The individuals that breached the Capitol on Wednesday were under the influence of President Donald Trump’s manipulation and direct orders to incite violence. Trump supporters and far-right extremists forced their way into the Capitol in an attack the likes of which hasn’t been seen in over 200 years.
The act of terrorism left five dead, damaged an important symbol of our government and put at risk the integrity of a peaceful transfer of power.
Since Election Day, Trump has maintained that the outcome of the 2020 election was a result of voter fraud. Despite these claims being officially debunked in court, Trump has persisted in pushing the false narrative that Americans were cheated out of an election. This emotional manipulation has festered in supporters and extremists since November and made Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol possible.
The rally that eventually became the group of attackers was promised by Trump on Dec. 19 when he said, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Trump additionally promoted the rally several other times on Twitter between Dec. 19 and Jan. 6. The rally was part of the “Stop the Steal” movement aiming to halt the certification of the election results and Biden’s victory, which was what Congress met to accomplish that day.
The individuals at this rally had advanced notice, which gave them time to prepare. They were there under a direct call to action from Trump and were told to be ready for the event to “be wild.” Two and a half weeks might not be enough time to think about something like this logically, but it’s certainly enough time to prepare pipe bombs.
On Jan. 5, the day before the rally and subsequent attack, Trump tweeted that Vice President Mike Pence had the ability to overturn a fraudulent election no matter what congress decided Jan. 6. This statement caused a huge debate online, riled up supporters and gave them false hope that came with a sense of power.
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, Pence released a letter to Congress saying he wouldn't attempt to perform this act as they began their process of tallying the electoral votes. Shortly after, Trump finished an incendiary speech at the rally. He informed the crowd that Pence had failed to overturn the election and in doing so, ripped away that last bit of false hope. He maintained that the election was stolen and riled up supporters even further. “You will never take back our country with weakness,” Trump said as he urged members of the rally to march to the Capitol.
2:07 p.m. comes and the Capitol is breached. About 20 minutes later, as rioters break through defenses and make their way into the Senate chamber, Trump begins to tweet messages of support. “Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done,” Trump said at 2:24 p.m.
At 2:33 p.m., Ted Cruz sent out a mass fundraising text and email asking supporters to “stand with him” in his “fight to reject electors.” Cruz later said this message was automated and wouldn't have been sent out if he knew what was happening, yet it was still planned for such a heated time so it’s no surprise members of the rally took it as support.
At 2:38 p.m. and 3:13 p.m., Trump posts tweets asking protesters to remain peaceful. He didn’t ask anyone to back down or go home, simply to remain peaceful. By the time of the second tweet, one woman was already dead.
It wasn’t until 4:17 p.m., over two hours after the attacks began, that Trump tweeted an order for these people to go home. However, it was possibly even more problematic than any previous messages. In the video, Trump restates that the election was fraudulent, that it was stolen, and to those storming the Capitol he said “We love you, you’re very special.”
In the following hours, law enforcement continued to try and stop the violence as Trump was banned by almost every popular social media site he was on. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitch and more stepped in to block Trump from making further statements and on Facebook, he remains blocked indefinitely.
Trump wanted to make his supporters angry. Through their anger, he motivated them toward one final attempt to keep him in power. Perhaps all this time Trump knew he could make something like this happen if he wanted, but was never in a position where he had so little to lose until now. He wanted the election, but this attack was never going to get him that.
Evan Holden is a sophomore political science major. Contact Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org.