January 6 Events in the United States

What Is Relevant and What Is Not

Looking at what took place at the Congress in Washington, DC on January 6, there appears to be both a failed coup on the part of U.S. President Donald Trump and an effort by President-Elect Joe Biden to use the events to further strengthen the presidency by uniting the federal policing and military bureaucracies behind him. Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are acting as enablers in this effort. Pelosi for example, even though Trump is still Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces, has publicly said she is speaking with the military so they keep Trump from the "nuclear button," as it is called. This is an effort to line the military up behind Biden. We are witnessing a counterrevolution within the long-standing counterrevolution that has been ongoing since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What took place was not Trump vs. democracy, as it is being portrayed, as Trump also said he was acting to save the Republic and its democracy. Rather it was the powers of the presidency vs. the powers of Congress. It is an effort to further weaken Congress, which already is dysfunctional and has conceded many of its powers, such as declaring war and getting significant legislation passed. All of the presidents since World War II have been increasing the strength and powers of the presidency against those of Congress. This greatly increased under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama and has reached the point with Trump where a government of police powers has been consolidated. Such a government has little regard for legislation and laws and instead uses the Office to act with impunity, through use of force, executive orders, etc. This is evident at home and abroad, where Trump has repeatedly acted with impunity. Thus, crucial to understanding what took place is how the use of force was deployed -- both the initial absence of police forces and their subsequent deployment.

People in the U.S. and worldwide saw thousands of protesters carrying Trump and U.S. flags and paraphernalia flood the steps of the Capitol building and go inside, relatively unimpeded, while Congress was in session to certify the Electoral College vote of the states. Despite the plan for rallies at the Capitol and White House being known and in fact permitted, there was an exceptionally small police presence. 

Commonly for DC demonstrations there is a large police presence, with DC riot police lining the streets, and streets near the rally points blocked off. At the Capitol they would be present in lines two deep -- likely armed with automatic rifles -- with more and heavier barricades, police tanks, police on bicycles and horseback, a command centre, helicopters and so forth. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal forces from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are also usually present. All were absent at the time of the rally on January 6, even though both Houses of Congress were in session to certify the Electoral College vote -- something known to be in contention. The relatively small Capitol Police force (numbering about 2,000) had responsibility to protect all the Congresspeople inside as well as the building and other matters.

DC police, federal forces, and in this case the National Guard as well, could only be absent by design. A decision is made in advance by those with authority. All of the federal forces are put in action either by the president himself, or by the head of DHS and FBI, Trump appointees. For DC, the National Guard is also put in action by Trump, who for many hours blocked their deployment, and they were finally called for by Pence, not Trump. Orders go via the head of the Department of Defense who, in this case, then orders the Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. McCarthy reported, "We are in close contact with local and federal law enforcement agencies to review potential additional support requirements for the DC National Guard." All of these federal forces can act, and commonly do, independent of the Capitol Police.

When the surge of Trump supporters breached the building, each House was in their chamber in the process of debating the vote from Arizona, which had been challenged by Senate and House members, led by Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Vice President Pence, as president of the Senate, was presiding over the Senate debate. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris was also present. Both were quickly removed, likely by their own Secret Service details. Other representatives were escorted out, many resorting to the "doomsday" corridors -- the name referring to their intended use in the event of a nuclear attack. Others were trapped inside the House chamber or their offices with their staff. Video footage shows hundreds of protesters wandering the chambers and halls, occupying offices, taking selfies with police and seizing trophies. Still, reinforcements were nowhere to be seen.

Coup Attempt Unravels

Earlier that morning, thousands had rallied at the White House, where Trump spoke. He said those present were "American patriots ... committed to the honesty of our elections and the integrity of our glorious Republic... We will never give up. We will never concede." He called on Pence to act, saying "All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the States to recertify, and we become president." He told protesters "You have to show strength" and then urged everyone to march on the Capitol.

It is evident that to be successful, Trump needed the support of Pence and other Republicans, who he also urged to not certify the vote, as well as the armed forces to not intervene. It is also evident that he and his cabinet provided conditions for the protesters to march on the Capitol and enter it and remain for several hours. The live test of support for the coup and a readiness to use force as Trump commands unravelled throughout the day, beginning with Pence declaring he could not use his position in the Senate to call the election in Trump's favour, following which various defections took place of those who, instead of supporting Trump, joined Biden in calling on the President to re-establish order. This included Chad Wolf, head of DHS, and National Security Adviser O'Brien, as well as Senator Cruz and more and more Congresspeople. O'Brien said, speaking of the protesters, "Violence has absolutely no place in our democracy. Our country is better than what we saw today at our Capitol."

The Governor of Texas and the Texas District Attorney, both major backers of Trump's efforts to overturn the elections, also opposed. Former President George W. Bush represented the views of many elected officials saying, "This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic, not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behaviour of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions and our law enforcement." He emphasized that it is the "fundamental responsibility of every patriotic citizen to support the rule of law."

Texas has significance in that the Governor has sizable policing forces of his own and it is considered the tenth largest economy in the world. The Bush family still has significant influence. For Bush, the Governor and Senator Cruz to oppose Trump's action, alongside Wolf of DHS, meant Trump could not succeed. The facts would indicate that the military began coordinating with Pence. Acting Defense Secretary Miller said, "Chairman Milley [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] and I just spoke separately with the Vice President and with Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Senator Schumer and Representative Hoyer about the situation at the U.S. Capitol. [...] We have fully activated the DC National Guard to assist federal and local law enforcement as they work to peacefully address the situation."

