In March 2019, President Trump during an interview with Breitbart News talked about his supporters being hardier than their counterparts on the left of the political spectrum.
"I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump," he said. "I have the tough people, but they don't just play it tough—until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad."
It would have been easy to write off those remarks as bluster from a lifelong blowhard, someone whose inability to admit when he was wrong marked him as softer than the Marshmallow Man. But there was also something ominous about them, given Mr. Trump's tendency during some past rallies to encourage his supporters to get physical with hecklers, and to revel in doing business with gangsters, whether it was Fat Tony Salerno or a Russian oligarch with ties to organized crime there.
There don't seem to have been more than a handful of cops among the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol Building Jan. 6, and even those acted and sounded more burned-out than True Blue. One Virginia officer, Rocky Mount P.D. Sgt. Thomas Robertson, scoffed at the idea that the storming of the Capitol in an extended riot that left a Capitol Police Officer dead, with only police courage and luck sparing Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from a similar fate, was a big deal.
"CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some small random business," he said in a social-media post that was one of the reasons he and fellow Rocky Mount officer Jacob Fracker were fired before the month was over. Mr. Fracker had stated on social-media that it wasn't as if they had done anything illegal, although a prime piece of evidence against the two men for illegal trespass was a selfie they took making obscene gestures alongside the statue of a Revolutionary War general inside the building.
Shades of 'Blazing Saddles,' With Consequences
The two of them brought to mind the scene in "Blazing Saddles" in which Harvey Korman as Hedley Lamar proclaims that he wants to put together "an army of the worst dregs ever to soil the face of The West...mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, half-wits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men..."
Except that the biggest real-life con man—Mr. Trump—and his motley crew of mutineers weren't playing this for laughs. There were none to be had in this insurrection that left five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and a woman who was trampled by the mob she had chosen to follow on their mad rush to overturn an election, and maybe kill a few of the more-prominent officials inside the building while they were at it.
When House Democrats began their impeachment case against the disgraced President Feb. 9, they spiced it with cinematic cuts between Mr. Trump's speech that fateful afternoon—which he timed to end just as the House began its proceedings for tabulating the Electoral College results—and the angry people spurred by his words to march along Pennsylvania Ave. toward the Capitol, where he had promised to accompany them but never did.
The House video included footage of the overwhelmingly white crowd cursing out cops, calling them "pigs" and shouting, "Get the f--- out of here, you traitors." It showed a gallows complete with noose set up outside the Capitol Building.
And after showing the crazed President in his last-ditch bid to stay in power, exhorting the tens of thousands who had come to Washington at his urging that "if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore," the video cut to Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, trying to keep the mob from the Members of Congress who at that point were becoming vaguely aware of the approaching danger.
Unlike the earlier videos of Mr. Goodman's valiant and resourceful efforts to steer the insurrectionists away from Mr. Pence, whom they wanted to hang; Ms. Pelosi, whom they wanted to shoot, and any other Members of Congress they might have targeted for harm, this one had sound. And so the man at the front of the mob could be heard taunting the officer, holding them off with just a nightstick, "Are you going to beat us all?"
'We're Listening to Trump'
The video then cut to another part of the crowd inside the building confronting a few Capitol Police Officers, one member of the mob yelling, "We are listening to Trump, your boss," which gave way to chants of "Treason! Treason!" The irony was clearly lost on this band of seditionists, who were there at Mr. Trump's command to block the final step in certifying an election whose fairness had already been upheld by the entire court system and election officials—often Republicans—in the states where the votes were most hotly contested.
There was a cut to a scene in which part of the mob continued the search for Members of Congress, while one man in the crowd bellowed, "Take down every one of these corrupt mother------!"
Mr. Trump was watching the proceedings from the White House, and was later described by one of those present with him as seeming "delighted" by the carnage and puzzled that others in the room didn't seem as exhilarated. Just after 6 p.m. that evening, after the worst of the danger had passed, he tweeted an explanation for what he had wrought, stating, "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long." He concluded it, "Remember this day forever."
If he wanted to escape being convicted by the Senate and barred from seeking Federal office by using an insanity defense, Mr. Trump could have entered that tweet as Exhibit A.
When the 13-minute video ended, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead manager of the House case against the former President, cited his "fight like hell" admonition to the crowd and his telling them, "You'll never take back our country with weakness" as the equivalent of inciting the mob to storm the Capitol and upend the Electoral College certification.
"If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing," Mr. Raskin said.
'Inciter in Chief'
When opening arguments began at noon the following day, he contended that Mr. Trump began orchestrating the violence long before the mob came to Washington, with another Congressman subsequently saying the then-President planted the seeds as far back as last spring once he began to realize that his stumbling response to the coronavirus had created a realistic possibility that he would be defeated in November.
And when he spoke to the crowd from the Ellipse after it had been stoked first by his son Donald Jr. and then by Rudy Giuliani, who called for "trial by combat," Mr. Raskin said, "Donald Trump surrendered his role as Commander-in-Chief and became Inciter-in-Chief in a dangerous insurrection. He saw it coming and was not remotely surprised by the violence. He assembled, inflamed and incited his followers."
He pointed to Mr. Trump's Dec. 19 tweet that stated, "Big protest in D.C. on January 6. Be there, will be wild."
"The impeached President was no innocent bystander," the Congressman said. "There was method in the madness that day."
He noted that both the FBI and the Capitol Police received intelligence prior to what Mr. Trump billed as the Save America rally that many of those planning to attend were "violent, organized with weapons and were targeting the Capitol. They were invited there by President Trump."
