By JOHN LESLIE
The “Stop the Steal” riot in the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, did little to break the hold Donald Trump has on the Republican Party or his base. The “Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the United States Capitol” (the J6 Committee) was formed against opposition from Trump’s key supporters in Congress, with only two GOP Representatives choosing to participate, Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
The right has used the lack of GOP participation in the committee as a talking point to attack the legitimacy of any investigation of the Capitol riot, while the Democrats have mainly stage-managed the investigation to underpin their mid-term election strategy of using the attack, and the rise of the far right, to scare working and oppressed people into voting, once again, for the “lesser evil.”
The road to Jan. 6
Early in his 2020 reelection campaign, Trump began to cast doubt on election security, the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, whether “illegal aliens” would be voting, and talking about possible election fraud. On July 19, 2020, Trump told Fox News that “mail-in voting is going to rig the election.” This is even though states have been using mail-in ballots for elections for years without any major incidents of electoral fraud. As the election drew nearer, Trump’s claims of a rigged election became more strident in rallies and via Twitter.
These claims escalated following the election with Trump and his supporters filing 62 lawsuits in states and federal courts. Trump lost each one of these, with the exception of a Pennsylvania decision stating that “voters had 3 days after the election to provide proper ID and “cure” their ballots.” Trump supporters also composed alternative slates of electors and floated the idea that GOP-controlled state legislatures could “step in” and send these alternative slates to be certified on Jan. 6 by Vice President Pence. Ultimately, the Jan. 6 session of Congress to certify the result of the election became a flashpoint for Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.
Claims of election fraud are nothing new. In 2016, Trump claimed that Ted Cruz stole the Iowa caucuses, stating, “Based on the fraud committed by Senator Ted Cruz during the Iowa Caucus, either a new election should take place or Cruz results nullified.” Trump later called the Colorado caucus results into question. Trump later made unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2018 midterm elections.
The day the earth stood still
On Jan. 6, many of us watched a live-streamed riot in the U.S. Capitol building in amazement. Earlier, Trump spoke to a rally of supporters, including far right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, denouncing Pence for not handing him the election and urging supporters to march to the Capitol to make their presence known: “We fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
About 15,000 protesters marched to the Capitol, with some attacking Capitol police, and a crowd of about 2000 breached the building’s security and entered the building. Capitol police and federal agents evacuated the House and Senate. Securing the building so that members of Congress could return took four hours. More than 900 people have been charged with a variety of offenses, including sedition. More than 400 of those charged have entered guilty pleas. While many of Trump’s supporters in the GOP and Congress condemned his attempt to overturn the election and the Capitol riot, most of them have fallen into line behind Trump and now repeat the narrative of a rigged or stolen election.
Trump’s rhetoric in the run-up to the election and afterwards emboldened a section of the far right who took up his claims as being the truth. Proto-fascist groups like the Oath Keepers, 3% militia, and Proud Boys mobilized for Jan. 6 and acted as a disciplined vanguard in this riot itself. In the weeks before the riot, these groups allegedly agreed to operational unity on the day of the riot. Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs posted on Facebook in December 2020 that “this week I organized an alliance between Oath Keepers, Florida 3%ers, and Proud Boys. … We have decided to work together and shut this [expletive] … down.”
What has the J6 Committee found?
The Committee has put forth evidence that Trump pursued the overturn of the 2020 election results despite knowing that he lost. Trump personally pressured state election officials and state legislators in the effort. They found that advisors and members of Congress took part in this ruse, and that Trump sought to use the Department of Justice in the effort. During the post-election “Stop the Steal” campaign, Trump raised more than $250 million in donations from supporters to pay for legal fees to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, which were funneled into Trump’s Save America PAC and then distributed to pro-Trump political groups.
At its last meeting, the committee issued a subpoena for Trump to appear before the body, but it’s unclear whether he will comply. No new evidence was presented at the last committee meeting, but the previously presented evidence was repeated through a video presentation.
The investigation also revealed that federal agencies, the Secret Service and FBI, suspected in advance of the Jan. 6 events that there could be a potential for violence and that there were threats against specific political figures, including Vice President Pence. There is some question about whether Secret Service text messages from that day were deleted.
Does it matter?
Socialists understand that the state, even a bourgeois “democracy,” operates as “an instrument for the exploitation of the oppressed class,” as Lenin wrote in “State and Revolution.” The state is not a neutral entity there for the benefit of all, but the expression of the rule of one class over others. Bourgeois democracy is a screen to hide the real nature of the capitalist state from view. It grants rights to “citizens” but reserved the right of exploitation and violence for the ruling class. Lenin wrote, “Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly when, in analyzing the experience of the Commune, he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!” (“State and Revolution,” Ch. 5).
