Opinion: The Capitol attack was preventable


TapTheForwardAssist via WikiMedia Commons

A scene from the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, as Trump supporters gather to protest the certification of the election results.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021 will go down as one of the worst days ever for American democracy — the day that the president of the United States, Donald Trump, incited a mob to breach the Capitol building, leading to 5 deaths and putting the lives of the vice president, senators and representatives in immediate jeopardy. What happened was deplorable, horrifying and shocking. What’s worse, though, is that it was entirely predictable — and pretty much guaranteed. 

We knew the exact day this was coming. Trump advertised it. Proponents posted about it endlessly. And, yet, it took the National Guard hours to deploy. Underprepared security was no match for this attack on American democracy. All across the country, we watched in shock as Trump supporters, living out their power fantasies, assaulted the Capitol. The images will be etched into the collective memory of America forever.

And, yet, it could have been prevented. It’s like if Paul Revere went on his Midnight Ride, screaming “The British are coming,” and everybody sat still. Except it wasn’t just a single revolutionary riding his horse through town. It was weeks of comments, images, posts and more. The terrifying reality stared us right in the face, and it was ignored. Ignored by authorities. Ignored by the police. Ignored by Americans.

Not only is it critical to hold Trump accountable for inciting this insurrection, but we must prevent events like this from happening in the future. The survival of our democracy depends on it.

Remove and Imprison Trump, Immediately

I used to object to the idea that Trump should be tried by the next administration — I thought it would set a dangerous precedent for our democracy. I now believe, however, that a different precedent needs to be set: those who attempt an attack on our republic will be prosecuted.

Make no mistake: Donald Trump caused this. 

He caused this when he tweeted, “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there. Will be wild!” 

He caused this when he told white supremacists to “stand by” at a presidential debate when asked to condemn racist groups. 

He caused this when he got up on a stage, behind bulletproof glass, to a large group of raucous supporters, saying, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength. You have to be strong.” 

He caused this when he said to that crowd — the crowd that would, moments later, terrorize the Capitol, “We fight, we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” 

He deserves to be punished for this, and not just with a verbal rebuke and a “He learned his lesson” à la Senator Susan Collins. He needs to be removed from office. He does not deserve another day as President.

The minute after he’s kicked out of office, whether by term limit or by force (although I would prefer he be removed by the 25th Amendment), he must be tried for the many crimes he committed in office and out of it. Trump exploited a deep-seated rift between the two parties and, once in office, wreaked havoc. Among many other things, he let over 350,000 die from a largely preventable virus, and found new ways to tear at our democracy constantly, by blatantly lying about duly conducted elections, praising authoritarian dictators in countries like China and North Korea, and more. We must send a message to anyone looking to try anything similar: This will not go unexcused. Nor will the sedition at the Capitol. Every violent rioter must be jailed and punished. This was not a peaceful protest. This was defiling of the Capitol building. This was murder of a police officer. This was theft of public property. This was seditious conspiracy. 

These are a small handful of the responses that need to be taken in response to this attack, but there stands another important question: How should we look out for similar attacks on our democracy in the future? To begin to answer this question, let’s take a journey.

A Trip Down A Pro-Trump Forum

Two days before the attack, I was scrolling down Reddit and found myself on the subreddit r/Qult_Headquarters, a community focused on “documenting, critiquing, and debunking” the Trump-supporting conspiracy theory known as QAnon. QAnon adherents believe that a faction of Satan-worshipping pedophiles (consisting of mostly liberal figures) run a global sex trafficking ring in which they maintain sexual relations with and consume children. The top post of the subreddit, at the time, was a screenshot of a post from the website thedonald.win, a pro-Trump forum, with the caption “They seem to be serious about this.” 

The first time I saw this post, I took it about as seriously as I took QAnon itself, before the movement infiltrated Congress and was labelled by the FBI as a domestic terror threat. The comparisons to war, the warning that “daddy might not come home,” all seemed like some ridiculous fantasy. While the post’s author hoped the protest would “remain peaceful,” the post seemed to suggest anything but a conflict-free march.

The post was, unfortunately, prophetic.

Two days later, I was watching the news, seeing a group of terrorists infiltrate one of America’s most sacred buildings at Trump’s encouragement, when I remembered the post and dug it up. I was completely shocked — but, later, even more appalled by what I found posted at the same time in the same forum, just a few days and a historic attack later.


I also discovered these comments (and many, many more):

A person comments that they’d be going into the rally “with supplies”. Dated to Tuesday, January 5. (PsyNigH via thedonald.win) (https://thedonald.win/p/11Rh1QaYbK/holy-crap-our-whole-flight-from-/)
Someone states that people should either be armed or “ready to fight”. Dated to Tuesday, January 5. (tooanalytical via thedonald.win) (https://thedonald.win/p/11Rh1U0qQT/congress-has-a-choice-to-make-to/)
Many people issue death threats to Congresspeople. Dated to Tuesday, January 5. (Donger-Lord, Mr_Beanths, Viewer01, and Svixgale via thedonald.win) (https://thedonald.win/p/11Rh1U0qQT/congress-has-a-choice-to-make-to/)

Keep in mind, this is just a cursory search of a single website. The evidence and threats were strewn across many different sites — for example, extremist hubs like Parler (which was recently deplatformed by Amazon, Apple and Google) as well as mainstream social networks like Twitter and Facebook. And it’s not even including the incendiary comments of Trump himself or of his cronies. For example, at the January 6 rally preceding the Capitol attack, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, called for “trial by combat”, and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, told anti-Trump lawmakers that “We’re coming for you, and we’re going to have a good time doing it.” 

Trump, as earlier mentioned, used his favorite social network — Twitter — to incite and encourage violence and spew lies constantly throughout his term. After (and before) the election, he relentlessly peddled claims of voter fraud, attacked those who wouldn’t comply with his lies (often leading to death threats for those individuals) and encouraged people to march on the Capitol on January 6 for weeks beforehand (describing it as “wild” and retweeting a message that “the cavalry [would be] coming”). Throughout his term, he started disputes with powerful world leaders, fired White House officials by tweet, sent out racist attacks to Congresspeople and more. 

Twitter’s ban of Trump is somewhat of a game-changer — it prevents him from using what was once his greatest verbal weapon and stops him from using it to incite further violence. But it was too little, too late.

We ignored the signs. But we can’t change the past. So, where do we go now? Here are some steps we should take.

How To Prevent Future Attacks

The reason why these terrorists were effectively let into the Capitol building, left free-range in the building like it was some sort of tour, was because the response that was prepared (if one could even call it a response) didn’t take the clear evidence into account. It took the National Guard nearly three hours to deploy. Additional unarmed support was brought in before the attack, but mostly to oversee traffic checkpoints and Metro subway stations. Capitol police weren’t put in riot gear. The failure of the government and Capitol police to respond to the obvious cost lives, and we must prepare for another potential attack. 

The government must actively surveil extremist sources — Parler and 4chan, for example — for potential threats and respond fast. The police must assume the worst when a president, especially one known for condoning and even inciting violent acts, encourages ferocity at a Capitol “protest.” If they see even a fraction of the evidence we saw leading up to this attack, they must ready the National Guard immediately, and police must be prepared to fight and fitted with riot gear. If all of this had happened, this event would have been nothing more than Trump supporters shaking their fists at America’s democratic system once again.

We could have averted this entire crisis if we were a bit smarter. We must learn from this failure — or deal with the potential downfall of America as we know it.