The Capitol Insurrection Was a Warning Shot

The threat of armed protests is escalating before the Biden inauguration

Members of the National Guard in the Capitol rotunda on January 11. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

The extremist attacks are unlikely to stop any time soon. On Monday, House Democrats were warned of three separate violent demonstrations planned for inauguration week, one with the explicit goal of overthrowing the government by potentially murdering Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The news followed reports that the FBI on Monday had issued an internal memo warning of armed protests in all 50 state capitals and the D.C. area starting on January 16 and lasting until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.

Are we really surprised? The increase in right-wing extremist and white supremacist violence has been at least a decade in the making. The move from protesting to plotting harm against lawmakers should have been obvious from the moment a plan to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, both Democrats, was thwarted in October.

In many ways, January 6 felt like a trial run for something even darker — and more geographically distributed. The insurrectionists came horrifyingly close to physically harming lawmakers and were a matter of literal seconds from gaining entry to the Capitol chamber where senators were holed up. But the attack on the Capitol was not the only act of MAGA insurrection on January 6. Protests were also staged outside state capitols in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington as part of the “stop the steal” movement. Organized by a coalition of pro-Trump groups to promote his false claim that he lost the election due to massive, widespread voter fraud, the protests tapped into the anger Republican extremists have been harboring toward Democrats for years. In Georgia, where the night before Democrats won two Senate runoff elections, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had to evacuate the Capitol building due to threats. Though most of the state protests drew just a few hundred people, they show the extent of far-right Trump supporters’ ability to organize in ways that should cause alarm.

The fault for the lie-based uprising seeking to keep Trump in power rests squarely with those who enabled these delusions, from Trump himself to the GOP and conservative media. Nothing exemplifies this continuing poisoned alliance better than the events of Tuesday, January 12, when armed militia members showed up outside the Texas Capitol to mark the beginning of the legislative session and were greeted by Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West, who shook hands and took pictures with them as if the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol had never happened. Meanwhile, many Republicans have sought to distance themselves from the riots by falsely claiming that anarchists secretly infiltrated the mob to create even more chaos; a review of records from more than 100 people connected to the insurrection showed that they were all longtime Trump supporters.

It’s possible that the plots to conduct armed, violent demonstrations in the days ahead of Biden’s inauguration may never materialize, or will be foiled in advance. Still, one of the planned demonstrations is being billed as the “largest armed protest ever to take place on American soil,” according to HuffPost. A second alarming plot would require armed insurrectionists to form a perimeter around the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the White House — the three branches of government — and then stop Democrats from entering the Capitol by any means necessary, including murder. The goal is to have Republicans in full control of a government they lost at the ballot box.

Insurrectionists might also be emboldened by the none-too-subtle symbolism of Trump traveling to Alamo, Texas, to check out his border wall—not to be confused with The Alamo. That’s where in 1836 the Mexican army defeated Texan troops who chose to die rather than surrender, a stance many insurrectionists were willing to take on January 6 had they not had been politely escorted out by Capitol police.

It’s impossible not to feel like the Capitol insurrection was a warning shot, as well as the only-time-in-American-history occurrence that it already is. The threats have so alarmed federal officials that National Guard troops have begun sleeping at the Capitol. With tensions at an all-time high, the insurrectionists are not going to disappear quietly. For them, this is war.

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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