The Putsch of January 6, 2021

The Putsch of January 6, 2021

TOPSHOT - A noose is seen on makeshift gallows as supporters of US President Donald Trump gather on the West side of the US Capitol in Washington DC on January 6, 2021. - Donald Trump's supporters stormed a session of Congress held today, January 6, to certify Joe Biden's election win, triggering unprecedented chaos and violence at the heart of American democracy and accusations the president was attempting a coup. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

The rioters who assaulted the Capitol on January 6 were better organized than the police who were charged with protecting the imposing building, which Biden called the “citadel of liberty.”

These were not just a group of people who happened to be in Washington that day to protest Biden’s victory. There was the woman named Elizabeth from Knoxville, her eyes smarting from mace, who said she came as part of the “revolution.” There was Jake Angeli of Arizona, an actor and singer, both a QAnon and Trump supporter, carrying a bullhorn and an American flag, who, in 39-degree weather, appeared inside the building shirtless and tattooed, wearing a horned helmet and red, white and blue face paint. There was the other bearded rioter wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the chilling rubric, “Camp Auschwitz, Work Brings Freedom,” the nazi slogan that greeted arrivals at the death camp.  There was a fair share of white supremacists and racists. Someone erected a gallows with a noose in front of the Capitol Building. 

This was not a demonstration; it was a desecration of our sacred democracy, a violent insurrection, aided and abetted by Trump and certain of his enablers.  Five people died as a result of the assault. 

This was a well-planned enterprise. Who financed these people? Was it Trump’s “Stop the Steal” PAC? Who paid their travel expenses, their hotel expense, their sustenance? Who were the organizers? Who assembled the small group that would storm the building, scale its hallowed walls and invade its chambers where the laws that rule us are made? Who instructed the trespassers on how to do it, and where to go? Many carried or wore Trump or QAnon paraphernalia. “Trump 2020” banners  or MAGA hats, the uniforms of their seditious enterprise. Few of the male rioters were clean shaven. Was this planned also to make identification more difficult? 

There is more to this than Trump’s incendiary innuendo in front of the White House exhorting the mob: “You will never take our country with weakness.” There is more to it than Trump saying to the mob of criminals, “We love you, you’re very special.”

Or Donald Trump, Jr. warning Republican members of Congress who were deserting the ship, “We’re coming for you.” Or Rudy Giuliani demanding of the same crowd “trial by combat” to settle the election. 

True, Trump Jr., Giuliani, and Ivanka Trump, who had previously tweeted that the  mob were  “patriots,” denounced the violence. But all that was too little too late. It was moving a log after they had poured gasoline on the fire. 

Who put up the crusty Congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmert, to start the frivolous and almost unimaginable lawsuit against Mike Pence seeking to empower him to throw the election Trump’s way? Who crafted the wild Ted Cruz scenario to advocate a special commission to investigate an election where countless lawsuits, recounts and challenges had unearthed no evidence of the “massive fraud” Trump falsely claimed had vitiated the election? The enablers like Cruz and Josh Hawley, the pallid senator from Missouri who wants to be president, know it is not true. Joe Biden won in a fair election. The American people rejected Donald Trump. How long do they intend to perpetuate this falsehood?

And what of our security forces? Why was the National Guard so late to the party? The DC and Capitol police were no match for the rioters. One of their number posed for a selfie with the mob; another escorted an intruder down the steps of the Capitol; a third ran from them, not even ordering them to leave the building. And these are but a few egregious examples. Thugs bearing flagpoles, and undoubtedly concealed weapons, breached the security of the building without serious challenge. The officers involved from the top down who were derelict in their duty must be held fully accountable. 

Someone must investigate the riots and find out who was behind it, who organized and financed it and who plotted to launch this shameful attack on the institutions of our democracy—perhaps more fragile than anyone ever thought.

Is this the end? Are we to assume that the buffoons and domestic terrorists looking more like Visigoths than civilized human beings have had their fun and will now go home from their all-expense paid trip to Washington? Or will they be back? 

Something like this happened not too long ago, in 1923 in Munich. It was called the “Beer Hall Putsch,” an attempted coup d’état by Hitler and his followers, which was calculated to seize the power of the Bavarian state government (and thereby launch a larger “national revolution” against the democratically elected Weimar Republic). The attempted coup failed after four police officers and 16 nazis were killed. Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for “high treason,” but was out with a pardon after less than a year. In jail, he wrote Mein Kampf. The next time round, Hitler sought election to the chancellorship. He lost, but became chancellor anyway, and the rest is history.

So what have we here? Another Beer Hall Putsch? To paraphrase Churchill, is this end of the beginning of the hooliganism and thuggery we saw in Washington, or are we in the twilight of our democracy — the beginning of the end?   

We have a rule of law in this country on which we pride ourselves. Serious crimes were committed here, and they merit vigorous investigation and prosecution. Title 18 United States Code §1752, among other things, makes criminal disorderly or disruptive conduct with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business in any building where a person entitled top Secret Service protection is visiting…when or so that such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions. The penalty is severe, up to 10 years imprisonment. There are other more draconian criminal statutes that may be applicable as well.

But so far, relatively few of the putschists have been arrested. The new Attorney General, the distinguished jurist Merrick Garland, has vast experience prosecuting domestic terrorism cases. When he was in the Justice Department years ago, he supervised the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing case.

There must be full accountability for all those responsible for this day, like another in American history, “which will live in infamy.”

James D. Zirin

James D. Zirin, a lawyer, is the author of the recently published book, “Plaintiff in Chief, -A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3500 Lawsuits.”