Trump’s martyrs or American traitors? Just imagine that assault on our parliament
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The assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was the biggest attack on America’s democracy since the Civil War. The Capitol dome is the most recognised symbol of democratic government in the world. The halls of Congress and the House and Senate chambers were desecrated that day.
The building was breached by a mob determined to obstruct and halt the peaceful transfer of power to the president-elect, Joe Biden. Many wanted to hang the then vice president, Mike Pence. The attack was finally repulsed; five people were killed in the violence. When the Capitol was re-taken the constitutional processes were completed in the early hours of January 7.
Enrique Tarrio, jailed this week for 22 years for the assault on the US Capitol. What if such a violent attack was launched on Australia’s Parliament House?Credit: Composite image by Jamie Brown/AP
These were high crimes. President Donald Trump would be impeached by the House for his role in these events, although the Senate failed to convict him. The Department of Justice would launch the biggest investigation in its history. More than 1000 people have been indicted, and more than 700 convicted for their atrocities committed that day.
This week, those trials culminated in the conviction and sentencing of Enrique Tarrio, then head of the Proud Boys, who received the stiffest criminal penalty of 22 years’ imprisonment. He and others in his gang were convicted not only of the violence associated with the attack, but also of “seditious conspiracy”: the attempt to violently overthrow the government. It is one of the gravest crimes that can be committed against the republic in American jurisprudence.
For Trump and his legion of followers, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, who were associated with the Nazis marching in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, enlisted in the cause of restoring the presidency to Trump in the wake of a “stolen election” in 2020. They were intent that Trump and his supporters take America back from the depravity of the radical left, antifa, the socialists and communists, the globalists, the mainstream media and other “enemies of the people”.
How serious was this attack? Imagine if, in Canberra, on the first sitting day of the new parliament, more than a thousand people marched down Commonwealth Avenue, ascended Capital Hill, broke into the public entrance by smashing doors and windows, roamed the halls and invaded the Senate chamber, took over the desks and the presiding officer’s chair, and attacked the House chamber only to be stopped by guards with guns drawn and aimed at the chamber’s door.
You tell me whether the full force of the law would be brought down on these people through trials in Commonwealth courts.
On several occasions, Trump has said he will pardon and apologise to those who attacked the Capitol. He said in May that “they were there with love in their heart” and that “it was a beautiful day”.
Trump’s base of supporters in the Republican Party is not rusted on; it is welded on. Sixty per cent of Republican voters believe the multiple indictments and criminal trials Trump is facing for trying to overturn the 2020 election are political. More than 75 per cent believe Trump did nothing wrong after election day in seeking to be declared the winner over Joe Biden.
Bringing Trump’s armies to justice is, in their view, illegitimate. They are Trump’s martyrs.
The prosecutions of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and legions of others who engaged in violence that day were designed not only to bring them to justice but, by the severity of the sentences meted out, to send an unmistakable message that such acts are not to be tolerated. The sentencing judge said Tarrio was the “ultimate leader of the conspiracy” and “consumed by revolutionary zeal”. Tarrio’s lawyer said he was just a “misguided patriot”.
How can hundreds of Trump’s supporters be convicted and go to jail, but the man in whose name they acted not be accountable under the rule of law?
Trump was not indicted for what he said that day when he addressed the throng and incited his army to march on the Capitol. The charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith are much more direct: specific deeds and acts – not mere words – that Trump undertook to overturn the counting of the presidential vote in Georgia and other states, pressured the vice president to violate the law in conducting the certification of the election in Congress, and interfered in the rights of voters to exercise their franchise.
The rioters acted at Trump’s behest. The fate of Trump’s armies has been decided. Trump’s fate, his reckoning with justice, is now before us.
Bruce Wolpe is a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre. He has served on the Democratic staff in the US Congress and as chief of staff to former prime minister Julia Gillard.
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