United States: Capitol Hill insurrection teaches us only mass action can defeat the far right

Protesters outside the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The most important aspect of the January 6 march and violent occupation of the Capitol was its open display of white supremacy.

It was organised and led by white-supremacist then-president Donald Trump, and those complicit in the failed insurrection include Republican Senators and House members, as well as members of the military and police.

One of them was army lieutenant general Charles Flynn, brother of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was jailed on federal charges, but pardoned by Trump in his final days in office.

The House voted to impeach Trump for inciting insurrection on January 13. Ten Republicans voted in favour, including third-ranking leader, Liz Cheney. Her father, Dick Cheney, was a pro-war Vice President under George W Bush.

Washington, DC was transformed into a war-time “Green Zone”, with about 25,000 armed police and military units mobilised to protect the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on January 20.

The January 6 insurrection did not succeed — barely. It is now clear that Trump was seeking to impose martial law and make himself president-for-life. That he did not succeed does not lessen its significance. The next attempt by a more competent demagogue could be effective.

January 6 should be seen in this context by progressives and the socialist left. Yet, there are some on the left in the United States and internationally who deny that it was the final attempt by Trump and his supporters to carry out a coup through an insurrection.

Why an insurrection, not a riot?

Activist Mumia Abu Jamal, writing from prison, correctly said it was an attack by one branch of the federal government against another.

Trump, as the head of the executive branch, launched an attack on the highest body of the legislative branch, the US Congress.

The aim of the violent invasion of the Capitol was to disperse Congress, to prevent it counting the Electoral College vote — usually a formality. It succeeded in dispersing Congress for many hours.

The Pentagon, under Trump’s command, followed his orders to let it happen.

That meant January 6 was an insurrection, not a far-right riot without leadership.

It was an insurrection not against the Executive branch but by it. It wasn’t carried out by the military but by white-supremacist civilians. These two facts led some on the left to be blinded by what happened.

The occupation of the Capitol began during daylight. Many of the invaders, led by white supremacist groups, carried mobile phones and other communications equipment. They had weapons and knew where Congressional offices were located.

They were less than one minute from where then-Vice President Mike Pence was hiding until a Black officer directed the armed rioters away. They openly discussed murdering Pence, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and others.

Congress was not able to reconvene until early the following morning, when it ratified Biden’s election.

Ten Republican Senators and 139 Republican House members voted to overturn the election, even after the violent insurrection. Their vote was an endorsement of Trump’s and the occupiers’ demand. They were complicit, having fanned the flames of Trump’s assertions that the election was “stolen” from Trump.

While many Republican lawmakers came to accept that Biden would be the next president, almost all to this day refuse to admit that the election wasn’t stolen from Trump.

The violent assault was the final attempt by Trump to overthrow the election — to carry out a coup d’état.

Planning for coup began day after election.

Trump announced right after the November 3 election that it was stolen from him. He asserted he remained the legitimate president, something he has continued to maintain. This amounted to a threat to carry out a coup, overthrow Biden’s election, and keep himself in power.

He tried to do this initially by legal means, through lawsuits challenging the vote in various states with large Black and Latino populations. He expected that if this legal challenge reached the Supreme Court, the reactionary majority would side with him and keep him president (he had appointed three of the nine Justices).

These legal efforts were attempts to overthrow the election. Whether the election was overturned legally or extra-legally by Trump, either would have amounted to a coup d’etat.

Some on the left say this would not have been a coup because it would not have overthrown the government.

Trump didn’t attempt to overthrow his government, but he did attempt to preemptively overthrow the elected government-in-waiting, headed by Biden.

If the coup had succeeded, there would have been mass actions against it in the streets, then violence by police and non-military units Trump controlled against the protests — huge turmoil the ruling class did not want.

That Trump’s lawsuits failed, including within the Supreme Court, indicates that a decisive section of the ruling class rejected a coup based on overturning what was widely seen as a legitimate election.

After his legal defeats, Trump also considered replacing the acting attorney general with a loyalist, who would find a way to overturn the election.

When these attempts also failed and the Electoral College ratified the vote on December 14, Trump called on the Proud Boys (and by implication other white-supremacist, armed fascist groups) to come to Washington on January 6 to prevent Congress from accepting the Electoral College vote — his final attempt.

A section of the left initially down-played the violence, as part of denying an insurrection had occurred. The violence was obvious to anyone watching the events live. In the days following, more footage of violence surfaced.

Violent attacks on police and the death of an officer were swiftly reported, as was the fatal shooting of an insurrectionist by law enforcement.

Senators and Congress members were whisked away to safety from the screaming mob, which was threatening to kill them.

Some insurrectionists were also photographed with cable ties used by police as handcuffs — indicating they were planning to kidnap some members of Congress.

The Washington Post revealed that three days before the attack, an internal Capitol Police intelligence report warned of a scenario in which Congress could be violently attacked by Trump supporters on January 6.

The report laid out a “stark alert that deepens questions about the security failures that day” and “described how thousands of enraged protesters, egged on by Trump and flanked by white supremacists and extreme militia groups, were likely to stream into Washington armed for battle.

