The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack is holding televised hearings since last Thursday over the attempted insurrection at the US Capitol on that date in 2021, an assault mounted by supporters of 45th president Donald Trump determined to prevent the Senate from certifying the previous November’s presidential election result and officially confirming Democrat Joe Biden as the winner.
The panel, chaired by Democratic congressman Bennie Thompson, has already interviewed over 1,000 witnesses behind closed doors, including integral members of Mr Trump’s inner circle, about precisely what happened on that dark day, a date to live in infamy on which five people were killed as a violent mob, motivated by their candidate’s false election fraud narrative, smashed through security barriers and stormed the legislative complex.
Mr Biden, a longtime member of the US Senate and Barack Obama’s vice president between 2009 and 2017, won the Electoral College vote by 306 to 232 and the popular vote by more than 81.2m ballots to 74.2m, he and Mr Trump securing more support than any other candidates in American political history, such was the importance placed on the contest after four years of the latter’s chaotic, crass and divisive reign.
There was no reason to doubt the outcome but Mr Trump raged at his defeat, refusing to concede and immediately launching into spurious claims that he was the victim of organised voter fraud, apparently an elaborate nationwide conspiracy orchestrated by the Democrats to tamper with voting machines and “lose” ballots with an X marked next to the Republican former reality TV star’s name in large quantities.
Rather than graciously concede, Mr Trump kept up his bogus position throughout November and December, insisting the election had been “stolen” from him, despite no evidence having been found to prove his howls of “mass voter fraud” and with over 60 court cases thrown out, his attorney Rudy Giuliani an increasingly ridiculous and discredited figure thanks to his garden centre press conferences and running black hair dye.
The new year had begun with Mr Trump once more finding himself mired in scandal, again regarding his conduct on an official phone call.
As had been the case with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 – the subject of his first impeachment – the president was recorded pressuring Georgia’s Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensperger into doing him a favour, this time asking the official to help him “find” the 11,760 votes he needed to overturn the crucial southern swing state’s election result after it had unexpectedly turned blue for Mr Biden.
The Washington Post got hold of the tape of the hour-long exchange and duly published it, prompting legendary journalist Carl Bernstein to call the incriminating audio “worse than Watergate”.
The following Tuesday, the same state held two Senate runoff elections that saw Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff beat Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, flipping the upper chamber of Congress to give their party the majority in the process and smoothing President-elect Biden’s legislative path considerably.
But the jubilation over that outcome – which gave the Peach State its first black and first Jewish senators in a major milestone for civil rights in America – would quickly be lost in the shocking events of Wednesday 6 January 2021.
A joint session of Congress had been scheduled to allow the legislature to formally recognise November’s election results state by state, the procedure usually a formality presided over by the vice president – this time, Mr Trump’s deputy Mike Pence would be overseeing proceedings – but which granted lawmakers an opportunity to raise any objections they might have to the count.
Grandstanding Republican senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz – two plausible 2024 presidential hopefuls – were among those loudly declaring their intention to protest the certification in advance, pushing the Trumpian “Big Lie” to the bitter end.
Mr Trump himself had meanwhile been using his Twitter account, arguably his most significant weapon during his tenure in the Oval Office, to heap pressure on Mr Pence by asking him to overturn the result, subverting his customarily ceremonial role.
“I hope Mike Pence comes through for us,” he had said while stumping for Perdue and Loeffler in Georgia. “I hope our great vice president comes through for us. He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him very much.”
But the vice president refused to oblige, writing a letter to Congress in which he explained: “I do not believe that the founders of our country intended to invest the vice president with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the joint session of Congress, and no vice president in American history has ever asserted such authority.”
With Mr Pence refusing to have any part in the plot to pervert the course of democracy, the president and his MAGA allies spoke at a “Save America Rally” on the Ellipse in Washington, DC, an event planned and organised for months in advance on social media by the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement, with Mr Trump promising supporters the gathering would be “wild” in a pre-Christmas tweet.
An angry crowd of loyalists – Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnon believers, neo-Nazis, local government Republicans and ordinary working folk led on by the president’s repeated but disingenuous cries of foul play – had crossed the country to be in attendance.
When President Trump himself took to the lectern that afternoon, behind bullet-proof glass and shamelessly using the White House as his backdrop, he declared: “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing and stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
The outgoing president concluded his remarks by saying: “So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
While Mr Trump failed to join his supporters in their misguided march on the US Capitol Building, despite promising he would, the mob duly descended, many of its constituents decked out in ominous homemade combat gear in addition to the red Trump-branded caps and Stars-and-Stripes flags.
