Beyond just Trump: The failures that led to the Capitol riots

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Mike Bebernes
·Senior Editor
·6 min read
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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

A violent mob of pro-Trump agitators stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, temporarily forcing both houses of Congress to suspend the formal counting of Electoral College votes certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

President Trump had held a rally earlier in the day during which he reiterated his baseless claims that the election was stolen. Shortly after his speech, the crowd overwhelmed police guarding the Capitol. One Trump supporter was shot and killed by police during the riot. The death of a Capitol Police officer is being investigated as a homicide. Three other people died after suffering medical emergencies.

Authorities eventually cleared the Capitol, and Congress was able to certify the election result early Thursday morning. The process was extended by several hours when Republican lawmakers from both the House and Senate objected to counts from some states, while echoing some of Trump’s falsehoods about election fraud.

The violence has been widely condemned by members of both parties. Democratic leaders have called for Trump to be removed from office — through either the 25th Amendment or impeachment — for his role in inciting the violence.

Why there’s debate

Trump has understandably received the bulk of the blame for the riot. His refusal to accept defeat and persistent inflammatory rhetoric over the course of the past two months stoked anger in his supporters that was bound to boil over. Republicans who endorsed his antidemocratic campaign — most notably Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — have been accused of legitimizing Trump’s dangerous lies for political gain.

But many observers say truly understanding the root cause of what happened means pulling back to consider the much broader web of factors that set the stage for this week’s violence. Complicity falls not just on Trump allies who backed his recent antidemocratic efforts but on every person who knew what he was capable of and did nothing, some argue. Others have pointed their fingers at the news media and social media companies, which they accuse of failing to take Trump’s ability to inspire violence seriously.

Then there are those who say the foundations of the assault go even deeper, to the long history of white supremacy in America. The way that white anger is tolerated — and even valorized — in the U.S. allows violent groups to grow in plain sight and cause law enforcement to underestimate the threat they pose, such critics argue.

What’s next

It’s unclear whether efforts to invoke the 25th Amendment or impeach Trump have the support needed to remove him from office. In an address on Thursday night, Trump finally acknowledged that a new president will be sworn in on Jan. 20, although he didn’t mention Biden by name. It remains to be seen whether his concession will prevent further violence from his supporters.


Trump, above all else, is ultimately responsible

“Any accounting of blame for [Wednesday’s violence] should focus ultimately on Donald Trump. Trump spread the lie that he won. Trump never wavered in repeating this lie and never shied from vilifying all who corrected him.” — Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

Mainstream media helped make Trump’s extreme behavior seem normal

“There is a wave of panic, where people start screaming that Trump is actually dangerous and crazy. And then the news media and the public accommodate to that level of dangerousness and craziness from Trump. It is understood and framed as some type of political move or stunt from Trump. The behavior is normalized as people accommodate it.” — Dr. John Gartner, psychologist, to Salon

Law enforcement failed to take online extremism seriously

“To increase public safety this decade, it is imperative that police — and everyone else — become more familiar with the kinds of communities that engender toxic, militant systems of harassment, and the online and offline spaces where these communities exist. Increasingly, that means understanding social media’s dark corners, and the types of extremism they can foster.” — Aja Romano, Vox

Social media companies allowed extremism to grow on their platforms

“[The violence is] the inevitable and ugly outcome of social media companies leaving conspiracy theories to fester and spread online.” — Erika D. Smith, Los Angeles Times

The fantasy world created by right-wing media collided violently with reality

“We’re entering a volatile moment. Those who’ve been cocooned in Facebook groups and fed a steady diet of lies from election-denial outlets like Newsmax and One America News are coming to a realization that there is no grand plan for Mr. Trump to magically retain office.” — Charlie Warzel, New York Times

GOP lawmakers legitimized Trump’s fraud conspiracy

“It is incumbent on all Republicans to call out these untruths and insist that the president, at this late date, concede the election. Instead, senators who should know better, most notably Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, have played along with the charade, feeding the delusion — also promoted by Trump — that it is within the power of Congress to reject electors from states won by Biden. ” — Editorial, National Review

Republicans ignored the danger Trump posed for political gain

“Elected Republicans decided to make a deal with the devil. Part of the bargain — the part they liked — was access to power and influence, this tax cut and that appointment, their silent belief that Trump would further their career ambitions. But the other part of the bargain — the part they aren’t so eager to admit to now — is what we saw yesterday, as the Capitol was engulfed in mob violence.” — Peter Wehner, Atlantic

Americans are afraid to confront the realities of white supremacist violence

“Our society is permissive of white rage. That rage is constantly coddled, explained, massaged, and justified. We are forever told that white anger must be understood, white grievance must be explained, and white racism must be studied because if we just dig down deep enough, we’ll find that it’s actually motivated by some other, more benign factor.” — Elie Mystal, The Nation

The Trump insurrection is the culmination of decades of GOP attacks on democracy

“The Republican rot, in short, did not arise in January 2021 or even 2016. The party elite has been advocating various strains of authoritarianism for decades because they are the surest way to ensure that the unpopular policy agenda of the American elite remains politically viable.” — Zachary D. Carter, HuffPost

The U.S. government has a long history of stoking extremism for political gain

“Among the protesters at the Capitol were members of white supremacy groups, including the Proud Boys. Their participation in the Jan. 6 events, egged on by Trump, reflects a long history in the U.S. of local, state and national political leaders encouraging white supremacist groups to challenge or overthrow democratic governments.” — Shannon M. Smith, Conversation

Extremism has gradually taken over the core of the Republican Party

“The ‘fringe’ of our politics no longer exists. Between the democratization of information and the diminished confidence in establishment politicians and institutions ranging from the media to corporate America, particularly on the right, there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics.” — Tim Alberta, Politico

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images