“This time, the focus of their ire would be members of Congress.”

According to the report, January 6 was potentially shaping up to be a “perfect storm” of violence, due to the large crowds expected, “the urgency of the group’s mission”, the call for demonstrators to bring weapons, the proximity of the two largest protests to the Capitol and the fact that the protests were being promoted by Trump.

“This combined with [the] Stop the Steal [protests’] propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members and others who actively promote violence, may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.”

Yet nothing was done by the Executive branch to stop them.

Police links

Also missed by the coup deniers was the obvious collaboration by police seen fraternising with the insurrectionists as well as the fact that the rioters had free rein of the Capitol for hours with no federal response.

The invaders did not fear arrest or resistance from police. They knew the military would not intervene. When the DC police finally came in and escorted the rioters from the building, there were no handcuffs used or names taken.

The insurrection deniers also downplay or even ignore the display of white supremacy by the insurrectionists inside and outside the Capitol.

The Boogaloo Bois, the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and other fascist white supremacists proudly displayed their flags and other insignias throughout. They were welcomed by the crowd and part of it.

Inside the Capitol, these white supremacist groups were well-organised and cooperated, leading their followers to certain targets. Some insurrection deniers claim the mob was disorganised and without leadership, indicating they didn’t pay attention to the use of communications equipment, and the presence of well-organised groups — all being televised.

By also ignoring or downplaying the white-supremacist character of the insurrectionists, the coup deniers miss the most important lesson of January 6: Open white supremacy is growing and has a big following among Trump’s supporters.

The coup deniers also run counter to what African American leaders are saying: If the insurrectionists were African Americans seeking to end police violence and racism, the military and police would have mobilised and responded with deadly force.

US history is one of racist legal and extralegal violence against peaceful Black demonstrators, as was seen again in June–September last year. The ideology of the ruling class is steeped in white supremacy.

These fascist groups were given cover by Trump, and they grew under him. They are likely to continue to grow, as they revel in their success in dispersing Congress, at least for ten hours or so, and causing a massive deployment of armed forces around Washington and the states’ Capitols for Biden’s inauguration.

Pivot away from insurrection to Biden?

It has been argued that socialists should “pivot” away from what the insurrection revealed to concentrate on criticising and mobilising against Biden.

But this approach risks ignoring the white supremacist aspect of the political situation today, and focusing only on issues such as Biden’s opposition to Medicare for all, etc.

One key thing socialists must do is attack Biden’s proposal to “work with” the white supremacists and racists in Congress “to get things done”.

We also have to attack his support of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people and the fake “war on drugs” which is the basis of the new form of systemic, institutionalised racism and national oppression of Blacks.

No capitalist party politician raises opposition to the war on drugs, and laws focused on Blacks and Latinos, and the Supreme Court’s justification for them.

We must also criticise and mobilise against Biden’s anti-working class, anti-Black, and pro-imperialist policies as the new head of the US capitalist, imperialist state.

Some of those on the left who downplay what happened on January 6 say we are done with Trump. However, it is an illusion to believe that the election of Biden dispensed with Trumpism.

Trump represented white supremacy and a Bonapartist drive toward autocracy. His hard supporters support both, and they have not gone away. They are enraged that Trump is not president.

Polls show that 70–80% of Republicans still believe the election was stolen. From this we can conclude that well over 50 million voters are Trump’s hard supporters. They also represent the Republican Party’s base.

In one of Trump’s last videos before leaving the White House, he said “the movement we built” is here to stay. He also later said: “I’ll be back in some form.”

No matter what happens to Trump as an individual, he will be part of the US political scene — one way or another — in the period ahead.

One thing we must fight is Biden’s proposed new domestic terrorism laws. Ostensibly, these laws would be used against white supremacist violence. But, as history has shown, such laws cast a wide net over possible “domestic terrorists” and are more often used against the left, socialists and communists, Black movements, militant unionists, Muslims and others.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has warned against Biden’s proposed laws. ACLU’s senior legislative and advocacy counsel Manar Waheed said: “We cannot find our solutions in systems that ultimately harm us, particularly Black and Brown people.”

We also should not think we have found an answer to white supremacism by allowing corporations like Twitter and Facebook to censor what we write.

The far right and its ideology of racism and white supremacy must be smashed, and the only way to do that is by mass action.

Hell's Kitchen rapper Marlon Craft's "State of the Union" was written before the January 6 insurrection and released on January 19. The key lyrics are a call to action:

And to defeat white supremacy, you gotta first want to defeat white supremacy
I don't think most of us really do
How many white mirror convos [conversations] really bearing fruit?
The only hope is that this moment in history
Looks the same in both timelines of what the end could be
Whether this the infection rising up and we fight and quell,
or if it outscrapes us, and humanity just dies and fails,
It was always gon' get worse 'fore it got better
Racism was never gon' go quietly to the night
It never will but I do believe that it along with greed, can make it's way out of our institutions so that all are free one day
I ain't say that it will, but today looks like today
In both versions of the story
So gon' grab you a quill
It depends what we do, there's only one person
the future starts and ends with
It’s you.