As a consequence of Donald Trump’s supporters occupying the Capitol building in Washington, DC after a rally promoting his baseless claims of election fraud, the Republican Party is fracturing, setting the stage for the consolidation of a new bipartisan political center—albeit much further to the right than before. Yet this also paves the way for massive sections of Trump’s base to break away from representative democracy altogether, embracing an explicitly fascist alternative. The events of January 6 offer them martyrs and a revanchist narrative that will serve them for years to come, providing an internal mythos for recruitment and a justification whenever they need to use force.
The events of January 6 will discredit Trump supporters in the eyes of centrists and force some Republicans to shift their allegiances to the center, but they will also push the envelope regarding what is acceptable. This may help the far right recruit locally countrywide and could normalize similar actions in the future.
This is actually a very old problem that never went away. As Mike Davis put it, “Deep structures of the past have been disinterred during Trump’s presidency and given permission to throttle the future.”
But this is not the only danger ahead. In the name of a war against extremism, centrists are going to demand to expand the same machinery of state repression that the next Trump will inevitably use against us. This is essentially what happened in Weimar Germany, setting the stage for the rise of the Third Reich. Likewise, Trump’s chief weapon throughout 2020 has been the Department of Homeland Security, created under Bush in response to the September 11 attacks, and he has also benefitted from further centralization under Obama. Centrist appeals to fight “chaos” will serve to draw many of our former allies out of the streets, while justifying new crackdowns that will target us as well as the far right.
The state clampdown after this will likely suppress freedoms across the board, targeting all forms of dissent. In Turkey, when Erdoğan put down a right-wing military coup, that paved the way for him to repress every form of protest. State repression of the right will follow the playbook they use against our movements—incorporating reformist elements while isolating and destroying “extreme” elements. If the only pressure on the government is from the far right, the state will make concessions to them.
We are already seeing our former allies withdrawal from the streets in the events of January 6. Liberals urged people not to go to DC, counting on the authorities to deal with Trump supporters. This was a miscalculation. Security forces are not particularly inclined to stand up to the part of the population they sympathize with most—and even when they choose to do so, their hands are effectively tied by the deeply engrained institutional habits of treating conservative white people much more respectfully than they treat people of color, poor people, and anti-capitalists.
In short, no one is coming to save us. We have to prepare for the possibility that an emboldened fascist movement will continue to carry out attacks around the United States while a new centrist consensus in government enacts measures that target us as well as them. If our movements are to survive, this will necessitate community organizing and solidarity on a scale we have not seen yet.
We have already seen signs of a bipartisan shift towards repressing anarchists and anti-fascists. For example, after winning reelection, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler—a Democrat—announced new efforts to target, discredit, and repress anti-fascists and anarchists, using the same language that Trump uses. The New York Times did the same thing to us three months ago, parroting Trump’s talking points almost verbatim.
Trump himself threatened anti-fascists ahead of January 6, urging them to stay out of Washington, DC lest they interfere with the show he was preparing to stage-manage. The far right has made opposing “antifa” into almost the entirety of their platform—not just because negative points of unity are most expedient in a time of political polarization, but also because anti-fascists have won so many victories up until this point, slowing their growth. On January 5, a White House memo copied straight out of the fascist playbook announced that they were trying to back the Anarchist Exclusion Act of 1903/1918, seeking to exclude people from the US for opposing fascism. Such policies, begun under Trump, could continue under Biden—for example, if his former Republican supporters join the political center on the condition that it adopts planks from their preexisting agenda.
“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this. Then it will become clear that the task before us is the introduction of a real state of emergency; and our position in the struggle against Fascism will thereby improve.”
-Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History
The Events of January 6: A Rough Timeline
For the sake of posterity, we have compiled documentation of some of the important scenes that played out yesterday. Later, when this narrative is contested, it may be helpful to have these all in one place. The timeline from the New York Times offers a thorough account of how the events got underway, but breaks off at the important point, when people entered the Capitol.