He again cited one of Mr. Trump's infamous remarks during his hour-long speech and said, "He told them to fight like hell, and they brought us hell."
'He Reveled in Violence'
Citing the anonymous eyewitness description of Mr. Trump's delight at a televised depiction of the rampage, Mr. Raskin continued, "When his mob overran and occupied the Senate [Chamber] and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, he reveled in it."
Taking dead aim at Mr. Trump's self-characterization as a "law-and-order" President, Mr. Raskin reminded the Senators watching in the chamber and the TV audience that the violence included "officers being impaled and smashed over the head," as well as one Capitol Police Officer being wedged against a door as he screamed in agony and the mob kept pushing.
"Even then, after that vicious attack, he continued to spread the Big Lie" that the onslaught was a reaction to his being denied the landslide victory Mr. Trump claimed he had won. Referring to his sign-off tweet early that evening urging his followers to remember the day, the Congressman declared, "This is a day that will live in disgrace in American history." Yet Mr. Trump, he continued, viewed it "not as a day of disgrace, a day of horror...but a day of celebration."
He added, "Donald Trump committed a massive crime against our Constitution and our people...He must be convicted by the U.S. Senate."
A day earlier, 44 Republican Senators voted against allowing the trial to proceed, meaning at least 11 of them would have to be persuaded by the evidence presented to change their votes to secure the 67 needed to convict Mr. Trump and set the stage for another vote—this one by a simple majority—that could bar him from ever seeking Federal office.
A New York Post headline crowed that this meant an acquittal was "IN THE CARDS." Mr. Raskin, clearly speaking to GOP Senators who, unlike Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, hadn't staked their political futures on backing Mr. Trump to the bitter end, quoted a deceased conservative icon to remind them, "As Justice Scalia memorably said, you can't ride with the cops and root for the robbers."
Cites Mob's Racism
He concluded by saying that one black Capitol Police Officer, who had been in physical struggles for several hours with members of the mob, when it was over broke down crying, saying, 'I got called a n----- 15 times today. I'm sick of this s---," going on to question whether what had happened was representative of a large segment of the nation.
"That's the question before all of you," Congressman Raskin said. "Is this America?"
He was followed by Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, a second-term Congressman, who focused in greater detail on Mr. Trump's laying the groundwork for the insurrection, then doing little to stop it once he saw how ugly thousands of his supporters had gotten.
"This mob was well-orchestrated," he said. "They truly believed they were doing this for him."
He cited video of a speech in Pennsylvania Oct. 26, eight days before the election, in which Mr. Trump told his audience, "We're not gonna let them take the election away from us."
He then pointed to a Jan. 4 speech in Dalton, Ga., where Mr. Trump had ostensibly come to help two Republican Senators who were facing runoff elections the following day that would decide which party controlled the Senate. Yet he told the crowd, "The Democrats are trying to steal the White House. You can't let them."
That same day, Mr. Trump had also declared, "We will never give up, we will never give in," although the Supreme Court had already ruled against his motion to have the election reviewed and some prominent media allies were urging him to face reality and focus on the Senate races—which the Republicans both lost—rather than trying to overturn his defeat.
After his efforts in the courts foundered because of a lack of evidence of impropriety, the incumbent President, Congressman Neguse said, bullied Georgia election officials to "find" him enough votes to overcome Joe Biden's nearly 12,000-ballot margin, "threatening criminal penalties if they refused." Right through his speech at the Ellipse, he continued, Mr. Trump "tried to intimidate the Vice President of America."
And his surrogates helped him in the attempted strong-arming, showing up with weapons displayed outside the homes of election officials in a couple of battleground states.
Noting that Mr. Trump concluded his speech almost simultaneously with Speaker Pelosi gaveling the House into session, Mr. Neguse continued, "He told [supporters] to march down Pennsylvania Ave....that it was their patriotic duty, because the election had been stolen. The President used the speech as a call to arms."
The violent invasion of the Capitol that followed, he said, "was foreseeable...He summoned the mob, he assembled the mob, and he incited the mob. They were doing what he wanted them to do."
Mr. Neguse added that among those betrayed in service to Mr. Trump's mad power grab were the Capitol Police, who instead of being under his protection like the rest of the nation discovered that he "put them in harm's way."
As compelling as the arguments made by the House managers were, as weak as the response was by Mr. Trump's legal team, it remained possible that the best the majorities in both Houses of Congress—Democrats and small groups of Republicans who were willing to risk antagonizing the large portion of the failed President's cult that still remains—could do was to make clear that his behavior was as premeditated as it was monstrous.
'Conscience' an Underdog?
Even though Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had urged members of his conference to "vote their conscience" rather than following the party line, there was at best a small chance that enough of them would do so to finally hold Mr. Trump accountable.
But just as the former President was sandbagged during the election by the surge that the late-counted mail ballots gave Mr. Biden after Mr. Trump had the bright idea of discouraging his supporters from mailing theirs in, there is a possibility that enough Republican Senators, including Mr. McConnell, have concluded that the price of indulging Mr. Trump for so long has finally become unbearable.
They might not be willing to telegraph their intentions, just because they're aware of the ability of Mr. Trump and his supporters to scare them out of doing what's right. But it should have occurred to them by now that giving Mr. Trump new electoral viability will be just one more step for them and their party down the highway to hell.
It's a slim reed to grasp that they'll choose the road to salvation instead and muster enough votes to finally cast him out. But stranger things have happened in Washington the past five years.
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