The Ellipse was a deep sea of delusion. Thousands of President Donald Trump’s supporters drove or bused or flew from all corners of the United States to meet here, in the treeless space beside the White House, in their quest to overturn the results of the 2020 election with the help of congressional Republicans. “As I live and die, we will never give up until we have a fair-and-square election!” a small child in a rainbow hat yelled into a megaphone.
But the morning’s fevered theorizing about election fraud and “Stop the steal!” chants, which at first felt more pitiful than threatening, gave way to violence by the afternoon. The mob stormed the Capitol, chased police officers up the marble steps, and forced the evacuation of the vice president as hundreds of lawmakers and congressional staff huddled under desks and reached for gas masks. It was a grave moment for American democracy, and a clarifying one as well: Today was one of the few times that Trump’s most extreme supporters actually encountered the Republican lawmakers who have stoked their anger and encouraged their delusions for years.
The politicians who enabled Trump did not expect the president’s followers to ever break through the glass windows of the Capitol and ascend the Senate dais. They did not anticipate that a man wearing a Camp Auschwitz shirt or others, with Confederate flags or dressed as fur-clad Vikings, would breach the building; that a woman would lie dying by one of the building’s entrances, shot by Capitol Police. Trump, for them, has been a blunt instrument they can use to retain power, appoint conservative judges, and pass tax cuts. Today, these Republicans finally confronted the monster they’ve created.