The January 6 Hearings: Exposing the Threat to Their So-Called Democracy

January 6 Capitol Riot

After weeks of nationally televised and publicized hearings, the January 6 House Committee has laid out damning evidence against Donald Trump and many top members of his administration and inner circle. After conducting over 1,000 interviews, reviewing thousands of hours of video footage and collecting tens of thousands of documents, the committee has presented an incredible picture of the events of the day as well as the months leading up to it.

The riot endangered the lives of the entire U.S. House of Representatives, the Vice President, their aides and others forced to hide in different parts of the Capitol building as protesters roamed the halls, trashed offices, and went looking for Democratic Party leader and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence. Ultimately, the riot led to nine deaths, including four by suicide, and over 100 injuries. More than 840 people have been charged with crimes, at least half of them with at least one felony.

The testimony gathered by the Committee, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, has shown that Trump and key members of his administration did everything they could to overturn the 2020 election in order to stay in power — and they came close to succeeding.

The hearings have shown clearly that Trump first planned to call the election a fraud if he was not the winner, regardless of the facts, and then used the power of his administration and inner circle to carry out a variety of efforts to overturn the election, including a violent shut down of the congressional certification vote at the Capitol on January 6 with a massive riot, led by far-right militia groups.

While these may be the most serious allegations against any president in U.S. history, the consequences are in doubt. It is clear that one goal of the hearings was for the Democrats to gain votes in the upcoming November elections. They want to stress the seriousness of the situation and the necessity for those who usually vote for Democrats and concerned Independents, as well as some Republicans, to vote Democratic.

What the hearings have exposed are the divisions that exist in the U.S. that go beyond Trump supporters and others. If the hearings continue, they have the possibility of exposing a significant divide in the U.S. ruling class between one section that wants to continue to try to maintain the status quo with its version of democracy, and another far-right section that wants to impose its right-wing agenda, and has used Trump and other right-wing politicians and judges, as well as fringe militia groups, in order to carry this out.

The Plan to Overturn the Election Through the Courts

The first part of the plan was simply to declare victory on election night, regardless of the results. This was made clear in a leaked audio recording from October 31, 2020 of a conversation where former Trump adviser and close associate, Steve Bannon, says, “what Trump’s gonna do is just declare victory … He’s gonna declare victory. But that doesn’t mean he’s a winner. He’s just gonna say he’s a winner.” This plan was not just discussed openly by Bannon, but was alluded to by Trump many times in the lead-up to election night, which has been detailed by the press.

Trump was relying on the expectation that more Biden votes would be coming from mail-in votes, which, in many states, must be counted after in-person votes. So they wouldn’t be fully counted until the following morning. His plan was to declare victory before those mail-in votes were fully counted, and declare fraud if the mail-in votes changed the result. This is what he did in a press conference on November 4, 2020, saying, “This is a fraud on the American public … We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election … This is a major fraud on our nation.”

At this point, according to testimony from members of Trump’s administration, Trump then began to assemble a hodgepodge team of loyalists to get to work on spewing out conspiracy theories and bombarding the Justice Department and various courts with made up legal challenges. All sorts of invented stories were repeated in the media, including claims that China and Italy had hacked into U.S. voting machines, that voting machines were programmed to falsify votes, that thousands of dead people and non-citizens voted for Biden and much more. Each one of these were completely debunked or deemed not worthy of investigation by various legal committees, including Trump’s own Attorney General.

But that didn’t stop Trump’s circle from spreading these lies for weeks all across the country, and filing dozens of lawsuits in battleground states. Helping with the effort was a team of lawmakers belonging to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Congressional Republicans, and of course Trump’s inner circle of Mark Meadows, Stephen Miller, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Kayleigh McEnany and many others.

Even the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, played a role. The committee released 29 text messages from Ginni Thomas to Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, where she expresses her full support and willingness to help with the efforts to overturn the election results, which at the time included an idea to bring their invented claims to the Supreme Court, where her husband serves as a judge.

