Explosive testimony suggests Trump was set on a coup that evokes America’s darkest hour

‘I’m from a part of the country where people justify the actions of slavery, Ku Klux Klan, and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists of 6 January 2021,” declared congressman Bennie Thompson, chairman of the select committee, as he opened the 6 January hearings last month.

That drop of American history was quickly lost in the cloudburst to come, the extraordinary revelations culminating last week in the testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, former aide to Trump’s chief of staff, マークメドウズ. But Thompson opened proceedings with that reminder for a very good reason: because the 6 January insurrection did not merely resemble the dark history of the civil war and its aftermath, it continued it. “Some people are trying to deny what happened,” Thompson added. “To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. The hangman’s gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol.”

The denial that followed that first disgraced insurrection – the civil war – was a myth-making disinformation campaign known as the “lost cause”. Slavery, southern apologists said, was a mere pretext for the war, これ, 彼らは主張した, was started by an aggressive and spiteful north, much as Trump and his defenders claimed for many months that the 6 January insurrection was, 実際には, planned and carried out by antifa.

The most famous version of the lost cause appeared not in the aftermath of the civil war, しかしながら, but decades later, during the interwar years: Gone With the Wind, で最初に公開された 1936 and filmed as Europe went to war over fascism. Many critics called that story fascist when it appeared, including African Americans furious at the dangerous myths it was peddling, sparking a furious debate that anticipated the arguments 80 years later over whether Trump’s administration was accurately described as fascist. The testimony of Hutchinson should end that debate (but won’t).

Hutchinson revealed that as of 2 1月, Rudy Giuliani was already boasting of plans to go to the Capitol on the 6th, where the president would “look powerful”. On the 6th, Trump and Meadows were both informed that some insurrectionists were armed with military grade automatic weapons, after which Trump demanded that the metal detectors (“mags”) be removed, partly to make his crowd larger: “I don’t fucking care that they have weapons,” she heard Trump say. “They’re not here to hurt me. Take the fucking mags away.” The White House had seen intelligence revealing the insurrectionists’ plans to “occupy federal buildings” and for “invading the capitol building”, declaring: “Congress itself is the target on the 6th.” When Trump heard the chants of “Hang Mike Pence”, and urged the crowd to find Pence, he knew that they were armed and dangerous and planning a political coup.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone begged Hutchinson to stop Trump and his allies from joining the insurrectionists, 言って: “Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitolwe’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.” But Trump was so determined to be there, she was told, that he lunged at his secret service in the car, shouting “I’m the fucking president, take me up to Capitol now,” and trying to grab the steering wheel. (These details have been reportedly disputed, but not by anyone under oath.) As committee member Zoe Lofgren later rightly tweeted: “No one is denying that the former president wanted to go to the Capitol and lead this armed mob, and be there while they attacked the Capitol. That’s the point.”

In sum: Trump was hellbent on leading an armed militia to storm the US Capitol and overturn the election, supported by officials who refused under oath to confirm their belief in a peaceful transfer of power. That is a textbook and full-fledged fascist coup.

It is also a variation on the political violence that followed the civil war, 160 数年前, when white supremacist groups violently overthrew elected officials in several states in the deep south, including Louisiana and North Carolina. The Klan was only the most famous of those white supremacist groups – there was also the White League, the Red Shirts and the Knights of the White Camellia, among many others. Several of these organisations were revived by white supremacists and self-identified fascists in the 1930s.

に 1934, a retired major general named Smedley Darlington Butler testified before Congress that he had been approached in 1933 by America’s financial leaders to spearhead a coup against Franklin Roosevelt, a plan backed by the American Liberty League. Butler said he was asked to mobilise an army of disgruntled veterans to march on Washington and install a military fascist dictatorship.

Butler was widely accused of being a fantasist and historians later followed suit in suggesting that the Business Plot, as it was known, was an empty threat that shouldn’t have been taken seriously. Many said the same thing about Trump – until the events of 6 1月. Historian Robert O Paxton, 例えば, America’s pre-eminent expert on fascism, had long resisted calling Trump a fascist, but wrote in the wake of the insurrection that he had changed his mind.

Members of the Trump administration agreed: “Senior Trump Official: We Were Wrong, He’s a ‘Fascist’”, as a ニューヨーク magazine headline succinctly put it. 今, thanks to the testimony of Hutchinson, we know why some of them changed their minds.

But not all. Hours after the insurrection, more than two-thirds of House Republicans voted with the coup, and against the election results, to effectively install Trump as dictator. Six months later, の夏に 2021, influential conservatives put forward their own thought experiment, arguing for the necessity of an “American Caesar” to seize power, a hypothetical figure to whom they soon gave the less than hypothetical name Trump. They discussed strategies such as declaring a national emergency in the inaugural address, communicating directly with supporters using a “Trump app” and encouraging them to mobilise once more at the Capitol.

As the testimony of Hutchinson makes clear, Trump had done everything he could to seize the laurel crown and declare himself an American Caesar. He hasn’t given up yet – and, what is more, neither have most of his supporters.

Sarah Churchwell’s latest book is The Wrath to Come: Gone With the Wind and the Lies America Tells