On the Events of January 6th, 2021 — What a Coup Means for the American Left

So in September I wrote a thing.

And now I’mma write another thing. Because more things have happened.

January 6th, 2021 cemented itself as one of the most important dates in recent US history after hundreds of armed fascists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other reactionaries stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC to demand a stop to the Senate’s vote-confirmation process that would confirm Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States. They set up crosses and nooses, declaring Trump to be a president chosen by Christ to save America from the evils of socialism and the CCP. The riots, largely, demanded Congress suspend election law and install Donald Trump as president moving forward and capped a two-month long attempt by Trump himself to circumvent the results of the 2020 general election by abusing the powers of the legislative and judicial branches.

If successful, this would have meant the end of the façade of American bourgeois democracy and the beginning of an era of fascist autocracy, in which the executive is more or less appointed by the legislative branch of the state, and characterized by a far more open hatred of various minorities than we’ve seen in years.

At 4 PM that day on Wall Street, the DOW reported record high numbers. Then, Elon Musk became the richest man on Earth. And by the end of the day, 4,000 additional people lost their lives to the coronavirus pandemic, making it the deadliest day of the pandemic in the US until that point.

First of all, and because I’ve seen some debate about this in the left spaces I inhabit, I think it is vital that we call the events that transpired what they are: a fascist coup d’État in the heart of the imperialist core.

The main contention from those squeamish to use the dreaded CDE word seems to be that this just doesn’t feel like a coup. In the movies, a coup is supposed to be this big dramatic moment, where scary men in red berets armed with rifles hijack the television waves and release a video of themselves in the office of the executive building, declaring the Constitution null and void and proclaiming that the military now rules by decree. Tanks roll down the streets of your family home as innocent civilians hide in their basements from the authorities.

This? This was a couple hundred white, suburbanite dipshits LARPing in the throne room of the Capitol building. One of them had a Viking hat on with face paint and no shirt. They didn’t conquer territory or make coherent demands. That’s not a coup, right? That’s a circus.

Well, if one views the events of the 6th as a completely spontaneous action that began that very afternoon out of nowhere, detached from context or history, then this view would have merit. A couple of white nationalists committing acts of terror is not in and of itself a coup. That would be like saying 9/11 a coup attempt. And if Trump had conceded in November but this fascist action had happened anyway, I also wouldn’t call it a coup.

However, as historical materialists, we must recognize that this event did not occur in a vacuum. First, the rally that became the 1/6 Capitol Hill riots was organized by the president himself. Trump tweeted about it on multiple occasions and regularly called on his supporters to get angry, and to show it, in the days leading up to the riots. He even gave a speech to many of the people who ended up occupying the Capitol, instructing them (and I’m paraphrasing here) to march from Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill and give the weak Republican Senators the courage they need to take back “our” country.

Trump had to have known that violent fascists would arrive at the rally as well. Besides the fact that the Proud Boys, well, proudly and publicly stated their intention to descend on DC, we know in general Trump is well aware of the various far-right groups that support him.

He praised Q-Anon not even a year ago as of time of writing, stating that he “understands they like [him] very much”. On the campaign trail he boasted about executing an anti-fascist in “retribution” for his alleged killing of a member of the far-right Portland group the Patriot Prayer. And on a national debate stage he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” in case the police couldn’t beat down anti-fascists hard enough.

There has also been an unspoken alliance between MAGA events and far-right militias. Fascist and neo-Nazi groups regularly recruited from Trump rallies for years, and no one did anything about it.

And then there’s the fact that on the day of the riots itself, the DC National National Guard was delayed for hours after the siege of the Capitol building had begun. Washington DC requested aid from the National Guard to quell the riots but were at first denied before being later approved. And when someone was reported to have been shot dead in the building, Trump’s public statement continued his baseless assertion that he was the legitimate winner of the election and called people waving confederate and Nazi flags and hanging nooses outside of the Capitol “very special people” who are “right to be angry”.

(To be clear, I don’t want to legitimize the National Guard/law enforcement’s role in “keeping the peace” or whatever. Ideally, DC anti-fascists would be organized enough to disrupt this event long before it boiled over. I know the comrades there did their best, and DC mutual aid groups are still going strong, but there simply were not enough local anti-fascists to combat a crowd of armed Nazis streaming in from across the country in any way that was safe. Individual DC anti-fascists are not to blame here, our collective lack of organization is.)

If I told you that, after an election in Sudan, the extremely conservative politician who lost the election spent months launching increasingly bizarre claims of election fraud at the courts, openly called key members of the government and ask them to invent thousands of votes to declare him the winner, before ultimately settling on calling on Islamist militants to invade Khartoum and stage a domestic terror attack to threaten politicians into recognizing him as president. If we saw images of terrorists with guns demanding the government install a dictator in the name of Allah, would you have any qualms calling this a coup attempt?

