We Talked to an Expert on Violent Insurrections to Better Understand What the Hell Happened at the US Capitol

A pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol Wednesday, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. (Getty Images Photo/Spencer Platt)

By Elle Meyers

January 6, 2021

“This is his private army,” said Josh Horwitz, the author of Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea. “When he said ‘stand up and stand by’ [during the debates] he was serious.”

Despite indications that Wednesday’s far-right demonstration in Washington, DC, would be violent and disruptive, rioters managed to breach the US Capitol building, forcing elected officials and staff to evacuate. Shortly after 5 pm EST, police officers deployed tear gas in an attempt to finally disperse the mob.

In the weeks leading up to the so-called “Stop The Steal” rally, far-right activists and group leaders announced on social media their plans to protest the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. When lawmakers gathered on the Hill on Wednesday—where more than 150 Republicans had indicated they planned to subvert the will of American voters—Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

The attempted coup on US soul is unprecedented for modern times, an event that Josh Horwitz, the author of Guns, Democracy, and the Insurrectionist Idea and executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, called “horrifying.” 

RELATED: What Will Happen to Right-Wing Violence After Trump Leaves Office?

Last May, Horwitz penned an op-ed predicting Wednesday’s violence.

“All of this is being egged on by President Trump, it’s just incredible,” Horwitz told COURIER. “It is of course, absolutely despicable to have a sitting president do this, but it’s also the inevitable result of people not taking this violence seriously.”

Since Trump was elected in 2016, far-right groups have engaged in violent demonstrations without any condemnation from the president. 

In fact, Trump has actually encouraged his supporters to come together and protest. On Jan. 3, he retweeted a link with information about the upcoming march and claimed that he would also attend. 

“This is his private army,” Horwitz said. “When he said ‘stand up and stand by’ [during the debates] he was serious, and people have to realize this. There are people who will do his dirty work and he knows that.”

RELATED: Trump’s Election Loss Temper Tantrum Is Stoking The Fires of Right-Wing Violence 

Trump has enough influence to stop these violent demonstrations, Horwitz continued, but instead has repeatedly encouraged participants. “This is a really bad development, but we need to go to what I see as the root cause of this, which is that we’ve allowed the idea to fester that violence is okay in our political process,” he said. “[Trump] plays a direct role.” 

Trump supporters break into the US Capitol on Jan. 6 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Horwitz also noted the difference in response from law enforcement during Wednesday’s events compared to the largely peaceful racial justice protests that happened over the summer. On June 1, law enforcement forcefully removed protestors gathered outside of St. John’s Church in Washington, DC, in response to the police shooting deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

As of press time, rioters have largely been met with little more than pepper spray and rubber bullets. 

“I’m watching these videos right now, and they’re allowing people to walk in, they’re telling people not to come in but they’re basically walking backwards,” Horwitz said early Wednesday afternoon. “When Trump wants to walk across the street [for a photo op in front of the church] the Secretary of the Army is out there with him.” 

Howitz noted that storming the Capitol like this should not have been allowed, and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. 

“Somehow, we like to think this sort of thing is just like a Second Amendment pajama party—that’s not what’s happening here,” he said. “In every single state across the country, there is a law against private militias, and we need to vigorously enforce those laws. We need this insurrection to be put down, and we need all of our leaders to say violence has no role in our political process.”

READ MORE: GOP Lawmakers Sought to Overturn Biden’s Election. Now They Condemn Violence at Capitol Building.


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