This footage depicts the beginning of the incursion. Reportedly, many of the those at the front of the charge were longtime fascists:
Some have exaggerated how willingly the police opened the gates for Trump supporters. Here’s another view of the initial clashes:
Confused scenes unfolded as some Trump supporters attempted to protect officers from other Trump supporters, while continuing to push back the police:
This aerial view shows a line of police struggling and failing to hold back much larger numbers of Trump supporters:
Trump supporters storming the north side of the Capitol building:
They got into the building from the first floor and pushed as far as the outside of the Senate chamber:
Here we see them arriving in the Rotunda. As many people remarked, these velvet ropes held them back more effectively than the police had:
Trump supporters discharged a fire extinguisher inside the Capitol building and proceeded to clash further with police.
Officers drew their guns to defend the floor of the House of Representatives.
The Trump supporters who entered the empty Senate found a vacuum at the epicenter of power—they had seized the temple, only to find God absent. Power does not rest in fetishized physical locations; rather, it is comprised of all the different ways that we are accustomed to obey, the countless thoughtless gestures with which we cede agency to the authorities every hour, every day.
“But when the insurgents manage to penetrate parliaments, presidential palaces, and other headquarters of institutions, as in Ukraine, in Libya or in Wisconsin, it’s only to discover empty places, that is, empty of power, and furnished without any taste. It’s not to prevent the ‘people’ from ‘taking power’ that they are so fiercely kept from invading such places, but to prevent them from realizing that power no longer resides in the institutions. There are only deserted temples there, decommissioned fortresses, nothing but stage sets—real traps for revolutionaries. The popular impulse to rush onto the stage to find out what is happening in the wings is bound to be disappointed. If they got inside, even the most fervent conspiracy freaks would find nothing arcane there; the truth is that power is simply no longer that theatrical reality to which modernity accustomed us.”
-The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends
Some of the Trump supporters flourished zip-ties, which they may have brought in order to take hostages:
Meanwhile, the New York Times was reporting that explosive devices had been found at the Republican and Democratic headquarters.
A “source close to the White House” who was in contact with the Trump supporters who had penetrated the building spread the word that the participants intended to remain inside the Capitol through the night. According to subsequent reports, the crowd included off-duty police officers and members of military, some of whom flashed their ID badges.
Police had barricaded the door to the Speaker’s Lobby to protect some of the politicians they were evacuating; a handful of officers were guarding it from outside, but Trump supporters persuaded them to step away from it. When they attempted to break through the doors, a police officer positioned on the other side of the door fired a single shot, killing Ashli Babbitt, a former police officer. At that moment, tactical officers were arriving on the other side of the door, immediately behind Babbitt and the other Trump supporters. This disturbing video captures the moment when police shot her.
Here is another angle on the shooting. Again, the content is extremely disturbing.
Watching the interview with the Trump supporter who was next to Babbitt when she was killed, it’s hard to tell how much of it is artlessness and how much is artifice. It comes across at once as a work of self-conscious propaganda, and yet at the same time, strangely naive—for example, about the consequences of identifying himself by name as a participant in the storming of the Capitol building.
Reportedly, by this time, the police were deploying tear gas:
Clashes continued as police attempted to recapture the rotunda:
Some of the participants had probably gotten further than they had expected to, and—surprised by their initial success—were not able to consolidate their advantage to hold on to the territory. Others, who had announced in public forums that they would execute politicians and occupy the building, were apparently thwarted by the police successfully evacuating and defending the politicians, which gave the invaders little cause to use lethal force to defend the parts of the building that they had gained.
Here, a large number of Trump supporters leave the Capitol with their faces exposed:
Meanwhile, similar scenes were playing out at other state capitals around the country:
Vice President Mike Pence approved the order to deploy the National Guard, not Trump. This seems to bolster speculation that Trump or his supporters may have arranged for security to be underprepared or otherwise delayed the response. In parts of Mexico, it is said that if the police or military are conspicuously absent, it is because paramilitaries are coming to do the dirty work for them. That remains speculation, but it is certain that Trump arranged to remove longtime officials from the Department of Defense and other agencies last November, replacing them with loyalists as soon as his loss to Biden was confirmed and restructuring the chain of command to concentrate power directly in his hands. At the risk of spreading conspiracy theories of our own, we recall how, at Fort Bragg on November 18, when Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller announced that from then on, Special Operations would report to him directly, he interrupted himself to say “This is an omen”:
As we implement the president’s orders, we also recognize that transitions and campaigns are fraught with risk and unexpected challenges and opportunities. That is why I am here today to announce this—this is an omen… I’m here today to announce that I directed the Special Operations civilian leadership to report directly to me instead of through the current bureaucratic channels.”