So why the hesitancy around Trump?

This is one of the reasons why calling this a coup attempt is so important for the American left. Trump’s entire charade, from the moment he declared there would be no peaceful transfer of power, to the moment he claimed to win before all the votes were counted, to the moment his secretary of state claimed there would be a smooth transition of power to his “second term” despite every state being called… that was already a coup d’État in progress. The image of fascists hanging Gadsden flags from the steps of Congress exists only in service of this plot.

The only reason it hasn’t been called a coup until now is the ongoing myth of American exceptionalism.

To the average American, coup d’États happen in two places: in Star Wars, and in poor countries.

Coup d’États happen in backwards, poor, failed states. In the “third world”. To “them”. That’s where all the immigrants that beg us for a chance to stay in the developed and clean (and white) “Shining City on a Hill” come from, after all. And of course that’s why we have to build a wall and throw undocumented people in camps. That’s why we have to deny them healthcare and education. Because if we didn’t, the ENTIRE WORLD would just move to America because it’s just so much better than every other country and we can’t have that.

Americans are a light of democracy in a world of barbarism, and our system is supposed to be an example, no, the example that the rest of the world only wishes it could follow.

America doesn’t have “riots” we have “protests that go too far”. Americans don’t have “rampant poverty and inaccessible healthcare and educational systems”, we have “people who make bad choices”. And certainly, above all else, America doesn’t have “coup d’États”. We have a “sore loser president” who “just needs to be reasoned with”.

Or so we say.

The failure of the American left to recognize this as a coup attempt is one that reinforces American chauvinism and has left us completely vulnerable to just how organized the fascist threat has become.

How should the American left view the events of the 6th moving forward?

I suppose one downside of calling Trump’s actions a coup is that we temporarily look a little like the liberals who are currently losing their shit doing the same thing.

The real danger that the 6th poses to the left is one that mostly defined by how liberals are already and will continue to use this event to their advantage. It’s therefore worth examining what’s going on here.

In the immediate aftermath of this fascist coup attempt, we are saying both liberal parties distance themselves even further from Trump specifically. Members of his own cabinet are now seriously considering invoking the 25th amendment to remove him from office. The centrist Democrats have endorsed the progressives' calls for a second impeachment, and Republicans across the government are demanding Trump recognize the results of the 2020 election.

It only took their lives being in danger (and more importantly, Trump no longer serving their material interests) to come to this conclusion despite four years of crime, austerity, mass death, and genocide. Whoopdie-doo.

But what may at first seem like a refreshing (if not too-little-too-late) moment of catharsis from our liberal friends quickly turns sour. If you’ve watch any of the mainstream media from this time, you’ll notice this.

There are frequent comparisons between these riots and the George Floyd uprising that rocked the United States in the summer of 2020, with pundits declaring that “both left and right-wing extremists hate our law enforcement who just want to work hard and keep us safe" (I’m paraphrasing).

This point is especially hilarious. If cops can ram cars into thousands of protesters, beat people until they end up in the hospital, and coat entire city skylines in tear gas, are you seriously telling me they couldn’t protect a single building when the rioters announced in advance where they would be? The police are as complicit in the riots as the rioters are here. The events of January 6th only bolster the case for total police abolition. The police are an unelected, armed group of fascists who would literally rather a fascist coup than the masses hold them accountable.

But there are yet more oddities in the liberal coverage of the coup. CNN will have on Republican politicians, lawyers, and statespeople, one after another, all talking about how they, as a Republican, condemn the president as a danger to “our” “democracy”.

Many of these people, not even two days ago, were openly sustaining the environment necessary to legitimize Trump’s coup attempt. These people should be on trial, not given glowing praise by the media. Why not interview the marginalized people who warned the country in 2015 just how bad Trump was going to get? Why not interview the black and brown people, not just in DC, but across the country, who couldn’t go outside on the 6th because if they did they risked being beaten by roving gangs of white nationalists?

Joe Biden will go up on national TV and call for “unity” and “reconciliation” with a party that literally tried to coup his incoming administration.

Media and political personalities on the left and right have labeled the Capitol Hill riots as “anarchists", despite the fact that anarchists risk their lives fighting these exact people, and liberals constantly tell them not to. Installing a strawman dictator is also, literally the opposite of anarchism both in contemporary usage and politically.

And through it all there is this insufferable refrain playing on loop:

This is not who we are. America is still the shining example of democracy around the world. We must show the world that America is better than this. That day was a dark day for “our” “democracy”. Property damage? On the US Capitol no less? Disgraceful! It is a shame to our people that we allowed this hateful minority to disgrace the People’s House! Violence is not how we get what we want in a “democracy”!

