This is a two-part blog post. This week, I’ll lay out the facts in the latest indictment where we have, for the first time, a charge of seditious conspiracy. Then I’ll answer the question: Did the attempted coup “almost” succeed?
Next, I’ll talk a bit about the state of the Republican Party.
I: Seditious Conspiracy
The big news this week was that Elmer Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers (and holder of a Yale law degree!) and 10 other defendants were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the January 6 insurrection.
The elements of seditious conspiracy are given here. They are:
- Two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,
- Conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States
- or to levy war against them,
- or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States,
- or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.
The key to this crime is the use of force.
Treason is almost impossible to charge. It’s defined in the Constitution as:
The Supreme Court has said that the “enemy” must be a country in which we are at open war — meaning a war declared by Congress. This means that seditious conspiracy is the closest we have to a charge of treason.
So what’s going on here? How is it that NOW we get to seditious conspiracy and move up to the level of planners?
Attorney General Merrick Garland explained in his speech how complex investigations work:
The indictment tells a harrowing story of what is basically a military operation with lots of defendants and lots of charges:
Two days after the election, they planned for “civil war” and modeled their operation on the overthrow of Milošević.
Rhodes published his under the headline “WHAT THE PEOPLE MUST DO”
In a group chat he said: “It will be a bloody and desperate fight.”
What did the president know and when did he know it? That was a digression and not in the indictment but inspired by this:
The indictment outlines the detailed planning through December. Here we see traces of the Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida, organized by Roger Stone (this riot intimidated the vote counters and stopped the counting of votes in Florida in 2000):
But Rhodes doesn’t think the senators will listen.
They were literally planning a military operation, including a “base of operations” (the Comfort Inn in Arlington) where they stored firearms:
Rhodes went on a shopping spree for the occasion:
(Premeditated crimes are always more serious.) Now we have a “Potomac crossing.” (I guess Rhodes imagines himself a modern-day George Washington?)
And then another shopping spree:
On Jan. 6, the conspirators “communicated and prepared to head to the Capitol.” They approached the Capitol in stack formation wearing tactical gear:
They’re coordinating through chat messages, which I think means the FBI got their phones. Next they communicate that Pence “betrayed” them, but they’re sticking to the plan:
At 2:00 they are almost to the Capitol. “I’m gonna be a little busy,” Watkins warns via chat.
Rhodes entered the restricted Capitol grounds at 2:12. They stay in stack formation in the Rotunda, and they’re “rocking it.”
While they’re pushing back the police line, they’re chatting about what they’re doing. Really dumb. It’s like keeping a journal of all your crimes. If you read good crime fiction, you may have the idea criminals are smart masterminds. Generally, no.
On the evening of Jan. 6, they met in their hotel room to celebrate and plan their next steps:
They planned to return in the morning. “We aren’t quitting! We are reloading!”
Then they did more shopping for firearms and ammo:
II. Did this Attempted Coup Almost Succeed?
Remember that this was done in coordination with the Eastman memo. John Eastman, a former law professor and Trump circle insider, outlined a six-step scheme to overturn the election. Under this scheme, on Jan. 6 when Mike Pence, as vice president, was to count the electors, he was to begin counting electors from the states alphabetically “without conceding” that he was following the procedure outlined in the Electoral Count Act. When reaching Arizona, Pence would announce that “he has multiple slates of electors and so is going to defer a decision on that until finishing the other states.” Pence would then simply set aside the electors from states with what he called “ongoing disputes” and then at the end of the counting, he would declare Trump the winner.
Right here, the plan would go off the rails. Imagine the members of Congress sitting idly by while Pence stated the lie. There were not multiple slates of electors. The “alternate” electors were forgeries. They were not sent by state governors or legislators. They were self-proclaimed electors without any actual authority.
Had Pence made such an announcement, there would have been chaos.
Recall, also, that there were forged electoral certificates filed with the National Archives, which nobody could possibly have believed would fool anyone at the National Archives.