As January 6 approached, and Trump’s legal pursuits all failed, Trump then pressured senior Justice Department officials to “just say the election was corrupt [and] leave the rest to me” according to the testimony of Richard Donoghue, a Justice Department official at the time.

Also, in dozens of emails obtained by the committee, Trump and his inner circle discussed another half-baked plan to create a list of people who would falsely claim to be Electoral College electors in battleground states that Trump had lost. They would simply announce at the January 6 certification vote in Congress that they had voted for Trump and their votes must be counted.

Jack Wilenchik, a lawyer who helped organize the fake electors in Arizona, wrote in a December 8, 2020 email to Boris Epshteyn, another lawyer and Trump advisor:

“We would just be sending in ‘fake’ electoral votes to Pence so that ‘someone’ in Congress can make an objection when they start counting votes, and start arguing that the ‘fake’ votes should be counted.”

Ultimately, all of these strategies failed, and all the accusations coming from Trump were determined to be complete fabrications. The January 6 committee included testimony from Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr explaining how he told Trump directly that all of Trump’s claims of election fraud were complete “bullshit” and that he would not pursue any of them.

The Plan to Block the Certification on January 6, 2021

When their fabricated legal challenges continued to fail, Trump and his inner circle shifted their focus to a last-ditch effort to block the certification vote from happening at the Capitol on January 6.

According to testimony from several members of Trump’s administration, including Trump’s White House counsel at the time, Pat Cipollone, there was a key meeting on December 18, 2020, where the focus shifted to blocking the January 6 certification vote.

At this meeting, some of Trump’s official White House lawyers clashed with his unofficial strategists, which included, lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne. They laid out options that Trump could still pursue, which included ordering the military to seize all voting machines to carry out a complete recount of all votes, and also declaring martial law on or before January 6 in order to stop the certification.

This led to a heated argument between the official advisors and the unofficial ones, with Trump’s official lawyers telling the others that their ideas were crazy and they should “shut the fuck up.”

But shortly after the long meeting, in the early hours of December 19, 2020, Trump sent out his infamous tweet, which read:

“Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!

The Role of the Far-Right

It was after this tweet that far-right militia groups began to organize and coordinate to mobilize their members to come to the Capitol on January 6 with arms. These leaders had connections to members of Trump’s inner circle.

The committee provided direct evidence of the preparation for the events of January 6 by members of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three-Percenters (all far-right militia organizations — some openly fascist). This included the creation of rapid-response armed militia units, the stockpiling of suitcases of weapons in a nearby hotel, and a plan to have a boat ready to deliver weapons to militia members at the Capitol. According to the committee’s investigations, Thomas Caldwell, a member of the Oath Keepers, sent a January 2, 2021 message to a group chat, writing:

“If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms.”

Other evidence included a transcript of a meeting of the Oath Keepers where its leader Stewart Rhodes cautions members about gun laws in D.C. during protests, saying, “Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal, and stun guns are legal. And it doesn’t hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it” — all of which were present on January 6.

Though the committee did not provide any conclusive evidence showing direct collaboration between members of Trump’s inner circle and extremist groups in the planning of the attack on the Capitol, it painted clear connections between them. The committee provided evidence showing that former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone — both of whom received full pardons by Trump before January 6, 2021 — had ties to leaders of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, whose members served as their personal body guards on the days before the riot.

Michael Flynn, a former three-star general, still collecting a military pension, repeatedly refused to provide testimony, pleading the fifth amendment when asked whether he believed the violence on January 6, 2021 was justified and whether he believes in the peaceful transition of power. Video was also shared of Stone citing a pledge of the Proud Boys — their so-called “Fraternity Creed” — where he says, “Hi, I’m Roger Stone. I’m a Western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologize for the creation of the modern world.” Stone pled the fifth during his questioning by the committee as well.

