“You know, I don’t care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me.”
According to testimony given Tuesday to a House committee investigating Jan. 6, former President Trump said those words, or close to them, to aides just before he delivered a scheduled speech down the road from the Capitol, where Vice President Mike Pence would soon preside in a ceremonial role over the certification of the 2020 electoral college votes.
Of course, Trump was right. The people armed with pistols and rifles and outfitted in military-grade tactical gear weren’t in Washington to hurt Trump, but to keep him in power despite his election loss.
Trump knew that’s why they were there. By the time he took the stage, he knew a lot of them were armed for an insurrection, not a protest, with Pence and members of Congress as their targets.
Still, he sent them to the Capitol, and when the violence started, Trump not only didn’t try to stop it, he welcomed it.
The hearings so far have not been a rehash of what we already knew. Instead, they have added detail and context. They have shown that Jan. 6 was a coordinated attack on democracy. It was led by a president who cared about nothing but staying in power – not the legitimacy of our elections and the sanctity of our democracy, nor the safety of everyone who would soon find themselves in the middle of a fatal riot in the U.S. Capitol.
The hearings are giving us a lesson in our democracy. They have revealed its weak points, and shown how officials in certain positions can exploit them. If we don’t learn these lessons, authoritarians certainly will.
The latest testimony, on Tuesday from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, showed just how willing Trump was to put American lives and democracy in danger.
Previous testimony showed how every sane person in Trump’s orbit was telling him the reports of a stolen election were nonsense. Despite that, Trump was keen on his Jan. 6 rally, at which the lies about the election would be repeated again and again. He even planned to walk to the Capitol with his mob.
According to Hutchinson, in the leadup to Jan. 6, officials around Trump knew what the president was planning was wrong. White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Hutchinson that under no circumstances should Trump go to the Capitol: “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we let that happen.”
On Jan. 6, just before his speech, when Trump was told that people were not entering the area because they had weapons they didn’t want confiscated, he said to get rid of the metal detectors.
Then, after working up the crowd with his fantasies about the election, he pointed them, armed and angry, toward the Capitol – and his own vice president.
Once the violence against Capitol police began, Hutchinson testified, people around Trump tried desperately to get him to call off the rioters, a fact that is supported by other evidence. As people told the president and others around him that Americans would die if he didn’t intervene, Trump did nothing.
When Trump was told that the rioters were chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Meadows said the president “thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think (the rioters) are doing anything wrong.”
At 2:24 p.m., just as police were facing down his violent supporters on the threshold of the Capitol building, Trump tweeted that Pence didn’t have the “courage to do what’s right.”
Asked to help calm things down, he instead inflamed them, putting everyone at the Capitol in greater danger.
There will be more to learn when the committee reconvenes later this summer.
But what we’ve learned so far should leave every American cold – and worried about how one erratic, egomaniacal and delusional man can, along with their aides and abettors, bring our democracy to the brink.
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