Some overseas officials have argued that what occurred smacks of a coup. Our own interpretation is that earlier in 2020, Trump indeed took steps to see if he could take power regardless of the outcome of the election—but, likely fearing the the George Floyd uprising was just a foretaste of what would result from an actual coup attempt, important elements of the ruling class chose not to support him, with the result that by January 6, there was no real possibility of a coup, and all that remained possible was for Trump to have his supporters throw one last tantrum to punish the rest of the political class for not permitting him to retain power and to show that, even out of power, he and his supporters could be a dangerous force.
In any case, on January 6, after nightfall, a large number of officers were finally deployed:
In the darkness, Police pursued some Trump supporters with something more comparable to the sort of violence they habitually employ against Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
One eyewitness report claims that 15 vehicles with Trump bumper stickers that had been parked in a lot in the Fort Totten neighborhood in DC had their tires slashed—two per vehicle, so that spare tires wouldn’t solve the problem.
Afterwards, inside the Capitol building:
(Actually, all the statues in the Capitol building are soaked in blood—but the cameras only show the blood shed by white people.)
The Social Media Battlefield
For his part, Trump congratulated the participants, stopping just short of explicitly endorsing the incursion in order to retain plausible deniability: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred [sic] landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” He added a message identifying the event as a foundational step confirming the emergence of a new political current: “Remember this day forever!”
In response, Twitter and Facebook finally imposed embargoes on Trump’s accounts. The moderators for one of the online organizing spaces for the rally also faced pressure:
Facebook already banned many anarchists months ago—but all the same, while any misfortune that befalls Trump is a welcome obstacle to his totalitarian efforts, it is inevitable that this will ultimately lead to more corporate censorship of anarchists and other participants in social movements, as well. This makes it all the more pressing that we establish and promote alternatives now.
Will the Republicans Split?
As a result of this stunt, the Republicans have already effectively split into two camps, the pro-Trump far right and the “centrists” who have finally been forced to break with Trump, despite riding his coattails for the past four years.
One of Trump’s most ominous achievements in advancing the reactionary cause is that today, Republicans who have moved far to the right as a result of his influence can be hailed as heroes of democracy by a bipartisan base—simply for choosing not to support him in an explicitly anti-democratic coup attempt. While Democrats and Republicans who are withdrawing their support from Trump are consolidating a new bipartisan political centrism, the midpoint of that centrism would have been considered extreme right just a few years ago. Obama’s Republican adversary in the 2008 election, John McCain, is now hated by Trump’s base, but a hero to many Democrats.
In this regard, Trump’s exodus from the center of the Republican Party only consolidates far-right gains across the board, cleansing them of any association with his polarizing character. If the far right is now represented by rabid neo-Nazis in “Camp Auschwitz” paraphernalia engaging in outright armed insurgency, it will be easier for capitalists who want to deport millions of people and evict tens of millions to present themselves as eminently reasonable proponents of mainstream viewpoints. Yesterday’s chaos in Washington has already enabled far-right parties in Europe to position themselves as dismayed defenders of democracy.
It is entirely possible that some Trump supporters will experience the events of January 6 as a wake-up call. But it is unlikely that this change will be an improvement. Some of them may decide that they really believe in state democracy and the rule of law after all; in this case, they will shift their allegiances to the likes of Lindsay Graham and, at best, call for crackdowns on outright fascists as well as anti-fascists. Others—having finally learned what it’s like to be on the receiving end of police repression—will conclude that they hate democracy and cops, too, but for exactly the opposite reasons that anarchists do, and join explicitly fascist groups.
