As the United States enter a new political era after the election of Joe Biden, the Capitol attack still hangs as a shadow of malfunction and extremism. From online planning, to action, to the aftermath, what happened on January 6th ?  First part of a two-fold story. 

2021 started in chaos and goes on in disbelief. On January 6th, the Capitol was invaded by a mob of far-right extremists, Q-Anon members and supporters of now former president Donald Trump. The attack and surreal images which came out of it caught the attention of every news media, and the world wondered how such a massive invasion of the most emblematic political building in the country could happen. The four years of fake news and deep division led by the Trump administration seemed to reach their peak through this unconceivable event – and yet, it had been long predicted. 

From fake news to real action

As every American action movie such as White House Down would have it, invading a political building requires preparation, knowledge from the inside, and a good deal of extremism. On December 19th, Donald Trump tweeted : “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election. Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild !”. For most, it was yet another meaningless message posted on the blue bird platform, though it resulted in a massive Reddit thread in which Trump supporters discussed how they would go to Washington “armed” and “so protected that we are able to arrest treasonous members of the government.”  These reactions were commented on and passed onto Twitter by Arieh Kovler, an author and political analyst, who confided to GQ that “this was absolutely predictable”. He studied and analysed the behavior of Trump supporters and extremists involved into the planning of the invasion as soon as December and on open social networks like Reddit – before they were banned, and retreated to more private spheres which were more difficult to infiltrate (namely Parler, Telegram or forums such as TheDonald or MyMilitia). Open calls for violence and action were made on these platforms, and many were signaled in the days before the attack, the Advance Democracy organization underlined. 

Security forces were reinforced and on alert on January 6th : the 2,000 police officer troops of the National Guard were deployed, along with barriers in front of the building. Yet, the attackers went through. 

The lightness of the police response was very criticized while pictures and videos of what happened around and inside the building went viral. The violence of the mob does not face a violent or radical opposition from security forces, and some officers were even seen taking selfies with rioters or standing still while they stormed the building. Such behavior raises questions : as many highlighted, Black Lives Matter marches were met with much more violence and hostility from the authority, and many protesters were injured or killed during it. The Capitol attack ended with 4 deaths, an already tragic number, yet many wonder what would have happened if the attackers had been black. The country grapples with political unrest, social division and an ongoing legacy of racial violence ; the sight of white-extremists waving the Confederate flag in the Capitol, days before Kamala Harris takes her place as the first ever woman of color to become vice-president, is thus another fuel added to the fire. 

Aftermath : failure and trauma.

So far, few arrests have been made and the motives of the actors of the attack remain unclear. Rumors have it that they wanted to hold members of the Congress hostage, or even hurt them, or steal the ballot boxes in order to make sure Joe Biden would not get elected. Indeed, many Trump supporters believed, as their leader claimed many times, that the election was rigged and the result, fake. Luckily the Senate aides present during the attack managed to take the boxes into safety and no ballots were lost – ensuring that at least one of the terrorists’ goals failed. 

Last Thursday, several members of the Democratic Party gave their account of what happened inside the Capitol. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) was one of them and, as most, she underlined the traumatic effect of the attack on those present in the building that day. The emotion and shock was still intense on the House floor, as officer Brian D. Sicknick, killed during the riot, was buried the day before, and several police officers were still in the hospital. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first Muslim women elected as congresswoman, was also overwhelmed with emotion as she mentioned the death threats she started to receive before even being sworn-in as a congresswoman. 

The Capitol attack will undoubtedly leave its mark on this year and on the very beginning of Biden’s presidency, yet many points are still unclear and the consequences it will have on American politics are still unfolding.


Couverture : Senate aides carry the Electoral College ballot boxes at the Capitol, on January 7, 2021 in Washington, DC. © Olivier Douliery/Getty 

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  1. Trump’s support base is still there. They remain just as awful as ever.

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