For any coup effort, the monopoly on the use of force is essential. Trump made use of this and attempted to stage the coup with the backing of the military and DHS, who coordinated with the DC police, who follow federal commands in these situations. DC police are not the ones in charge. This was evident when Police Chief Robert Contee spoke hours after protesters were inside, with Army Secretary McCarthy also present. As well, Contee reported that the DC police responded to federal requests for support. That indicates the same federal forces told them support was not initially needed.

The Demand to End All Police Violence and Put Control
in the People’s Hands

There is a deliberate effort to promote the problem with policing as a double standard by police. Media repeatedly showed pictures of the National Guard in full military gear guarding the Lincoln monument during protests against police killings and impunity over the summer, along with shots of tear gas and other state violence being used against Black Lives Matter protesters and their allies. They also kept repeating that the police were "caught by surprise" and were "unprepared" while others said they should not have been unprepared given foreknowledge of the rally.

This approach to the problem of double standards ignores that the key problem is the monopoly on the use of force by state authorities to act or not act -- and do both with impunity. While the people's movement for justice is opposed to police impunity, the problem of police violence is not that pro-Trump protesters should be treated with the same violence as those fighting for justice.

There was a double standard evident with racist police violence against resistance over the summer. Indeed, there is a double standard whenever the state is protecting private interests while repressing those resisting, whether African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Indigenous peoples, workers, women or youth. The answer is not "equal" use of more police state violence but an end to all such violence and control of policing and monopoly on the use of force, and to put decision-making power in the hands of the people themselves. 

Crucial Issues of Who Decides and How
Decision-Making Power Is Wielded

Increasing and ever more brutal use of police powers has characterized one presidency after another, culminating with the Trump presidency, which has gone beyond the pale for even his own supporters. What is at stake in the current situation is who decides and how the decision-making power is wielded. This is what is in dire crisis in the United States. That private propertied interests control the use of force and all the police powers that reside with the presidency is being systematically revealed. 

It is notable that "both sides" -- Trump and the forces coming forward to oppose those involved in the rampage -- all claim to be defending the Constitution and put it forward as a solution to the present crisis. Far from it, the Constitution and all its governing arrangements are what have failed. U.S.-style democracy no longer functions to hold anyone or anything to account. This is more than evident with this immediate situation as well as government failures concerning COVID-19, widespread unemployment, growing poverty and homelessness with more evictions and job losses coming. U.S. democracy does not and cannot provide for the rights of the people, including these most basic human rights to housing, health care and a livelihood. Solutions cannot lie with the governing arrangements that gave rise to the crisis in the first place and that guarantee inequality and a lack of control over decisions impacting the lives of the vast majority.

It is also worrisome that Trump and Biden both try to define who is and who is not a patriot. Such efforts in the U.S. have a long history as a means to target people fighting for rights as being "unAmerican" and unpatriotic, words often used as synonyms to describe a terrorist. Biden, like others, claims that what occurred is not "who we are." He says, "For nearly two-and-a-half centuries, we, the people, in search of a more perfect union, have kept our eyes on that common good. America is so much better than what we've seen today." The reality is that what everyone witnessed is exactly what the U.S. of the rich gives rise to. Throughout those two-and-a-half centuries there have always been two Americas contending -- that of the people against that of the owners of private property who have concentrated power in their hands. The Constitution is designed to keep these private interests in power. The people have repeatedly fought against enslavement and inequality and the "union" as defined by and for the propertied interests which have seized control over the monopoly on the use of force.

It is clear that once the attempted coup failed, Biden, Pence, Cruz and others in Congress sought to unify the contending forces within and between the Presidency and federal policing and military bureaucracies. This is necessary to preserve their "more perfect union" and is a problem Trump failed to solve during his presidency. The numerous calls for unity are part of this. Biden again reiterated his refrain that anything can be done if "we do it together." He is seeking not only to unify the contending forces among the rich but also to bring those demanding equality and rights behind him. Nonetheless, the same problems will haunt his presidency which will provide further proof that the material conditions do not fall in line with the authority the rulers wish for.

While the vote was certified and Trump now says there will be a "peaceful transition," there is no basis to think the source of conflicts and dysfunction of the system has disappeared. The conflicts among the private interests exist as all have self-serving interests and have made clear that the "common good," or "public good," is not to stand in their way. Further, it cannot be said that the U.S. has been a "peaceful" force. There is instead a history of wars, genocide and aggression. There is a war government and war economy that cause grave harm and violence to the peoples at home and abroad. What does occur is the transfer of power from one president to the next, each more powerful than the last. Certainly the people are not accepting conditions where their rights are even further trampled and where more violence and wars threaten. Their striving is for a peace economy and anti-war government where the people decide.

Necessity for People's Empowerment

There is broad recognition that for change that favours the people to take place, all those responsible for creating the problems -- including Biden -- will not be capable of providing solutions. Social responsibility rests with the people as they step up their organizing efforts, within the many collectives fighting for rights and more broadly within society as a whole, to be political themselves by focusing on bringing into being a decision-making process which is independent of the obsolete liberal democratic institutions.

While Biden claims the next four years are about the "the restoration of democracy" -- that same failed democracy that is in tatters, the people fighting for rights are making clear that what is needed is a people's democracy, designed by the people themselves that empowers them to govern and decide. Empowerment and control over decisions is being taken up for solution, as collectives defending rights organize to themselves make collective decisions, implement them and together assess results. This struggle is altogether missing from the accounts of the January 6 events.

Let us continue to unite in action to identify the problems which we think require solutions and how to provide them with solutions!

(Photos: T. Jane, E. Herrerra, J. Kam, UNN, VOR)

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This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 2 - January 10, 2021

Article Link:
What Is Relevant and What Is Not


Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca