the Capitol. On Jan. 19, the day before the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, 18 people accused of illegally entering the Capitol were arrested.
In other words, the effort to hold people accountable for their actions that day is still very much underway. There are still hundreds of photographs of individuals at the Capitol on Jan. 6 posted on a Justice Department “Most Wanted” Web page, indicating possible suspects in the day’s violence and illegality. We can expect dozens more arrests, at least.
From those who’ve been arrested already, we hear a consistent refrain: They were there to support Trump or, in their view, there at his behest.
That’s what Douglas Sweet of Virginia said after he was arrested on Jan. 7: “Trump asked all the patriots to show up, so I did.”
Jacob Chansley, the “QAnon Shaman,” told FBI agents that “he came as a part of a group effort, with other ‘patriots’ from Arizona, at the request of the President that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021.”
In an interview with the New Yorker, Larry Brock of Texas said that “the president asked for his supporters to be there to attend, and I felt like it was important, because of how much I love this country, to actually be there.”
Someone who spoke with the FBI told agents that Robert Sanford, arrested Jan. 14, had been part of a group that “had gone to the White House and listened to President Donald J. Trump’s speech and then had followed the President’s instructions and gone to the Capitol.”
Jennifer Ryan, a real estate agent from Texas arrested on Jan. 15, told a local television station that she had simply “answered the call of my president.”
In a message to someone she was trying to recruit to come to Washington that day, Jessica Watkins of Ohio allegedly said that “Trump wants all able bodied Patriots to come.”
The FBI quoted Christopher Grider of Texas, arrested on Jan. 21, saying in a TV interview: “The president asked people to come and show their support. I feel like it’s the least that we can do. It’s kind of why I came from Central Texas all the way to D.C.”
On Facebook, Kenneth Grayson of Pennsylvania allegedly wrote: “IM THERE IF TRUMP TELLS US TO STORM THE F---- CAPITAL IMA DO THAT THEN.”
Bruno Cua of Georgia, arrested last week, allegedly wrote on the social media site Parler that “President Trump is calling us to FIGHT!” by way of explaining his trip to Washington.
The same rationale was offered by unidentified people in video recorded at the White House.
“Our president wants us here. We wait and take orders from our president,” one person said.
“We were invited here,” said another. “We were invited by the president of the United States.”
It’s worth noting that these are the known testimonials. That so many suspects are still sought by law enforcement serves as a reminder that other similar arguments may still emerge.
Trump’s attorneys hope to show that his actions before and on Jan. 6 do not constitute incitement to insurrection, and that the trial itself addresses a constitutional debate that has no validity or, perhaps, urgency.
But we are still very much at the front end of understanding what happened that day, and we have a surfeit of evidence to suggest that Trump played a central role. This doesn’t prove the prosecutors’ case in the impeachment trial. It does, however, serve as another reminder that for all of its complexity, the day’s events hinged on the then-president of the United States.