Remembering January 6, the American Fascist Anniversary
I remember where I was when Trump was declared winner of the 2016 election. I think almost everyone does, unless they were asleep or medicating anxiety with valium or gummies. I was tucking my press pass inside my coat and walking the gauntlet of MAGA yahoos on 6th Avenue in Manhattan screaming “Lock the Bitch Up!” and waving American flags. In the dark, camera crews for European and Asian television networks were zooming in on the faces and catching the flecks of spittle and rage to beam back to watchers on the other side of the planet, where it was already a new day.
I, like many Americans, also remember where I was in the early afternoon on January 6, 2021. Upstate New York, walking in a snowy field with my dog and wondering whether, by the end of the day, the fascist-friendly conman voters had a few months prior ejected from power would manage to violently hold onto it, and whether the army would be on our side or his.
Having to ponder whose side the U.S. military would take was perhaps the most shocking part of the whole Trump experience, forcing us to concede that our national situation was now on the level with “shithole” countries where coups happened, where civil rights were suspended, where generals took over, where opposition leaders and journalists and activist dissidents went to jail, or got thrown out of helicopters over the ocean …. .
In the three years since January 6, 2021, we’ve watched the legal system try to confront it. The House Select Committee that investigated the coup attempt produced reams of evidence of a conspiracy. Prosecutors in the Department of Justice in DC have tried and won convictions in more than a thousand cases. According to the Associated Press today about 750 people have been sentenced, with almost two-thirds receiving some time behind bars. Prison sentences have ranged from a few days of intermittent confinement to 22 years in prison.
But ,any of the rioters are already out of prison after completing their sentences, including, per the AP, violent defendants like Scott Fairlamb — a New Jersey man who punched a police officer during the riot. Convicted trespassers and cop-beaters back on the streets consider themselves heroes. They have enough support that some, horned Q-Anon lunatic Jacob Chandler for example, plan to run for office.
Americans saw a coup attempt with our own eyes in real time on television on January 6, 2021. The volume of evidence produced into the public record sufficiently proved that the coup attempt was the result of a conspiracy -- however poorly planned and executed. But Trump and his craven supporters in the Republican Party have over three years,pulled off one of the greatest PR stunts in history, persuading a majority of Republicans that charges against their leader are baseless, politically motivated, and as he puts it, a witch hunt. He and his army of paid influencers have persuaded millions that what they saw on January 6, 2021 was actually a setup by the feds, or caused by Nancy Pelosi’s orders to the Capitol police to stand down.
In the face of this tsunami of bullshit, the American legal system has not proven -- yet -- up to the challenge laid down by the seditionists and their leader. Jack Smith, the DOJ’s special counsel probing Trump’s sedition, is currently hamstrung, as is the judge presiding over his case against Trump. The Supreme Court, with its majority Trump-appointed/ Trump-aligned judges will eventually decide whether Trump’s claim of immunity -- his claim to, essentially, monarchical or dictatorial status -- is legitimate. Elsewhere in the country, in Georgia, in Florida, the machinery of the law moves at a snail’s pace, and will likely not reach any kind of conclusions before the 2024 election.
The American legal system has, so far, failed. It is a broken machine. Since January 6, 2021, we have come to know how weak our laws and ethical norms really are, how dependent they are on agreement and acceptance of the compact, and how they collapse when an entire movement decides to ignore them.
Trump has chipped away at the foundation of democracy ever since he and General Mike Flynn started demanding that Hillary Clinton be “locked up.” Democracies can’t survive without trust between citizens who must believe that, even if they lose, the other side will not jail or destroy them. The MAGA Big Lie is all about destroying trust, which is the glue that holds democracies together.
The House Democrats’ volumes of evidence, the indictments against Trump and henchmen, have not removed the clear and present danger of the fascist movement that tried and nearly succeeded on January 6, 2021. The implied threat of the noose and gallows outside the Capitol remains as present now as it was on that day.
American prisons are packed with people whose crimes pale in comparison to those of Trump coup plotters and pardonees like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, and the rest of the big indictees still walking around in suits, sipping Scotch, golfing, protected by lawyers, horse-trading tidbits of evidence and running out the clock with technicalities, waiting for their Dear Leader to shut it all down. Legal elves at the Heritage Foundation have a playbook ready to go, a blueprint for autocracy that would, if effectuated, give Trump dictatorial powers, which would -- they all clearly hope -- put a much different answer to the horrid question of whose side the American military would support in a second Trump administration.
Reprinted with permission from American Political Freakshow
Nina Burleigh is a a journalist, author, and documentary producer. She is the author of seven books including most recently Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic and an adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.