Who is responsible for the riot/protest/insurrection/coup that occurred January 6th at the U.S. Capitol? I don’t know, though I can name many who have some responsibility.

First published in July 2021.

That’s why we need an objective commission to investigate the facts. It didn’t happen on its own – I’d say spontaneous combustion was responsible but then what about those folks who wore combat gear, carried radios to communicate with each other, moved in military fashion, stole shields from police officers to beat them, and more?

Honestly, I’m not sure former President Trump is organized or smart enough to know how to pull off a coup. He clearly said he thought the certification that day could be blocked. He wanted his Vice President to do it. But he definitely has a large amount of culpability for what happened that day.

But let’s focus for a moment on those four officers who testified before the special committee on Tuesday. If you could watch that and not shed tears at various points, you have no heart. Whether a protest gone bad or an attempted coup, those officers and their colleagues fought against the odds to protect the Congress.

These men who testified weren’t making stuff up. They definitely didn’t hug or kiss anyone in the mob. They surely didn’t roll out the welcome mat. They testified that some in the mob told them “Trump sent us.” If you’ve read about the pre-President Trump, you know that, despite his despot-like character on “The Apprentice”, he seldom gave direct orders, never really fired people. He nearly always gave wishy-washy direction that his subordinates then carried out, as they “knew” what he was ordering. That is his style. He doesn’t like leaving fingerprints. Just ask Michael Cohen.

Those officers testified with passion, belief and utter amazement that some elected officials now are trying to say January 6th was a bunch of tourists strolling through the Capitol. If they were that, the Capitol Police would not have reacted as they did. If January 6th was a peaceful protest, there wouldn’t have been a million dollars of damage done to the building, not to mention members and staff of both parties hiding behind barricaded doors in fear of the “protestors.”

As the officers’ testimony was being given, several Republican members of Congress held, or attempted to hold, a press conference outside the Department of Justice where they claimed those arrested in the aftermath of January 6th are political prisoners. Give me a break.

My guess is some of that mob were average citizens, supporters of President Trump who came to Washington to protest what Trump calls, in the biggest lie to threaten our democracy ever, a rigged election. Months before the election he was setting up that excuse as the only explanation if he lost.

Many Republicans are pointing the finger at Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, saying she was responsible for the riot, alleging she didn’t have the proper security measures in place.

If you research the chain of command for the Capitol Police you won’t find the Speaker of the House in that line. Nor will you find the Senate Majority Leader. The chief of the Capitol Police is responsible for security and he or she reports directly to the Capitol Police Board. The Speaker is not on that board, nor are any members of Congress. It’s just one more delusion some are using to deflect responsibility.

Donald Trump. | Trump White House

Fact is, right or wrong, no one anticipated what happened January 6th could ever happen in America. Or could even imagine it.

“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them (members of Congress),” said D.C. police officer Michael Fanone who suffered a heart attack and concussion from being beaten and threatened with death by his own gun. “… now,  (members of Congress) are telling me that hell doesn’t exist or hell actually wasn’t that bad… The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”

There is nothing wrong and everything right with having some objective-as-can-be commission investigate what happened January 6th and who was involved in it.

(To my Republican friends who at this moment are saying, “Yeah, what about a commission to study those BLM riots?” For one, they aren’t comparable and if you don’t understand why I can’t make you understand. For example, no one at those protests was trying to kill the Speaker of the House and hang the Vice President. Or stop a constitutionally mandated formality of certifying the electoral votes. But, whatever.)

Republicans rejected a commission, negotiated with Republicans, with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats and both parties would have had subpoena power. Pelosi then set up a special committee which, after she rejected two of the biggest flamethrowers in the Republican caucus, was boycotted by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

(To my Republican friends who would now claim that a couple of those Democrats are equal flamethrowers, I would just disagree they are in the same league. Adam Schiff is no Jim Jordan. But, whatever.)

January 6th didn’t just happen. It was planned. By whom is the question and Republicans clearly find the answer inconvenient because cooperating would mean the potential of learning that Trump was culpable in some way(s).

I’ve talked to friends who work for GOP Leadership on the Hill. They say this whole thing (the “rigged” election, the deference to the wants of Trump) is all about winning a majority in the mid-term elections. It’s all about McCarthy wanting to be Speaker. Not a surprise, I know. Just another confirmation.

Are there politics on the Democratic side? Of course. They want to remain in control. But where there should be no disagreement is trying to find out what really happened on January 6th. And that’s why Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger joined the panel. They do want the facts to come out. They know what other Republican members are saying privately while they publicly support Trump in fear of him opposing them in the elections – that we need to understand what happened January 6th so it doesn’t happen again.

An investigation is owed not only to the police who defended the Capitol against all odds but to the American people, to the world which is wondering if our democracy can survive and, if they think about it honestly, to all members of Congress whose lives were saved that day by a small number of police (when compared to the number in the mob), and to those police who literally gave their lives that day. Oh yeah, and they protected our democracy while it was under attack. A strong day at work.

(To my Republican friends who now would say “Yeah, what about Ashli Babbitt,” killed by police when she was at the front of a line trying to break through a door guarded by police, January 6th? I wish she wasn’t killed too. But she was trying to break in. Another sad casualty of a battle that should not have been fought.)

I know there will be a lot of “what aboutism” in response to this column by some Republican friends. The fact, though, is that our democracy was threatened that day. That mob’s aim was to stop Congress from certifying the electoral vote thinking that would keep Donald Trump in office.

But it did happen, and we need to understand why and who is accountable for it.

Why? Because this still is America. 


B. Jay Cooper, former deputy White House press secretary to Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.


[This piece was originally published in The Screaming Moderate and re-published in PMP Magazine on 29 July 2021, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Flickr/Brett Davis. - January 6, US Capitol riot. | 6 January 2021. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)

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