DC and Capitol Hill police, apparently hopelessly understaffed and reluctant to present a show of force similar to that deployed against Black Lives Matter activists the previous summer in the wake of the outrage over George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, looked on helplessly as the crowd shoved back metal barricades, scaled scaffolding towers and smashed cameras belonging to assembled members of the media as they chanted half-understood revolutionary slogans and calls to arms.
Flash-bang grenades rained down as a deterrent but what followed was nothing less than the first attack on the cradle of American democracy since British soldiers set it alight in 1814.
The protesters eventually wore down the official resistance by sheer weight of numbers and stormed their way inside, breaking windows, looting offices and stealing souvenirs.
Someone scratched “Murder the Media” into a door while others took selfies or live-streamed their antics on pay-per-view apps as they roamed the corridors of power, many in disbelief at their own success and the magnitude of what they had undertaken.
Inside, word of the violent attempted insurrection had reached the chamber, causing the terrified representatives to be evacuated and staffers to cower under desks in locked rooms, the certification process temporarily brought to a halt as the rioters had intended.
Shocking images of participants like Jake Angeli, known as the the QAnon Shaman, Eric Munchel, dressed like a special forces commando with a fistful of zipties to use as handcuffs, and Richard Barnett, who sat back with his boots on House speaker’s Nancy Pelosi’s desk, raced across social media as world history unfolded in real-time.
All would eventually be arrested, along with Confederate-flag bearer Kevin Seefried and fascist Robert Keith Packer, pictured wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” hoodie, among many others, but not before five people had been killed – QAnon believer Ashli Babbit and police officer Brian Sicknick among them.
Heroes would emerge in the aftermath, not least police officer Eugene Goodman, who single-handedly stopped the mob bearing down on a hallway that would have led them straight to the congressmen and women and senators they planned to kidnap or execute by misdirecting them elsewhere.
Ultimately, it all could have been far worse, especially given that pipe bombs had been planted at both Democratic and Republican headquarters, police officers were brutally attacked with fire extinguishers and flag poles (without a hint of self-awareness from the “patriot” perpetrators) and cries of “Hang Mike Pence!” had rung out in appalling, nightmarish scenes that rightly attracted the condemnation of world leaders across the globe.
And where was President Trump while all of the horror he had sanctioned played out in his name?
Watching it all unfold on TV in the West Wing, reportedly pleased with the spectacle but disappointed the mob looked “low class” and ignoring appeals from the likes of Kellyanne Conway, Lindsey Graham, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and his media allies at Fox News to call off the dogs.
When he finally did release a video condemning the violence, he told the rioters to go home but added: “You’re very special, I love you.”
Compare that to Mr Pence’s indignant denunication: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people’s house. And as we reconvene in this chamber the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy.”
In the aftermath of the storming of the Capitol, the president was banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat, entered a state of estrangement with his loyal deputy and was swiftly impeached by the House of Representatives for an unprecedented second time, the article accusing him of “incitement to insurrection”.
In voting in favour of that article, Speaker Pelosi said Mr Trump represented “a clear and present danger” so long as he remained in office and accused him of trying to “repeal reality” in challenging the election result.
Never admitting that he was at fault – and largely silenced without his Twitter megaphone – the ex-luxury property mogul slunk out of view for his final days in office, ducking Mr Biden’s inauguration to hole up at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home, where he has remained ever since, only occasionally emerging from the company of the sycophantic courtiers who reside there to fan the flames of public interest surrounding his possible second tilt at the presidency in 2024.
Many of his supporters, meanwhile, felt duped by the anti-climax of 6 January, expressing their anger on right-wing forums about “the final betrayal” Mr Trump had carried out by distancing himself from them in a second statement in which he accused the insurrectionists of having “defiled the seat of American democracy”.
No one could have felt more cheated than the would-be revolutionary who attended the “Save America Rally” at the Ellipse that day brandishing a flag bearing the motto, “We stand up now or we stand for nothing”, only to find that “nothing” was precisely what he had stood for.
Thursday’s first televised hearing takes place at 8pm primetime, will be broadcast by CNN and MSNBC (but not Fox News) and covered extensively online by The Independent.
Further sessions follow on 3, 15, 16, 21 and 23 June but the House select committee has yet to lay out a full schedule or say precisely who most of its witnesses will be.
Two men central to the discussion will of course be Mr Trump and Mr Pence, although neither is expected to appear or offer their own version of events.
The panel is ultimately expected to produce a report by September outlining its conclusions and, although it does not itself have the power to bring charges, it could make recommendations to the US Justice Department, a development that, theoretically at least, could lead to Mr Trump or his allies facing a criminal charge.