Even if Pence had gone along and declared Trump the winner, the only way for this to work would be if there was a massive forehead slap across the nation and in Congress with people saying, “All those fraud lawsuits were tossed out of court, but look! Alternate electors! I guess the election is in dispute after all.” Nancy Pelosi would have had to say, “Well, I didn’t realize that the election is actually in dispute, so we should definitely vote on who is the next president.”
In other words, the idea that the members of Congress would go off and meekly vote as if there were actually competing electors is absurd. There would have been mass chaos but no voting.
It would not have happened, but just for the sake of argument, let’s just suppose it had.
What would have been next? A few hundred million Americans who knew that Biden was elected president just saying, “Well, okay. Pence said that the election was in dispute and there were enough votes in Congress for Trump to win, so let’s all get ready for the inauguration.” I’m just not seeing that happening.
But how would that work? Who would make up the two armies? One side would be the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and other white power militia groups. They couldn’t win unless the US military joined them, so really, it would be a military coup.
But under the Insurrection Act, the military would still have to be willing to keep Trump in power beyond Jan. 20, the date, under the Constitution, his presidency ends . . . which would make it a military coup.
Right, but think about how big this country is and how many people would be in the streets if the military kept Trump in power after Jan. 21. Think how many military officers would have to be willing to shoot American civilians.
This was a complex, far-reaching conspiracy to overturn the US government instigated by the highest levels in the White House and joined by members of Congress. It was dangerous and unhinged. It could have created major chaos and turmoil and bloodshed.
Trump was trying anything and everything to stay in power: Spreading lies, challenging results, trying to intimidate Congress through force. It’s staggering that an American president actually attempted it and managed to incite an actual attack on Congress. Given the amount of ammunition these guys had, there could have been much more bloodshed, but unless they also killed Biden and Harris, Biden would become president on Jan. 20 when Trump’s term ended (a date given in the Constitution).
The idea that the Supreme Court would have kept Trump in power after Jan. 20 was similarly delusional. If the outcome of the election was uncertain, the interim president would be Nancy Pelosi. If the Courts wanted to hand Trump the election, they had their chance with the “fraud” lawsuits, which they rejected.
They just weren’t going to do it. Imagine the courts rejecting the election fraud lawsuits but then accepting fraudulent and fake electors and declaring Trump the winner. Not possible. To think that the Supreme Court would have kept Trump in power a second term when everyone knew he lost the election is preposterous. They’d be literally creating a dictator because . . . if Trump remained in power, what would have stopped him from anything he wanted to do? The Supreme Court has a lot of power now. Even a cynic could see that they wouldn’t give up their power by making Trump a dictator.
People say we came “close” to the Trump coup succeeding.” I guess that depends on how you define “succeed.” If “succeed” means “stay in power after Jan. 20,” I disagree. If “succeed” means creating maximum carnage and chaos, there certainly could have been more.
I think Trump is deluded enough so that his actual goal was to remain in power, and deluded enough to think that enough people, including the Supreme Court or military generals, would have gone along with his charade, but I maintain that he wouldn’t have remained in power after Jan. 20. Perhaps this might work in the future if we have six Clarence Thomases on the court or radicalized military generals, but not this time.
The question really is, how much chaos and bloodshed would have been generated before Trump was removed from the White House? What makes Trump dangerous is precisely the fact that he doesn’t care how many people die horrible deaths or what damage he inflicts. The kind of chaos that might have erupted could have tanked the economy. Recall, we’re in a pandemic. So yes, there could have been a lot more pain and chaos.
But Trump would not have been president after Jan. 20. If he refused to leave the White House, Biden would still be president.
There were a lot of moving parts, but each part was delusional. It was equally delusional that Rhodes and the others indicted for seditious conspiracy would have been able to overthrow the US government with the guns and ammo they purchased. Eastman was delusional if he thought Pence could announce Trump the winner and Congress would go along.
One reason Trump may have thought his plans would work is because he is accustomed to forcing people around him to go along with his lies, which brings me to the third topic I planned for today:
So what the heck is going on with the Republican Party?
This is getting a bit long, don’t you think? Perhaps I should continue next week.
Originally published in Teri Kanefield’s Blog here.
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