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The Insurrection one year later: What happened and what's next?

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Photo by Nate Gowdy
Photo by Nate Gowdy

Last Wednesday, January 6, 2022, marked the first anniversary of what has been called one of the darkest days of US History: The Capitol Insurrection.

One year ago, hundreds of domestic terrorists stormed the US Capitol in Washington D.C., spurred on after a morning of speeches at a "Save America" rally by Trump supporters dissatisfied with the results of the November 2020 election. Former President Donald Trump encouraged rioters when he spoke at the rally moments before they stormed towards the Capitol building.

"We won this election, and we won it in a landslide," Trump declared to a roaring crowd. "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore." His speech concluded with a direct order to his audience, "We are going to the capitol."

And go they did. Amidst the chaos of applause and cheers, Trump's supporters began to push their way through barricades until they breached the front doors of the historic Capitol building. Congress sheltered in place as Capitol police officers attempted to divert rioters away from the chamber floor. Over 140 police officers were injured, the historic building was vandalized, and, for the first time, the Confederate flag was flown in the United States Capitol Building.

Photographer Nate Gowdy was among the crowd that day. He had traveled to D.C. to document the MAGA rally for an upcoming book he is working on, and says despite attending several other Trump rallies, he could have never predicted what he was about to see.

"I'd attended 30 or so of Trump's official campaign rallies and appearances, so I figured I'd get to see more red hats and hear more white grievances in Washington, D.C., on January 6. I never could have anticipated a deadly mob ransacking the U.S. Capitol. I still can't comprehend what I saw," says Gowdy.

In an excerpt from his upcoming book, Gowdy recalls the events he witnessed on that day, "In my short life, I've never witnessed such a strange mix of euphoric camaraderie and subversive rage. All afternoon, overcome with excitement and buoyed by the white Christian nationalism and nativism on full spread-eagle display, I kept hearing it: 'This is the best day of my life!' Feeling like part of something historically special while wedged together during a pandemic, their brains repeatedly defaulted to virtuously reciting prayer and The Pledge of Allegiance."

Now, people who watched the chaos develop on live TV, as well as those in attendance that day, recall what they think happened.

Photo by Jacquelyn Martin / AP  

A nation divided
"One year ago today, in this sacred place, democracy was attacked. Simply, attacked," said President Biden in an address to the American people following the first anniversary of the capitol insurrection. While Biden may think the answer to what happened one year ago is simple, many disagree. Americans continue to remain divided on just what happened that day, what caused the violence, and whether or not our country can move beyond it.

According to a new poll out of NPR, 6 in 10 Americans believe democracy is failing. The concerns over the future of American democracy are bipartisan. Two-thirds of all people polled stated they believe democracy is more at risk now than it was a year ago. Follow-up interviews with Republicans showed an overall distrust of the American electoral process. Many feel distrustful of mail-in voting, and over half stated they believe Joe Bide stole the 2020 election due to significant voter fraud.

These concerns come despite documented proof that the election was not fraudulent. Republican Representative and top Republican on the Congressional Investigative Committee into the Insurrection, Liz Cheney, said in an interview, "we had over 60 courts in this country that ruled against the claims the former President was making, and yet he rejected those rulings and attempted to overturn the will of the people. That simply cannot happen in the United States."

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats voiced concern over restrictions on voting rights passed by Republican legislators in the past year. In his January 6th address, President Biden noted these concerns, saying, "the election of 2020 was the greatest demonstration of democracy in American history. More of you voted in that election than have ever voted in all American history. Over 150 million Americans went to the polls and voted that day. Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written, not to protect the vote, but to deny it."

In the year since the 2021 insurrection, 16 states have attempted to pass laws that would change election rules to give more power to state legislatures rather than elected officials and governors. At least 18 election deniers are running for positions of Secretary of State, and 71% of Republicans believe the election was stolen.

Despite the current political divide, no Americans think that what happened on January 6th was a "reasonable protest." However, Republicans and Democrats are putting distinct spins on how they recollect the events of that day. More than half of the Democrats polled by NPR would call the events an "attempted coup" or "insurrection." Republicans, on the other hand, are more likely to call it a "riot" that "just got out of control."

In a similar poll out from the Washington Post, 60% of Americans believe Donald Trump is responsible for what happened on January 6th, whereas 38% think he is innocent.

