Never Forget January 6th, 2021
Matthew R. Bishop — January 6th, 2022
One year ago today, our nation was attacked. On January 6th, 2021, enemy invaders stormed, sacked and pillaged the US Capitol for the first time since the War of 1812 more than two full centuries ago.
Our republic barely survived that day, and today most Americans fail to appreciate just how fortunate we are to have survived. Violent pro-Trump terrorists came within just ten yards of unarmed Congresspeople, whom they intended to slaughter on sight, but were redirected at the very last moment by the heroic and selfless actions of Officer Eugene Goodman. The United States of America came within ten yards and within thirty seconds (literally, not metaphorically) of ending abruptly in a horrific bloodbath which would have immediately triggered a second US Civil War.
Two bombs placed around the complex, one in the Republican chamber and one in the Democratic chamber, were also intended to trigger a second civil war, with the idea being that each side would blame the other. Chaos, violence, and war would then ensure. Miraculously, neither of these bombs went off, no one was killed in the explosions that never happened, and no war resulted.
Time and time again throughout that day, the United States managed to avoid an all-out massacre, the beginning of a civil war, and the end of elected constitutional government in this country altogether. Countless powerful groups and individuals attempted to produce those outcomes, including the then-President of the United States himself, but our republic and its people were saved by the true patriotism of just a small handful of heroes who so freely and willingly put their lives on the line to stop them. Every single American alive today owes thanks to those heroes on this day. Few Americans will ever truly comprehend just how much they owe to these heroes, nor will they ever understand the gravity of the horrific outcomes that we so narrowly avoided.
The alarm is still going off. Around the country, far-right extremists have been attempting to rebrand the events of January 6th, 2021, re-casting the terrorists as “peaceful protestors” or even as “martyrs” for an idealized post-republic, Trump-style America. It is important to understand that this narrative is not just malicious, it is also completely fictional. There is no “post-republic” America. Any attempt to overthrow our constitutional government with the intention of replacing it with an unelected, far-right authoritarian regime will almost certainly lead to civil war and to the division of the States. The idea of a united fascist America is itself a fiction. Fascism can only lead to the secession of the States and a new civil war.
If Republicans do regain power, they are going to rewrite the history of January 6th, 2021. They will disband the January 6th Committee. They will clear and drop all criminal charges. They will erase every record they can get their hands on. They will portray the terrorists who burned and pillaged the US Capitol as the “heroes” and “martyrs” of a glorified fascist revolution. This is the version of history that they will teach to global assemblies, to foreign governments, to you and me, and to our children. The truth of January 6th, 2021, will be erased in the same way that China erased Tiananmen Square. This is what fascists always do, because they know that they cannot survive the scrutiny of objective history. They need to write their own version, instead. In this mythmaking process, facts don’t just become irrelevant, they become a threat to the regime. The regime responds accordingly.
Every American, today and every day, needs to make this promise to themselves: That we will not forget what happened on January 6th, 2021. We will neither forget nor forgive those who attempted to destroy our nation and then escaped any and all forms of accountability. We will not forget how high up this coup attempt goes: To the President of the United States himself and to senior figures within both the Executive and Legislative branches, including high-level Senators and Representatives who still serve in Congress today — and to whom major U.S. corporations still give donations with total impunity. They are all criminals. Every single one of them must be prosecuted and held criminally accountable in order for this republic to survive in any recognizable form. That these are very powerful men, who have so far escaped all accountability, is irrelevant to the basic reality of that fact.
We must also promise that our minds and our memories will not be taken from us. We will not be convinced that terrorists are heroes, that democracy is weak and outdated, that violence is justified, or that fiction is truth. If Republicans do seize power, they will surely rewrite the history books to make themselves look like heroes. They can — and will — rewrite their own history. But they cannot and will not rewrite our memories, our knowledge, our values, or our most sacred beliefs that truth, democracy, and civil non-violence must prevail. Not so long as we make the conscious effort to remember, and to reject the narratives of those who would drag this country into civil war and dictatorship.
To date, over 700 far-right insurgents have been arrested in connection with the insurrection of January 6th, 2021. Not a single one of those arrests has been for any of the high-profile individuals who organized the coup attempt itself. If left unpunished, it stands to reason that those same individuals will try to overrun our constitutional government yet again. After all, if they face no consequences for failure, why not try again?
To avoid this inevitable outcome, and the inevitable end of our constitutional republic, every leading figure behind this coup — including current members of Congress and former Presidents — must be arrested and criminally charged. Every one of them must receive punishing sentences to the maximum extent of the law. Those organizations which have continued to fund them, including major corporations, banks, and professional interest groups, must be blacklisted and boycotted by all of American civil society.
Few Americans have lived through an attempted authoritarian coup, and few understand what a “coup” even is. We must be patient with them. Many Americans are scared by words like “insurrection” or “terrorism”. They should know, however, that now is not the time to be scared. Now is the time to be brave, hopeful, bold and optimistic. Fear is the virtue of the fascist, who wins by scaring the people into submission. Hope is the virtue of democracy, which promises that although the arc of history is long and full of setbacks, it does indeed bend towards justice. Fascism cannot fully win wherever hope endures.
And there are good, evidence-backed reasons to be hopeful, despite all of the bad news we’ve seen in recent years. At this country’s darkest hour, everyday heroes crept out of the shadows to beat back this fascist movement and to defend the survival of our constitutional system. This list includes every category of actors from celebrated five-star generals, to mid-level city mayors, all the way down to brave local election volunteers who showed up — totally defenseless and without protection of any kind — even in the face of coordinated death threats. America’s light often flickers, but it always shines brightest in the night. The events of May 2020 to January 2021, the peak of the fascist coup period and some of the darkest months in American history, revealed all the darkness in our country. But those fragile months also revealed how many secret everyday heroes live among us at every level of society.
What climaxed on January 6th, 2021, was the result of a years-long elite-level coup attempt, with powerful fascist allies strategically placed across every division of government, and within senior military offices as well. And yet pro-democracy US actors and institutions still held firm. Even under siege, the US Congress continued to certify the results of the election, finishing between 3AM-4AM the next morning. They refused to leave, even under threat of death, until they had finished their job and secured the peaceful transition of power.
Historically speaking, this was one of the darkest days in American history. It was also one of the brightest days in the ageless, old-as-time battle between freedom and fascism. Seldom in world history has a free institutional government defended itself against a violent fascist threat without resorting to violence itself. What happened on January 6th, 2021, was both a tragedy and a miracle at the same time. When fascism attacked, freedom held firm — and only a handful of people died. No bombs went off. No States seceded. No war began. The dust was cleared, democracy triumphed, and America lived. So let us not only remember the darkness of this day. Let us also keep alive its hope and its light.
We have five lessons to take away from these reflections on the one-year anniversary of the US Capitol attack:
Be thankful: Never forget how close we came to the end of our republic and a second civil war. Give thanks to every single person who helped avoid those outcomes. Never forget how much we owe them.
Be humble: Never take democracy for granted.
Stay vigilant: Democracy is a very fragile thing, and it will break if we fail to defend it. Demand justice. Demand accountability. Where constitutional, elected government is itself at stake, cede no ground, surrender no goal, and compromise on nothing. Far-right extremism is still rising. Always stay vigilant.
Be hopeful: There are heroes all around us, some in places you may not expect. Perhaps you are even one of them. Know that you are never alone.
Never forget: Let no one steal from you the memory of your own eyes and ears. Fascists always erase and rewrite history. But they cannot erase and rewrite the contents of your heart and mind unless you choose to let them.
Never forget January 6th, 2021.