By Emmett Eilers
Delegated by Ada Wang and Justin Liao
For most of 2020, many of us were sitting at home under quarantine. Some were working remotely, while others were on zoom calls all day. The quarantine isolated many people from the outside world. This isolation led to a general fear of not only the outside world but of people with differing beliefs. With and more Americans falling prey to selective news outlets that only reaffirmed their ideas. This isolation also led to a rise in Qanon and other right-wing political factions. And while the pandemic did not cause the divided political landscape we see today; it only widened the gap to its farthest points. This brewing storm came to a head in the 2020 presidential elections, running one of the most divided in American history, with incumbent President Donald Trump running against Joe Biden. Trump drove the Republican party platform farther to the right, winning highly conservative areas and getting many conservative politicians elected to other top government positions. Biden ran as a counter to the growth of this conservative wing, causing many Democrats to be in total opposition to the Republican party. These dynamics left no room for centrist politics and paved the road for an even more significant split in the American political world. On November 3, 2020, voting opened all across the country, and by the next day, Biden had won both the general and the electoral votes. In the past, that was it. There was a clear winner and loser (81,268,924 votes compared to Trump's 74,216,154 votes*). But this election was different. Years of separation and polarization had built up too much pressure, and America could not simply forget. At first, there were protests against the results by avid Trump supporters claiming election fraud or denying the results. From November 4, 2020, until January 6, 2021, protests against the election continued. The "Stop the Steal" campaign grew in numbers, and Trump, and many Republican officials, endorsed it. The pressure only needed something to set it off. Let's take a step back from the current political landscape and focus on another period in time. In 1914, Europe was on the brink of war. The reasons were complex and stretched back centuries into each country's history. Tensions were at a breaking point, and all needed was one spark to lead Europe into war. This spark came from the assassination of a prince in a remote corner of Europe. And, although it seems like a small event in hindsight, this single action would set Europe aflame. Flash forward to 2021, and we see a similar story in the U.S. At this point, the political tension stretched over many years and threatened to tear the union apart. And just like in Europe, all that was needed was a spark to set off the powder keg. This needed spark came from a January 6 speech President Trump gave to a crowd of 25,000 people outside the White House, at the same time Congress counted electoral college results as required by the Constitution. In this speech, the President talked about the election and vowed never to stop until election fraud was found out and he was deemed the election's winner. Trump also called on Vice President Mike Pence to use his authority as presiding officer of the court to overturn certain states' results (based on an unfounded legal theory). Trump concluded his speech by telling his supporters, "We're going to the Capitol. *https://www.fec.gov/resources/cms-content/documents/2020presgeresults.pdf
We're going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country." As they began to move towards the capitol building, the protest soon turned into a riot, with armed rioters storming into the capitol building. Over the next four hours, they took over the Senate and Assembly. They broke into offices, smashed windows, took pictures, and took souvenirs*. During this time, many urged Trump to call off the rioters, but he remind silent until Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed. Following this tragedy, Trump tweeted to the protesters to "go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!" At this time, he called the national guard to the capitol, and locked Washington down until the insurrection could be stopped. Vice President Pence reconvened the Senate meeting and called for a return to work. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, also reconvened the House of Representatives and returned to work later on January 6. At 3:42 a.m. on January 7, the House and Senate finalized the electoral college results, calling the election for Joe Biden***. In the following days, posts on Instagram and Facebook showed the actual extent of the riots from both perspectives-congressmen and Rioters. Local law enforcement began arresting participants on January 7**, and the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) opened their investigation and began to make arrests soon after. As of June 15, 2022, more than 840 people were arrested for their involvement on January 6****. However, there was one person that many wanted to see prosecuted. The man who many believe incited the insurrection with his words-President, Donald Trump. Over the next few weeks, some Congress members began compiling evidence in order to bring an impeachment charge against President Trump (proving that Trump was the instigator of the insurrection and not just a bystander). The House of Representatives soon brought articles of impeachment against the incumbent President, naming Trump as the main instigator of the January 6 insurrection and also naming around 200 co-conspirators. On the same day the House passed the articles of impeachment, Nancy Pelosi presented an ultimatum to Vice President Mike Pence- take over the presidency from Trump (this is legal under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution) due to his illicit actions. Pence refused to take this action, and the impeachment trial began. This trial would be the second time President Trump had been impeached, and just like before, he was acquitted of all charges and remained President for his last week in office. The charges failed to win a two-thirds guilty vote in the Senate. As the final week of Trump's presidency wound down, many, including President-Elect Biden, still expressed outrage at the trial's outcome. However, as Biden became President on January 20, 2021, a new effort began to bring charges to the former President. *"uscp after action report january 6 event". 2022. Documentcloud.Org. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/22040756-uscp-after-action-report-january-6-event.