The committee also provided testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, the top aide to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, stating that on January 5, 2021, the day before the riot, Trump asked Meadows to contact both Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. Given Stone and Flynn’s connections to far-right groups, this testimony suggests that Trump and close members of his administration could have had direct knowledge of a planned attack.

In addition, the committee provided evidence attempting to show that Trump planned to tell those at the January 6 rally to march on the Capitol, but only shared that information with a select few until the day of his speech at the January 6 rally. The committee shared a draft tweet by Trump that was not sent out in which he wrote, “I will be making a Big Speech at 10 a.m. on January 6th at the Ellipse (South of the White House). Please arrive early, massive crowds expected. March to the Capitol after. Stop the steal!”

The committee also shared text messages from January 4 between White House Ellipse January 6 rally organizer Kylie Kremer and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell in which they discussed secret plans to have Trump call for protesters to march to the Capitol on January 6. Kremer wrote:

“This stays only between us, we are having a second stage at the Supreme Court again after the ellipse. POTUS is going to have us march there/the Capitol. It cannot get out about the second stage because people will try and set up another and sabotage it. It can also not get out about the march because I will be in trouble with the National Park Service and all the agencies but POTUS is going to just call for it ‘unexpectedly.’”

Another text confirms that there was clear knowledge about the plans to march on the Capitol before January 6. A text from far-right activist Ali Alexander at 7:19 a.m. on January 5 read: “Tomorrow: Ellipse then US Capitol. Trump is supposed to order us to Capitol at end of his speech but we will see.”

Pence is a Target

In his January 6 speech to the rally, Trump repeated the lies of the previous months, saying, “Today I will lay out just some of the evidence proving that we won this election and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.” He called on those at the rally to march to the Capitol, and singled out Mike Pence for having the power to stop the certification vote. Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller said that White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told him that he wanted removed from the speech the lines that singled out Vice President Pence as a coward if he doesn’t stop the certification vote, but Trump later ordered them to “reinsert the Pence lines.”

After the speech, according to testimony, Trump wanted to join the protesters at the capitol, and was furious when his secret service driver would not let him go. Trump then allegedly tried to grab the wheel and reached for the driver’s throat.

Hundreds of Proud Boys had already assembled near the Capitol on the morning of January 6 — hours before Donald Trump’s speech at the Ellipse — to perform reconnaissance of the Capitol before the attack they would help lead later that day. Once the rally ended and tens of thousands of people were told to go to the Capitol by Trump, members of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers led the efforts to overrun the Capitol police, get through the barricades, and break into the Capitol.

Once rioters entered the Capitol, Vice President Pence was warned that his life was in danger. A top White House security official testified that “the members of the V.P. [security] detail at this time were starting to fear for their own lives … there were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth … the V.P. detail thought that this was about to get very ugly.”

Some reporters have claimed that Pence didn’t just fear for his life, but he may have suspected that some agents in the Secret Service might try to take him from the Capitol against his will in order to stop the certification. According to Washington Post reporters, when asked to get in the car by a member of the Secret Service, Pence said to his lead security agent, Tim Giebels, “I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car. If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”

Many Unanswered Questions

The testimonies along with Pence’s fear of the Secret Service may have begun to reveal more about the functioning of the government than the Committee intended. This became evident when the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service, told the January 6 committee that text messages of the Secret Service from both January 5 and 6 had been accidentally erased. Are we to believe that all those text messages discussing security plans the day before the attack as well as on the day when security forces at the Capitol were overrun, police were killed, and elected officials threatened were “accidentally” erased?! The committee has since issued a subpoena to try to recover these messages. We can speculate about the content of those messages, but it certainly doesn’t seem likely the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security would accidentally delete such important records.