"For the first time in our history, a President has not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the capitol," Biden said. He did not shy away from placing blame on former President Trump, even if a sizable minority of the country refuses to do so.

Is Trump guilty of more than just ignorance?
According to Cheney, the investigative committee is likely to side with the majority. "We will be looking at [a potential criminal case against the President]. There are claims in front of the committee, such as whether or not, through his action or inaction, President Trump attempted to obstruct an official proceeding of congress attempting to delay the count of electoral votes," said Cheney. "We also know, certainly, that it was a supreme dereliction of duty. When the President of the United States refuses to take action to stop a violent assault on the congress, to stop a violent assault on any of the coequal branches of government that's a dereliction of duty."

New facts regarding how far Trump's involvement goes are also coming to light. The committee now has subpoenaed evidence proving Trump called into the war room the night before the Capitol Riots. In the months leading up to the event, he had been pressuring Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office, asking him to publicly contest the results of the election.

"Former Vice President Pence was a hero on January 6th. He refused the pressure of the former President, he did his duty, and the nation should be very grateful for the actions that he took that day," says Cheney.

Despite her high praise for Pence, the investigative committee continues to question the motives behind Trump's inaction during a moment of unprecedented chaos. 187 minutes elapsed between the time he instructed his followers to "march," and when he finally put out a video telling them to go home.

"We know the President was watching television in his private dining room off the oval office. We know from personal testimony that he was watching the violent assault on the Capitol," says Cheney. "We also know that he could have, at any moment, walked the few steps to the White House briefing room, he could have gone on the air and told the people who were his supporters assaulting the capitol to go home, he did not do that. And we are very focused on the minute-by-minute activities at the white house, what he was doing, that he was watching television and was refusing to ask people to stop."

The threat continues
The committee continues to probe Trump's motives, but many wonder when action will happen. Despite his ban from social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Trump continues to reach his audience with rants about how the election was stolen from him.

"The threat continues," Cheney warns, "former President Trump continues to make the same claims that he knows caused violence on January 6th, and it's very important, if you look at what's happening today in my party, the Republican party, rather than reject what happened on the 6th, reject the lies about the election, and make clear that a President that engaged in those activities can never be President again, unfortunately, too many of my party are embracing that former President and looking the other way or minimizing the danger. That's how democracies die, and we simply cannot let that happen."

Trump is not the only conservative peddling the "stolen election" message. Fox News correspondents also continue to spin the narrative around what happened on January 6th. Sean Hannity's report of the events was that "the vast majority in Washington D.C. today [were] peaceful," and Laura Ingraham declared the whole insurrection to be a hoax, saying, "this is one of the big lies that this was a coordinated insurrection."

In response to the false narratives circulating conservative media outlets, Biden reminded listeners in his inaugural address, "This wasn't a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection. They weren't looking to uphold the will of the people; they were looking to deny the will of the people. They weren't looking to uphold a free and fair election; they were looking to overturn one. They weren't looking to save the cause of America; they were looking to subvert the constitution."

Police in the crowd
Biden also acknowledged the hypocrisy of the rioters, who attacked police attempting to defend the capitol. "A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers; dragged them, grabbed them, sprayed them, stomped on them. Over 140 police officers were injured," he said. However, Biden failed to acknowledge just how deep the hypocrisy goes.

Since last January, the FBI has continued to investigate all those who participated in the storming of the capitol. Over 700 arrests have been made, and 170 have pleaded guilty. In January 2021, 30 active duty police officers were arrested for involvement in the riots.

In August 2021, six active-duty Seattle Police Department officers were under investigation for involvement in the riots. SPD officers Alexander and Caitlin Everett were fired this summer by police chief Adrian Diaz after the search provided significant evidence that they had willingly participated in the riot.

"These two officers were present at an attack on the US Capitol, which was also an attack on our profession and every officer across the country," Diaz said.

While SPD's firing of officers involved is a small step towards justice, many are still waiting to see what happens as the FBI and Congressional investigations continue to unfold.

"I will stand at this breach, I will defend this nation, and I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy," Biden said with zest as he concluded his speech. His words spurred many emotions in Americans watching at home, but despite his promising remarks, worries remain. With a potential run for President in 2024, eyes are on Donald Trump, as many are left wondering, can our democracy endure an ever dividing country?