“We all look like domestic terrorists now.”
Those are the words of Hope Hicks, one of Donald Trump’s most loyal aides, in a text she sent to Ivanka Trump’s chief of staff on January 6, 2021. They are a fitting epitaph for the Trump presidency.
Two years ago today, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election. Seven people died as a result of that attempt. More than 140 police officers reported suffering injuries. One was pulled down the steps of the Capitol and then stomped on and beaten with a pole flying an American flag as the crowd chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” A makeshift gallows with a noose was built outside the Capitol, not as a generalized threat but to cow one man. “Hang Mike Pence!” the mob shouted. If the insurrectionists had had the opportunity, they would have. Most stunning of all, the president of the United States encouraged the bloodlust. According to one witness, Trump’s chief of staff said at the time that the president “thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think [the mob is] doing anything wrong.”
The many millions who watched the events unfold instantly knew that it would rank among the most anguished and horrifying days in American history: an effort to halt the peaceful transition of power. But it was worse and more wretched than we imagined.
We know this thanks to the extraordinary work of the House Select Committee that investigated the January 6 attacks. The bipartisan committee, which over the course of an 18-month inquiry held 10 public hearings, released a more-than-800-page report on December 22. It was the result of more than 1,200 witness interviews and a review of more than 1 million pages of documents that were obtained because of the issuance of more than 100 subpoenas. Americans learned the details of a deliberate, coordinated, violent, multipart plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election. And the main actor was the nation’s president.
“The central cause of January 6 was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed,” the report said. “None of the events of January 6 would have happened without him.”
Trump knew that his claims to have won the election were lies. That didn’t matter. He and his allies pressured state officials, high-ranking functionaries in the Department of Justice, and his own vice president to join him in his effort. They created a fake-elector plan. They invented legal theories to justify a coup. They tried to block certification of the election. But their endeavors didn’t stop there. Trump “lit the flame” that ignited the January 6 mob, in the words of former Representative Liz Cheney.
As the mayhem was ramping up on January 6, a colleague texted Hope Hicks, “Hey, I know you’re seeing this. But he really should tweet something about Being NON-violent.” To which Hicks replied, “I’m not there. I suggested it several times Monday and Tuesday and he refused.” The White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that, as aides and family were begging the president to take steps to stop the violence, she overheard Chief of Staff Mark Meadows telling White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, “He doesn’t want to do anything, Pat.” And in a text sent on the afternoon of January 6, when the violence was reaching an apex, Trump’s aide Robert Gabriel wrote, “Potus im sure is loving this.”
Frantic and deranged, Trump made every possible effort to upend American democracy. The violence, the bloodshed, was for him an added bonus.
The power of the Select Committee report—eight chapters, four appendices, thousands of footnotes—is not its eloquent language; it is its clarity and coherence; the firsthand testimonies, contemporaneous evidence, and stunning, intricate details; and its skill at narrating a story that, in the pre-Trump era, would have seemed not just improbable but surreal, even mad.
One example: According to the report, on January 6, “when President Trump got to the rally site and could see the crowd for himself, ‘he was fucking furious,’ as Cassidy Hutchinson later texted [Anthony] Ornato. Hutchinson testified that just minutes before addressing the crowd, President Trump shouted to his advance team: ‘I don’t [fucking] care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the [fucking] mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Take the [fucking] mags away.’”
We learn from the report, too, about the rampant abuse of power, the Mafia-like ethos that defined the Trump presidency, the threats, harassment, and acts of intimidation aimed at those who stood firm and did their duty.
The Select Committee in a unanimous vote referred former President Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation and potential prosecution. The committee accused Trump of obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, making knowingly and willfully materially false statements to the federal government, and inciting or assisting an insurrection.
The Select Committee’s report focuses on the protagonist in this malefic drama. That is understandable; Trump, after all, was the indispensable man in everything that unfolded. But not enough attention has been focused on the Republican Party, which was institutionally indispensable to what happened on January 6.
I say that not only because Trump was the leader of the Republican Party when he engineered the insurrection but because the GOP stood with Trump at every moment in his corrupt and corrupting presidency. Republicans defended him, supported him, empowered him, deflected attention away from him, and made excuses for him. For that reason, they are partly responsible for the insurrection.
But that wasn’t all. The weeks after the horror of January 6—when Trump was set to leave office defeated and disgraced—would have been the obvious time for the Republican Party to finally break with him. But it didn’t. (Even Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager, understood what had happened. He texted on the evening of January 6 that the day’s events were the result of a “sitting president asking for civil war.”)
Only hours after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, 147 Republicans in the House and Senate voted to overturn the election results. Only seven Republican senators voted to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol; 17 were needed. (A conviction would have barred Trump from ever again seeking the presidency.) And on January 28—only 15 days after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said that Trump “bears responsibility” for the violent assault on the Capitol—McCarthy visited the former president in Mar-a-Lago to genuflect before him. McCarthy believed that staying close to Trump was essential for him to become House speaker, a dream that remains in doubt.
But even that wasn’t the end of the offenses. Because the Republican Party maintained a cultlike devotion to Trump, at least until the disastrous results of this year’s midterm elections, it decided to criticize the Select Committee’s investigation and impede its work where possible, including ignoring subpoenas to testify. That was expected, I suppose, because during the Trump era, the GOP was a battering ram against truth and reality.
Republicans’ opposition to the January 6 committee wasn’t based on good-faith concerns; they wanted to keep shrouded all the ugliness that led up to and culminated in the insurrection. Republicans wanted a cover-up. What they got instead was one of the most effective and consequential congressional committees in history, one whose work will be known and studied generations from now.
At 6:01 p.m. on January 6, with the day’s carnage behind him, Trump issued his last tweet of that day.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote. “Go home with love & in peace.” Trump ended with this admonition: “Remember this day forever!”
We will, just not in the way Trump and his party want us to.