This rupture with other Republicans will inconvenience Trump supporters, as it separates them from much of their power and perceived legitimacy; but it is a necessary step for those who have been seeking to establish a mass base for outright fascism. They have established a fascist pole in US politics—complete with martyrs and a revanchist narrative—that will serve them for years to come, providing an internal mythos to recruit and a justification whenever they need to use force. As we argued when Trump came to power, if the state is not able to solve the problems ordinary people face today, then it could be strategic for them to position themselves as enemies of existing government, in order to recruit from desperate and disenfranchised white people whose racial privilege led them to believe that they should not be the ones abandoned by the state and exploited by the economy.
As we’ve argued elsewhere, in response to the George Floyd uprising, Trump and his supporters withdrew from the social contract, effectively declaring, “If we don’t retain our privileges, it’s civil war.”
A Foothold in Power
At the same time, as we argued last month, though the far-right militias describe themselves as rebels against the status quo, it is a mistake to understand them as opposing the state itself. On the contrary—paradoxically, participants in the movement around Trump have sought to brand themselves both enemies of the “deep state” and proponents of state power. Consequently, they have support from within the state even as they pretend to contest it.
Seven senators and fully 121 House Republicans—more than half the Republicans in the House, and well over a quarter of the House of Representatives altogether—supported the challenge to certifying the election, after yesterday’s incursion—when it had become clear that, in doing so, they were intentionally providing narrative cover for what was either an extremely clumsy coup attempt or the founding of a new fascist party. At least six elected officeholders, including a member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates, participated in storming the Capitol, along with a large number of off-duty police officers from around the country. All this is evidence enough that the movement around Trump is not going away any time soon, and it will be very difficult for the authorities to bring the sort of force to bear against it that it would take to halt its momentum.
Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, Representative Matt Gaetz and other Republicans have spread the absurd fabrication that the unruly activity at the Capitol was somehow the work of false-flag “antifa” actors. Of course, there is plenty of evidence that confirms that the incursion was comprised of avowed Trump supporters. In boldly spreading barefaced lies, Gaetz and his ilk are building a base that willfully believes and spreads falsehoods as a way to demonstrate their loyalty and spit in the eyes of old-fashioned politicians and journalists who still take credibility seriously. They aim to hasten the arrival of a day when what people consider to be the truth will only be a factor of their political affiliations, and not the other way around.
Unfortunately, Gaetz is just one of a large number of people from a variety of positions across the political spectrum who are attempting to muddy the waters regarding the political identity of the Trump supporters who invaded the Capitol. Pundits Erin Burnett and Dana Bash joined Fox News and Vanity Fair and politicians Marco Rubio and Elaine Luria in describing Trump supporters as “anarchists”—jumping the gun on the inevitable forthcoming effort to implicate “both sides,” fascist and anti-fascist, as equally to blame for the problems plaguing the United States.
Having learned from the last two gatherings of Trump supporters in DC, anarchists and anti-fascists circulating downtown DC in affinity groups were able to prevent brutal attacks on activists of color and others at risk of being randomly targeted by fascists and other Trump supporters. But there was very little good news on this bleak day.
Anarchists face a double bind in responding to the events of January 6. It doesn’t make sense to risk our lives to defend the institutions that preside over state oppression, nor to provide fascists with easy opportunities to kill or harm us. At the same time, if we cede the entire terrain of conflict to an insurgent far right and a repressive police state, however much harm they do each other, the political horizon will shrink to be small indeed. As a minimum program, we should stake out an anti-authoritarian alternative to both of these forces, establishing new models for action and finding points of intervention that minimize vulnerability.
It will probably not be possible for Trump’s supporters to do the same thing twice. On January 20, when Joe Biden is inaugurated president, we anticipate that there will be a tremendous police and military presence in Washington, DC. On the other hand, Trump supporters may attempt to duplicate what they did in DC at state capital buildings around the country. Those who oppose both fascism and state repression may have to go back to the drawing board to identify the most strategic goals in this new scenario.
One mistake we must not make is to assume that all the pieces are already on the playing board. This is not true—there are still massive sectors of society that have not yet cast their lot with one side or the other. The rush to escalate towards civil war increases the likelihood that we arrive at that point before we are ready. Civil war may be inevitable, but if it is, that is all the more reason to focus on building networks and appealing to those who have not yet taken a side while there is still time.