**"U.S. Capitol Police Arrests - January 6, 2021". 2021. United States Capitol Police. https://www.uscp.gov/media-center/press-releases/us-capitol-police-arrests-january-6-2021 ***"NPR Cookie Consent And Choices". 2022. Npr.Org. https://www.npr.org/2022/01/05/1069977469/a-timeline-of-how-the-jan-6-attack-unfolded-including-who-said-what-and-when. ****"Jan. 6 Capitol Rioters Arrests And Sentences So Far". 2022. Time. https://time.com/6133336/jan-6-capitol-riot-arrests-sentences/.
Around the same time as Biden's inauguration, many in Congress called for a committee to investigate the events of January 6*. On January 15, 2021, Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter to the members of Congress calling for an "independent 9/11-type commission to investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6 insurrection." However, her plan to create a joint investigation committee was blocked when Republican Senators filibustered the bill for several weeks. Seeing the Senate's refusal to cooperate, on May 14, 2021, Pelosi appointed seven Democrats and two Republicans to the independent "Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capital." The committee's main goal was to investigate the reasons behind the attack and to decide if it was an individual choice or an organization's actions that led to the insurrection. They also aimed to see if Trump played any role in the day's events. Over the past year, the committee conducted over 1,000 interviews** with potential suspects and sources to attempt to uncover the truth about January 6. Eight public hearings also exposed more about January 6 to the nation. The committee learned of Trump's attempt to go to the Capitol Building on January 6 and to erase information regarding his actions during the insurrection***. Despite uncovering this information, no charges have been brought against former President Trump. This is because of the complexity of charging him. Although the law applies equally to everybody in America, it is still challenging to bring charges against certain people. In Trump's case, being a former President comes with many supporters who either refused to answer the committee's questions, were willing to take the fall for Trump, or threatened another insurrection based on particular actions taken by the committee. In addition, Trump remains a possible candidate for the 2024 presidential election, and as a result, the U.S. Attorney General would need to take steps to ensure he brings the proper charges. So, while the hearings uncovered much about January 6, they are far from over. Not only is the stalemate in information causing strife, but the committee's determination to see Trump brought to justice is also pushing the life of this committee. These hearings and investigations will continue for the next couple of months until the committee gets what it wants or until Trump gets what he wants. The entire life of January 6 has stretched out past its prime. And, while it is essential to remember and learn from the day, and to hold those responsible for it accountable, it is also vital for the American people to find a way to move forward and build bridges across the great divide that splits our politics.
*Alemany, J. and Hamburger, T., 2022. The Jan. 6 committee: What it has done and where it is headed. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/01/04/january-6-committee-explainer/>
**"Who Are The Witnesses Testifying At The Jan. 6 Hearings?". 2022. PBS Newshour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/who-are-the-key-players-in-the-jan-6-committee-hearings-so-far.
***"Hearings". 2022. Select Committee To Investigate The January 6Th Attack On The United States Capitol. https://january6th.house.gov/legislation/hearings
Delegated by Ada Wang