If the people you saw on your television in the violent mob outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 seemed familiar, that's because they were. You have seen them before — at Donald Trump's political rallies, standing in line behind you at the supermarket, driving the car in front of you at the drive-thru, in the pickup line at your kid's school. If you don't believe me, Google some videos taken that day. Look at their faces. They're from every walk of life: middle, lower and upper class, construction workers, shop owners, stockbrokers, husbands, wives, students, off-duty cops and soldiers, accountants, actors, writers, teachers, online media stars, even one recently elected state representative.
This article first appeared in Salon.
What did they have in common? Three things: They were white, almost to a man and woman, they were supporters of Donald Trump, and they were Republicans. They are, in fact, the Republican Party. That's why the political party that once nominated Abraham Lincoln isn't even a party anymore. It's a mob. They were there at the Capitol to do what their members of congress and senators were already at work doing in the well of the House of Representatives: attempting to block the certification of electoral ballots, trying to claim that the election was fraudulent and that it had been stolen from Donald Trump. Their aims were identical. Inside and outside the Capitol, they were there for Donald Trump.
Their president had sent them, directing them to "walk down to the Capitol" in his speech on the Ellipse. They didn't have to be told what to do when they got there. They understood what Trump was telling them. They were his voters, the lot of them. They were the people who put him in the White House. They voted for the Republican representatives and senators who were at the very moment of Trump's speech trying to overturn the election of Joe Biden. They were the Republican Party, and they were a riotous, violent mob.
Have you asked yourself why you have heard only a handful of Republicans criticize the mob that yelled "fight for Trump," and "hang Mike Pence," and "we're coming for you Pelosi"? Oh, a few Republicans like Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois have stood up to the mob, and because they did, their fellow Republicans are moving to censure them and run against them and beat them in primaries when they run for office again next year. The rest of them — in effect, the entire Republican Party — have remained silent. Have you heard even one of the Republicans who voted to support Trump's bogus claims in the House and Senate criticize the mob for assaulting 81 Capitol police officers and 58 members of the D.C. Metropolitan police force? Those are the numbers of cops who reported being injured during the attack on the Capitol, according to a document filed in federal court in Washington by the Department of Justice this week. Have you seen any television footage of Republican members of the House or Senate displaying the damage done to their desks or offices by the mob? Have you seen even one of them stand next to one of the shattered leaded-glass windows in the doors to the House chamber and point to the damage and denounce the people who committed that crime? Did even one of them hold a press conference and denounce the attack on the Capitol by a mob waving Trump flags and screaming "Fight for Trump"?
No, you haven't, because the Republicans in the House and Senate know they can't criticize the people who assaulted the Capitol and turned the chambers of both houses into crime scenes — because all that damage was done by the mob, not just in Donald Trump's name, in an attempt to overturn the election, but in their name too. Those congressmen and congresswomen and senators who stood on the floors of their respective chambers only a couple of hours after they had been overrun by a mob and voted to reject the electoral ballots for Joe Biden in the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania — they believed (or pretended to believe) the fantasies about fraud and stolen ballots and Dominion voting machines and Hugo Chavez just like the mob believed them.
The Republicans in the House and the Senate knew who put them in their seats, and they knew if they wanted to stay there, they had better do what was expected of them and vote the way the mob wanted them to vote. That's why almost immediately after the Capitol was cleared of insurrectionists, both houses of Congress reconvened and seven Republican senators and 138 Republican members of the House voted, in effect, to overturn the election of Joe Biden and hand it to Donald Trump.
They couldn't vote against the will of the mob that attacked the Capitol and stole their private documents and rested feet on their desks and destroyed their place of business — the seat of government of the United States — any more than they could have voted against the man who sent the mob there, Donald Trump. To hell with the Constitution, to hell with law and order, to hell with the cops who were out there defending them and getting beaten by the mob, to hell with the sanctity of elections, to hell with representative democracy, to hell in fact with everything but Donald Trump.
That mob wasn't there to preserve democracy and "make America great again." They were there to destroy it. You've heard the old saying that we are a nation of laws, not of men? Wrong. To that mob and the congressmen and women and senators they elected — to the entire Republican Party, for that matter — we are a nation of "not of men," but of one man, Donald Trump.
If that sounds like Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler, it's because that is where we are. The attack on the Capitol was our Reichstag fire, our Kristallnacht. The offices they looted and the glass they broke was in the Capitol. But what they really broke was our hearts.