In addition, the committee has not fully explored why the National Guard was deployed so late. It took more than four hours from the time the Capitol Police chief called for backup to when the D.C. National Guard troops arrived. A former D.C. National Guard official, Col. Earl Matthews, who held top National Security Council and Pentagon roles during the Trump administration, wrote a public memo singling out two Army Generals in Trump’s administration — Gen. Charles Flynn, who served as deputy chief of staff for operations on January 6, and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of Army staff — and called them “absolute and unmitigated liars” for their testimony about the delay to send in the National Guard. Matthews alleges “every leader in the D.C. Guard wanted to respond and knew they could respond to the riot at the seat of government,” but they were delayed for hours by these men. At one point Matthews writes that the Generals issued a false report about the events of January 6 “worthy of the best Stalinist or North Korea propagandist.”

There are also many other signs of clear destruction of evidence that implicate people beyond just Trump. There is a nearly seven-hour gap in the White House call logs on January 6, including during the time of the riot, where it shows not a single call was made. This is a time period when others have reported that Trump was calling people incessantly. So it is important to know whether the logs were altered or destroyed, who is responsible for that, and, of course, if possible, to try to recover who was called and what was said, or find the record of the private phones that were used. Also, it has been reported that Trump repeatedly destroyed documents, and stole boxes of classified material when he finally left the White House and retreated to Florida. And it has been reported that Chief of Staff Mark Meadows burned documents after meeting with Congressman Scott Perry — a Republican from Pennsylvania, who played a major role in trying to help Trump overturn the election.

If the Committee reconvenes after the summer recess, we’ll see whether they are prepared to do anything more than simply expose Trump’s involvement.

What the Hearings Have Really Shown

The January 6 hearings have laid out a very strong case of a planned and coordinated attempt to overturn the election results by Trump and members of his administration, and parts of the government.

The Democrats and Republican opponents of Trump want to use these hearings to maintain the illusion that they stand for democracy, and represent the interests of most people. And this strategy may get more Democrats elected in the coming election and chip away at support for Trump in the Republican Party. It has already had some impact. Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post — owned by long-time Republican supporter Rupert Murdoch, whose family also owns Fox News — published highly critical editorials about Trump’s actions on January 6.

Regardless of the hearings, the reality of life for many people, Trump supporters or not, will not change. They will all continue to face the endless insecurities created by this system, which all politicians manipulate to get votes, and which the far-right uses to promote their extremist views.

We can see the cynicism of the electoral maneuvers with efforts by the Democratic Party and some Democrat-aligned non-profits spending nearly $44 million to promote far-right Republican candidates in primaries in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Maryland. Their strategy is based on the idea that these openly racist and far-right candidates — many of whom claim that the 2020 presidential race was stolen from Trump — will be easier to defeat than more moderate Republicans in a general election.

There is a lot at stake — more than what is represented in these elections or these hearings. There are wealthy, far-right forces that want to impose their social and political agenda. Up until now they have used the normal functioning of the system to achieve this. They have used their right-wing politicians to pass all sorts of restrictive laws, attacking the rights we have gained over the decades, like the right to access abortion and other healthcare, the right to vote, the rights of LGBTQ+ people, freedom of speech and assembly, the choice of curriculum in schools, and more. And they have used the courts to declare these decisions legal. They fund organizations across the country to recruit and mobilize people — some of them with far-right and fascist ideologies who are trained and prepared to carry out actions by force.

These hearings have put some of the inner workings of this system on display, and could expose some of the workings of the far-right forces. The January 6 hearings have shed some light onto the functioning of a system and government that do not represent our interests. This is a system that guarantees the rights of the rich to control the wealth, that is, the natural and productive resources of society. The economic crises, their wars and now the impact of accelerating climate disruption weigh most heavily on poor and working people. And the government is an instrument to maintain that wealth and control.

It is clear that we can’t rely on the Democrats or the Republicans or the government institutions to deal with the problems we are facing. The Democrats do not openly embrace far-right fascist organizations, but they maintain the same system and the same conditions that help give rise to these extremist groups.

The January 6 riot was not a threat to U.S. democracy — it was a reminder that this is not a democracy. It was a small glimpse of the day-to-day functioning of this system. And it exposes the violence that a section of the ruling class is willing to unleash in order to protect its interests.