On Jan. 6, 2021, a violent mob supporting then President Trump and his false claims that the 2020 presidential election had been “stolen” from him attacked the U.S. Capitol. Immediately after a rally called the March to Save America, during which Trump implored his supporters to “fight like hell,” the angry crowd marched from the Ellipse in D.C. to the Capitol building to stop the certification of Electoral College votes underway in a joint session of Congress that would make Biden’s electoral victory official.
Trump supporters carried Stop the Steal banners, Confederate flags, weapons, and other items of protest, and chanted slogans such as “Hang Mike Pence.” Trump’s tweets that afternoon guided their actions as they vandalized the Capitol and assaulted Capitol Police officers. Members of Congress went into lockdown while the Capitol Police attempted to contain the rioters as they waited for reinforcements from the National Guard and D.C. police. Although the president refused to take any action to call off the riot for several hours, he eventually released a video in which he thanked the rioters but told them to “go home.”
During and immediately after the violence that afternoon, five people died, including a member of the Capitol Police who succumbed to injuries sustained while engaging with the rioters, a rioter who was shot by a Capitol Police officer, and three rioters who died due to various medical issues during the insurrection. At least 140 law enforcement personnel were injured, and as of July 2022, 884 insurrectionists had been charged with various crimes, including seditious conspiracy.
A variety of actors ranging from militarized hate groups to Trump himself helped facilitate the insurrection at the Capitol.
- President Trump provided the impetus for the insurrection by tweeting on Dec. 19, 2020, “Big protest in D.C. on Jan. 6. Be there, will be wild!” He also concealed plans to call for his supporters to march on the Capitol, knowing that other government agencies would object to that. According toe testimony given to the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, Trump had been very eager to join his supporters in storming the building to stop the congressional proceedings underway.
- The attack on the Capitol is closely linked to the March to Save America, which helped fire up the crowd to take action. Primarily organized by Women for America First, a right-wing advocacy group led by Amy Kremer, the event also relied on organizations such as Stop the Steal and Turning Point USA/TP Action to provide logistical support by bussing hundreds of people to the march.
- Numerous Trump supporters discussed plans to storm the Capitol on online forums such as TheDonald.win. One forum member wrote, “If we occupy the Capitol building, there will be no vote.” The top response to that post reads, “GOTTA OVERWHELM THE BARRICADES AND COPS.” The owner of TheDonald.win, an offshoot of a banned pro-Trump Reddit page, later conceded that conspiracy theories and hate speech went too far and shut down the forum.
- Politicians who appeared to have helped plan the insurrection included Reps. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.), Andy Biggs (R–Ariz), and Mo Brooks (R–Ala.). Stop the Steal organizer Ali Alexander claimed that the three congressmen helped him plan the March to Save America. Ali had said that Gosar, Biggs, and Brooks were part of planning “something big” for Jan. 6 and later characterized the insurrection as “peaceful.”
- The Proud Boys, a militant fascist organization, developed plans to occupy the Capitol prior to Jan. 6. In a document titled “1776 Returns,” the group plotted to place covert actors inside the Capitol and allow their members inside the building to halt the Electoral College certification and force a new election. The Proud Boys also planned not to wear clothing that could identify their membership in the group and created a “chain of command” to organize their activities during the day. The group was also documented running reconnaissance on the Capitol hours before the attack.
- Approximately 10,000 people entered Capitol grounds and 2,000 entered the building itself. The common thread uniting the rioters was fervent support for Trump and a belief in the Big Lie that the election was stolen from him.
- White supremacist groups were among the largest contingent of Jan. 6 rioters. These groups included the Proud Boys, the Groyper Army, and the New Jersey European Heritage Association. These participants carried Confederate flags, worse antisemitic clothing, and brandished other signs and apparel proclaiming support for white supremacy. Dozens of these white supremacists had appeared on the FBI’s terrorism watch list.
- Militias such as the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters were also among the rioters. At least 11 Oath Keepers have been charged with crimes in relation to their role storming the Capitol, including founder Stewart Rhodes. Six members of the Three Percenters faced conspiracy charges as of June 2021 and were awaiting trial.
- Many other rioters were not affiliated with any white nationalist or militia group but were acting on Trump’s orders to storm the Capitol and stop the election certification. Analysis by the Atlantic in February 2021 found that of the 193 people arrested with a connection to the riot by that point, 89% were not part of a larger organization.
- More than a dozen Republican state lawmakers were also participants in the riot, including members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Pennsylvania state senator and 2022 GOP nominee for governor Doug Mastriano and Nevada Assemblywoman Annie Black were among the participants. Former West Virginia state lawmaker Derrick Evans resigned from his position and pleaded guilty to a felony disorder charge related to his participation in the riot.
Right-Wing Justification and Spin
- Some on the Right originally tried to blame left-wing Antifa activists for attacking the Capitol while carrying Trump signs. Prominent proponents of this unfounded theory included Reps. Brooks, Gaetz, and Gosar.
- Those on the Right have also tried to minimize the importance of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he was paying “zero attention” to the hearings, while former Trump administration official Peter Navarro, who was subpoenaed by the Justice Department for his role in the insurrection, said, “It’s something straight out of Stalin and the cultural revolution. It’s a show trial, that’s all it is.” For its part, Fox News initially refused to air the hearings.
- Some far-right activists have attempted to portray the arrested insurrectionists as victims of a tyrannical government. Matt Braynard, a former Trump administration staffer and head of Look Ahead America, tweeted, “January 6th was America’s Tiananmen Square. The regime turned a peaceful protest into an ‘insurrection’ to destroy the lives of patriots who oppose said regime.” Look Ahead America started a campaign called Justice for J6, which held a rally attempting to change the narrative on the insurrection.