There is so much evidence emerging from the January 6th hearings that it's sometimes hard to wrap your arms around what it all means. They are making a strong case that Donald Trump knew the election was legitimate yet spread the Big Lie that it was stolen anyway. He was also told that his scheme to have his vice president, Mike Pence, overturn the election was illegal and unconstitutional. The committee on Tuesday, during its fourth hearing, laid out how Trump was intimately involved in the pressure campaign to persuade Republican state officials to illegally change the legitimate results and "decertify" the will of the people. Future hearings will discuss the plot to corrupt the Department of Justice (DOJ) and incite the mob to intimidate the joint session of Congress and the vice president into overturning the election.
All roads lead to Trump and his henchmen. It's clear that there were many enablers around him — as even those who resisted internally didn't publicly sound the alarm.
Trump ordered the Republican National Committee to "help" with the "fake elector" scheme, knowing that there was no constitutionally valid alternative, which they were happy to do. Yet the so-called Team Normal surrounding Trump, who knew their leader was staging a coup, simply shrugged and backed away quietly. Lawyers in Trump's orbit testified that they knew the "fake elector" scheme was illegal and unethical and simply washed their hands of it rather than step up to say something.
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Nonetheless, there were Republican officials who did their duty and Tuesday's hearings featured three of them.
Arizona's Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers movingly testified to the intense pressure brought to bear on him to use his office to help Trump overturn the election in his state. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger talked about that famous phone call in which Trump asked him to "find" just enough votes for him to win and Gabriel Sterling, the Chief Operating Officer of Raffensperger's office, spoke at length about how the accusations of fraud were disproved over and over again. Unlike most of the people around Trump (and many in the states), these were people who took their oaths of office seriously and refused to do Donald Trump's bidding. Their testimony in that regard was very compelling.
Hovering over all these hearings, however, is the ongoing threat of political violence and that narrative is unfolding right along with the narrative of the coup plot itself. The violence was unleashed long before Jan. 6th and looking back it seems inevitable that it was leading to an insurrection. Tuesday's hearing illustrated how that was felt by the individuals on the receiving end of those threats. Various officials relayed their experiences with threats and harassment at their homes and on their jobs, some of which is ongoing. Bowers's gravely ill daughter and neighbors, for instance, were threatened and he still has video panel trucks running by his house and in his neighborhood calling him a pedophile and pervert. Raffensperger's wife got what he called "sexualized" threats and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson was intimidated at her home. These stories can be repeated all over the country as elected officials were harassed for failing to follow Trump's orders to make him the winner of the 2020 election regardless of the legitimate election results.
But that was nothing compared to the horrors inflicted on innocent election workers who were targeted for allegedly cheating on behalf of Joe Biden. None suffered more than Fulton County election worker Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, both of whom gave testimony to the committee.
In his famous phone call to Raffensperger, Donald Trump called Freeman a "professional vote scammer and hustler." His lawyer Rudy Giuliani told a Georgia legislative hearing that the two women were committing voter fraud, "surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin or cocaine." It turned out that the "USB ports" (the supposed tech expert meant USB drive) was actually a mint that Freeman passed to her daughter. This disgusting slander was all over right-wing media:
And where did that come from? It started in the far corners of the right-wing fever swamp and ended up on Fox News and in Donald Trump's mouth.
Moss described how her life was turned upside down by what Trump and his followers did to them. Angry Trumpers tried to push through her grandmother's front door saying they were there to make a citizen's arrest. The FBI told Freeman she needed to leave her home because her life was in danger. Both of them are afraid to use their names in public and Moss has quit her job as an election worker along with everyone she worked with on the 2020 election. These women were hounded, harassed and threatened all because Donald Trump's ego wouldn't let him admit he lost the election and many of his followers have lost all common sense and common decency.
The violence of January 6th had been a long time coming, even before the election.
We saw state houses taken over by armed militia "protesting" mask mandates. Public health officials were threatened at their homes. School board members were plagued with taunts of "we know how to find you" at public meetings. Many of these "protesters" are armed.
The RNC even called January 6th "legitimate political discourse." The threat of political violence is now an everyday feature of right-wing political activism.
Trump didn't create this phenomenon. He's just the first president to openly endorse it and coerce the GOP establishment to fully embrace it. The violent rhetoric of the right-wing media was way ahead of him. Recall original gangster Rush Limbaugh who said decades ago now, "I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus — living fossils…. " Or consider Ann Coulter when asked what was her biggest ethical dilemma said, "There was one time I had a shot at Clinton. I thought 'Ann, that's not going to help your career.'"
Violent rhetoric has been the coin of the realm in right-wing media since Trump was a Democrat. But it's gone into overdrive since he came on the scene and his Big Lie and coup attempt were destined to end up with people getting hurt and killed.
We don't yet know what the committee has uncovered about Trump's knowledge of the various violent plots that were cooked up around January 6th. It's possible he knew nothing of them. But that doesn't absolve him of responsibility for the atmosphere he amplified during his time in office. He not only publicly modeled the bullying and authoritarian style of the mob boss, but he also encouraged his followers to use threats and intimidation to force political acquiescence over democratic means. Of course, they would resort to violence. That's the whole point.