January 6 is the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus Christ as the son of God. As told in the Bible, three kings brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that day to the infant Jesus in a Bethlehem stable. According to scripture, God made himself known so that people might know him.
One year ago today, thousands of self-proclaimed Christians descended upon the United States Capitol. They were not there to honour the revelation of their heavenly God. Instead they were marching to the drum of their chosen earthly saviour.
Every four years, January 6 is also the day that American presidents are elected. Custom would have us believe this occurs on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November each leap year. That is imprecise. On the November Tuesday that Americans vote for their preferred candidate, they are actually choosing electors pledged to support a nominee for president. These electors, who together comprise the Electoral College, are the middlemen in the process. While their role is typically ceremonial, their votes are anything but.
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the electors assemble in their respective states to formalise the voters’ intent. Their choices for president and vice-president are recorded on certificates of vote. Each state then sends these certificates to Congress, where they are counted in a joint session of both chambers.
The count happens on January 6.
This timeline is essential to understanding the attack on the Capitol by Donald Trump’s foot soldiers. Many may not have understood why the timeline mattered. However, the people who sent them, and the people who led them into battle, most definitely did.
Their objective that day was simple: stop the count by any means necessary.
Election of a president requires at least 270 Electoral College votes. This represents a majority of the 538 votes available. If no candidate reaches this threshold, the House of Representatives chooses the next president from the three leading candidates. Each state delegation votes as a bloc, with one vote each state.
Had this happened last January, Republicans would have controlled 27 of the 50 state delegations, despite being in the minority overall, and would have returned Trump to the Oval Office. They would have overridden the will of American voters to do so.
This was the plan. Democracy be damned.
Trump and his allies had several contingencies to accomplish their coup. Then-vice-president Mike Pence was to preside over the joint session and supervise the count. The first option relied on Pence to reject electoral votes from several states, leaving Trump ahead albeit short of 270 votes. Then Pence would either declare Trump the victor outright due to his purported lead from accepted votes, or force the House of Representatives to decide. However, Pence had no authority to ignore valid, certified votes. Trump, a man who never met a rule he wouldn’t break, wanted him to do so anyway.
Having explored all avenues in advance to appease Trump, Pence ultimately refused. After four years of unwavering loyalty to his boss, he drew the line at treason.
Trump was outraged. He screamed: “No, no, no! You don’t understand, Mike. You can do this. I don’t want to be your friend any more if you don’t do this.”
Pence was unmoved.
The following day, January 6, Trump dispatched the mob assembled at his rally outside the White House to march on the Capitol. They arrived with a gallows chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” The so-called protest quickly morphed into insurrection as the rioters overwhelmed police and stormed the building. This was no accident. Ringleaders within the crowd knew exactly what to do and where to go. If Pence wouldn’t do Trump’s bidding, they would foil the count themselves.
The rioters overran the Capitol and occupied the Senate floor. They hoped to steal the boxes containing the official votes. That would have thrown the count into chaos, as Trump intended.
Some went prepared to take hostages, and potentially execute members of Congress. In addition to Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were their prime targets. Had any of them or their colleagues been assassinated, Trump was ready to exploit their murders by declaring a national emergency and sending in the military.
Either stolen votes or an emergency declaration would have given cover for Republicans in the House of Representatives to intervene and retain Trump as president.
This was the plan.
Thanks to quick thinking, fast action, and selfless bravery by congressional members and personnel, the plan failed. Police fought hard against the invaders, delaying their breach and buying time for members and staff to evacuate. Crucially aides carried the mahogany boxes containing the official vote certificates with them. Pence, hunkered down in the bowels of the Capitol, rebuffed Secret Service demands that he be driven to a secure location. Had he left, he might not have been able to return. That could have been used as another pretext to prevent the count.
With no votes to steal, and no officials to take hostage or kill, the insurrection collapsed. Trump was forced to release a mealy-mouthed video urging the rioters to go home. So they did.
Late that night the joint session reconvened to certify the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Despite all the turmoil and terror of the day, 147 Republicans still played their part with spurious objections to the results. They were all committed to the plan to the bitter end. But the jig was up.
How do we know all this? Because they wrote it down. There was a PowerPoint blueprint mapping out the entire strategy. Trump’s final White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, handed the blueprint to the bipartisan January 6 Committee investigating the insurrection, along with thousands of documents, texts, telephone logs and other data. The committee has made substantial headway towards unravelling the attempted coup. Committee investigators have interviewed more than 300 witnesses, including several implicated in the plot, and have gathered reams of evidence as further proof. Public hearings will be televised in the coming months to reveal the facts to the American public.
It is beyond doubt there was a conspiracy coordinated from the White House to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election. This treason makes Watergate look like a garden party. Multiple traitors committed federal and state crimes. Many of them will go to prison.
Despite this ocean of treachery, Republicans remain favourites to regain control of the House of Representatives in next November’s midterm elections. They have made plain that they will end all inquiries by the January 6 Committee. This has raised fears that the coup plotters will escape accountability for their crimes.
These concerns are unnecessary. Committee members are well aware of the ticking political clock. We can expect they will conclude their probe and issue their report before year’s end. In any case, the committee has no power to lay criminal charges. However, it can refer findings to the Department of Justice (DOJ) with recommendations for prosecution. This it will certainly do. If Republicans shut down the committee, DOJ will still have at least two years to prosecute the offenders.
After the November 2020 election, Trump blocked the normal transition process from one administration to the next, even though the law required it. Deploying his usual modus operandi when violating laws, his approach was to dare anyone to do anything about it. At the time most people chalked it up to petulance. Everyone knew Trump was a sore loser. The reality was far worse. He obstructed the transition because he wasn’t going anywhere.
Trump committed a monstrous crime. For that he needed a monstrous justification to incite his supporters. Thus was born his Big Lie that the election had been stolen.
When the whole truth is laid bare, let’s hope some of Trump’s supporters have an epiphany of their own.