Despite this, socialists understand that gains in democratic rights, won through the struggles of the oppressed and exploited, must be defended. Among these rights are voting rights, which are currently under a concerted attack by the right wing. This demonstrates that a wing of the ruling class may have lost confidence in the ability of bourgeois democracy to defend their interests and that they may require more authoritarian measures to keep their hold on power.
In states with Republican-controlled legislatures and GOP governors, laws have been passed taking power over elections away from election boards or elected Secretaries of State. States have passed laws restricting voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, “19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote.” Trump-supporting election deniers have run for office, including election boards and state legislatures opening the door to another possible post-election attempt to overturn an election in 2024.
Certainly, the Democrats have been ineffective defenders of democratic rights, including voting rights. They prefer to appeal to the “decency” of political opponents because they are tied to the capitalist class and a real defense of so-called democracy would require a break with the ruling rich. By using the Jan. 6 Committee hearings as a stage prop for their mid-term strategy, the Democrats, once again, are taking a knife to a gunfight.
The Democrats have been willing participants in the regime of mass incarceration, in COINTELPRO disruption and violence against dissidents, and supporters of the growth of the National Security State. While a handful of “progressive” Democrats have spoken out, the main thrust of the Democrats’ real actions has been to reinforce the undemocratic nature of the system. The housebroken “socialists” and “progressives” exist mainly to corral working and oppressed people into voting for the Democrats as a “lesser-evil.” This is reflected in the mid-term emphasis on abortion rights and the Capitol attack, as the Democrats call this election, once again, “the most important election in history.” The Democrats make this assertion despite the fact that they have repeatedly failed to codify abortion rights into law and their ineffectiveness in defending democratic rights.
What Jan. 6 reveals is the growing polarization in U.S. bourgeois politics. The far right has continued to consolidate positions within the Republican Party, as rightist culture war rhetoric and white nationalist talking points become more mainstream within the GOP. And all the while, the Democrats continue to demonstrate their incapacity to oppose the march of the right.
Jan. 6 was a poorly planned and executed armed action in support of an anticipated legislative move to deny certification of the election result. In any context, the Capitol riot can be seen as an attempted coup by Trump. It was only the fact that he lacked key support in the military and the ruling class that this effort failed. The right claims that this was not an armed action because there were allegedly no firearms brought to the protest. However, NPR notes that 15 arrested protesters had carried a variety of weapons, including baseball bats, sticks, pepper spray and fire extinguishers. One protester was charged with beating an officer with a metal flagpole. Police confiscated a dozen firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a crossbow, a stun gun, and 11 Molotov cocktails on Jan. 6. In the seditious conspiracy trial of five Oath Keepers, including Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, it was revealed that the group had cached a supply of firearms and ammo in a hotel just over the border in Virginia for rapid distribution to protesters.
The Trump years normalized the presence of armed far rightists at protests. Armed militia members and others entered state government buildings during pandemic anti-lockdown protests at state houses. Since Jan. 6, militia members, Oath Keepers, and Proud Boys have continued to organize and build, with some attending school boards as part of anti-Critical Race Theory protests or in protest of books that are the subject of right-wing attempts to ban them.
The growth of armed rightist formations parallels the increasing influence of white nationalism and Christian Nationalism in the GOP. Currently, Trump acolyte Michael Flynn is organizing a series of ReAwaken America rallies that are a combination of far-right political rallies and tent revivals. Speakers at these rallies use the imagery of battle to describe the tasks ahead. According to the Associated Press, “Since early last year, the ReAwaken America Tour has carried its message of a country under siege to tens of thousands of people in 15 cities and towns. The tour serves as a traveling roadshow and recruiting tool for an ascendant Christian nationalist movement that’s wrapped itself in God, patriotism and politics and has grown in power and influence inside the Republican Party.” The right is preparing for civil war while most of the so-called left tails after the Democrats, begging for crumbs.
The Democrats are attempting to scandalize Trump and his political allies by emphasizing their links to the far-right and the white supremacist militias, but it remains to be seen whether the higher-placed figures, including Trump, will suffer any punishment. Unlike past presidential scandals, the ruling class has not closed ranks against Trump. Trump is as influential as he was before and in firm control of his base. Contrast this to Nixon, who resigned in disgrace and finished his years in obscurity.
Neither party has much to offer working-class and oppressed people as we face multiple crises that flow from the economic and social system we live under. Workers and oppressed people need a party of our own—a party that breaks with the illogic of lesser evilism and fights daily for the rights of the oppressed, for real democracy, and for workers’ power. Such a party will be built in the streets, college campuses, and union halls. The road ahead is hard, but we have an obligation to rescue humanity from the clutches of capitalism.
Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP