It took almost a year, but media conspiracy theories about a right-wing attempt to overthrow U.S. democratic government on January 6 can now be labeled “fake news.” Even the Washington Post had to publish a front-page article conceding the attack was not a conspiracy at all.
It turns out that the data show that the overwhelming majority of those charged by the government with a crime for illegally participating in the Capitol riot were not part of any “planned conspiracy.”
The Post facts are clear: “the vast majority of the 650 people charged in the riot were not part of far-right groups or premeditated conspiracies to attack the Capitol.”
That is, of the 2,000 people entering the Capitol (much less of the larger group outside), only 35 planned a riot beforehand. The others were just “ordinary Americans” with no plan who had never heard of the Proud Boys and “didn’t know what they were doing,” according to the Post.
How could merely 35 true conspirators and their tag-alongs breach the Capitol of the United States? Easy, it was not defended and Congress was legally responsible for the Capitol’s defense.
The Post timeline of events for the Capitol attack shows President Trump ended his speech at 1 p.m., saying “We’re going to try and give them [Republican Congressmen] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” Over at the Hill, the crowd started breaching the Capitol itself at 1:30. At 2:38, Trump tweeted, “Please support our Capitol Police and law enforcement. They are truly on the side of our country, Stay peaceful.” At 3:13, he said “I am asking everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence. Remember we are the party of law & order — respect the law and our great men and women in blue. Thank you.” (READ MORE: Dare I Say That January 6 Was Not an Insurrection?)
Importantly, the Capitol Police director was already concerned things were getting out of hand at 1:09 p.m., and thus alerted his superiors 21 minutes before the breach that the National Guard was now required at the Capitol to prevent a riot. But his request then went to the police decision committee, then the Guard and Pentagon, and was not approved until 3:04 p.m. Troops did not actually arrive until 5:40, when most of the violence had ended. The cause of the breach of the Capitol, therefore, was bureaucratic incompetence and delay, not political plot.
The real lesson from the destruction and violence of the mob attack upon the nation’s Capitol on January 6 is the inability of the uniformed and police bureaucracies to control protesters as they had done historically.
Previous large demonstrations at the Capitol not only had police and military forces in place when needed, but they were also willing and able to engage. What has changed? The background story since well before the Capitol collapse has been the unwillingness of the police and military to use force to control a domestic counterforce because of their fear of censorious media criticism if they use force against even violent protesters.
I have been holding a copy of a most perceptive column by the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger on my desk for months, waiting for the appropriate occasion. Henninger understood why angry protesters turn violent so often these days: “There is no fear of the police.” He wrote:
Up to now, the conventional liberal/media/Democratic storyline has been that “most” Black Lives Matter protesters are peacefully objecting to racism and police practices. But it has become impossible not to see something else that falls between carrying signs and looting stores. It is common practice for these protesters, men and women, to stand inches from the faces of cops, especially black cops, screaming insults and personal obscenities with no letup. This behavior is a phenomenon worth thinking about.
No one is afraid except the police themselves who more and more stand back and allow the mayhem to run its course. It used to be that any protester or common street criminal who so confronted the police knew he would be arrested or hit by a police club. But today, most who do so are not even arrested, much less charged with a crime or sent off to jail for committing acts of violence if for a “good” progressive cause.
The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald noted what happened in Minneapolis back in 2020 after a perfectly justifiable protest against a policeman who had killed George Floyd by standing atop his “neck for nearly nine minutes as he begged for help breathing.” Three days of violence followed, and the mayor ordered its Third Police Precinct evacuated:
The building was promptly torched, sending a powerful sign that society would not defend its most fundamental institutions of law and order. Soon cities across the country became scenes of feral savagery. The human lust for violence, the sheer joy of plunder and destruction, were unleashed without check. Police officers were shot at, run over, slashed with knives, and clubbed; two current and former law enforcement officers were killed in cold blood. Police cruisers and station houses were firebombed; courthouses were trashed. Looters drove trucks through storefronts and emptied the stores’ contents into the back of these newly repurposed vehicles of civil war. ATMs were ripped out of walls; pharmacies plundered for drugs.
Major violence followed in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles and then in Seattle, Portland, Washington, D.C., and in hundreds of other big and small cities throughout the nation, all supported as exemplary protests by the mainstream media. It was only a matter of time before the lack of consequences for rioting spread to the violent right, who, rather than fearing the police, relished the opportunity to confront them. And then there was January 6.
This sequence of events, as Henninger noted, begins with a 20-year progressive philosophy and politics of “decriminalization” of crime as a means to help minorities who have higher rates of incarceration and presumably would benefit from less stringent enforcement. Especially since the election of Trump in 2016, the mainstream media and progressives generally have tagged Republicans and conservatives as racist, anti-immigrant, and too supportive of police restrictions on black and minority demonstrations. The roots of this prejudice allegedly go back to 1619, according to the New York Times’ incredibly successful educational project which posits the violence of slavery and ethnic discrimination as the fundamental roots of all American culture.
Brookings Institution analyst William A. Galston recently argued that progressives should rethink this. A recent public opinion survey with the Public Religion Research Institute found that 79 percent of Republicans were concerned that “foreign influences” were having a negative effect on America’s way of life, but so did one-third of Democrats. Moreover, these views from Democrats came “disproportionally” from blacks and Hispanics, who, like most Americans, also want law and order in their often higher-crime neighborhoods (in Chicago, 80 percent of murders involve minorities as victims).
Perhaps as important for progressives, their whole governmental worldview depends on experts being able to solve every problem society faces. Unfortunately for them, most political philosophies, peoples, and ordinary Americans believe the first responsibility of government is to combat coercion and violent disorder.
America’s domestic and military bureaucracies today are in such fear of media, cultural, and woke power that they cannot act. The progressive plan seems to be to first stir up ethnic and cultural resentments, and then to keep the police from protecting the innocents caught in the middle when these angers explode. It is a strange plan, but seems to be the way we are heading.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies. He is the author of The Enduring Tension: Capitalism and the Moral Order, new from Encounter Books, America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and Political Management of the Bureaucracy. He served as President Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and can be followed on Twitter @donalddevineco1.