For the past few years, as our country enters two-decades of uninterrupted war with countries that didn’t attack us, after two “once-in-a-lifetime” recessions, after seeing the wealthy accrue astronomical gains in capital while wages fail to keep up with inflation, as politicians deny to pass basic reforms that are roundly popular, it becomes increasingly clear that liberalism is a self-contradictory ideology on a death spiral. People are beginning to realize the system doesn’t work.

And they’re angry about it.

On the one hand, lower and middle income people, black and brown and LGBT people, and the allies to all these groups, are waking up. These people are usually either in absolute poverty or those who “did everything right” but still find it exhausting and unbelievably challenging to make ends meet, are becoming socialists and communists. In record numbers too.

Groups from the Worker’s World Party, to the Communist Party USA, to the Democratic Socialists of America, to local affinity groups and mutual aid networks, are suddenly seeing a rapid influx of new members, oftentimes at a rate that they’re not even accustomed to manage. I spoke to a mutual aid organizer not too long ago who expressed his surprise and excitement that his community seems increasingly interested in political literature. In a time where people are often too busy to read, many are finding it within themselves to seek out the works of Marx, Lenin, Kropotkin, Goldman, the Black Panther Party, and many more.

On the other hand, the white petite-bourgeoisie and labor aristocracy of America, feeling their social and economic positions challenged, are turning to conspiracy theories and fascism. They are willing to believe that a global cabal of child-eating “liberal Marxists” who groom children to feast on their hormones are the reason why it’s okay to be trans now if it means they get to be a part of a group that beats trans people back into hiding. Replace trans with black, socialist, Jewish, Muslim, undocumented, and whatever else and you get the picture.

Fascist militias are also seeing an unprecedented rise in membership. And unlike the left, they’re able to use the second most popular politician in US history after Barack Obama to recruit people.

The liberals are aware that this is happening. Maybe not of all the specific groups that are growing. But they are aware of the general feeling that the center is giving way to something else. They are aware that an increasing number of people don’t trust the system.

The reason why the news coverage around an actual coup d’État is as wacky as it is right now is because the liberal machine is rearing back around to point its horns at us. They will blame “political polarization” for Trump’s failures. They’ll say things like “no one really hates the system, some, like Trump (and, let’s be real, Russia, they’ll never stop milking this Russia shit), just use our frustrations to turn us against one another”. They’ll insist that “sure things are bad right now, but our system is the best in the world, so if you have a problem just follow the rules and ask nicely and you’ll get what you want :)”

Except, of course, we won’t get what we want. After a pandemic that has killed 400,000 Americans, the Democrats would rather protect the private insurance industry than give you healthcare. After a summer of anti-police protests, the Democrats would rather increase police funding for “training” than make real change. After 20 years of endless war, the Democrats would rather increase military spending to “stand up for our enemies” and “support our allies”.

And oh no. Don’t you dare rebuild the militant anti-war movement you used to have. Don’t you dare riot until you force your city to downsize its police force. Don’t you dare go on strike until you all get healthcare. That’s “sowing division and chaos”. That’s “not how we do things in a dEmOcRACy”.

I’m not worried about the events of the 6th because I give two shits about the sacred halls of a sham democracy being tainted. I have no patience for this talk of “the People’s House”. I don’t really care that this is the first time a Confederate flag has been flown in the building. It belongs in there anyway given the rights the US has “democratically” decided to trample on in those seats. My only regret about Nancy Pelosi’s office being trashed is that the communists didn’t fucking do it first. I would have personally pissed on her laptop if I was there.

My fear is that, moving forward, the American left now faces two increasingly dangerous threats. The liberals are actually becoming more militant against us, seeking to reassert control over an growingly unstable empire. The fascists just successfully organized a coup attempt. Obviously, it didn’t work. But what they thought was impossible they know now is in reach, and it’ll only get worse from here.

I think back to Charlottesville, when the world was reminded just how bold the neo-Nazi threat in the US really was. Infighting, division, and negative media coverage drove them into hiding. Leftists praised anti-fascists activists for driving Nazis into the shadows that day. That next year, DSA members started getting elected to the House of Representatives left and right. And then, for a minute there, it really really looked like Bernie Sanders had a shot at the presidency. The country was finally moving left!

And then the fascists staged an armed insurrection at the Capitol building a desperate attempt to install Orange Man as dictator.

What’s the next thing? What’s going to be the next “thing” the fascists pull that’s even bolder? What’s worse than an attempted coup?

Only time will tell. Until then, we organize.