There's One Thing Missing from the Washington Post's Massive January 6 Report

·5-min read
Photo credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT - Getty Images
Photo credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT - Getty Images

Tous les ‘Toobz were abuzz this weekend over the massive Washington Post investigation into the January 6 insurrection. It is indeed a vast and impressive performance by the newspaper. It pretty much closes down dozens of alibis and soft explanations. No, this wasn’t a spontaneous event. Yes, it was carefully orchestrated by people close to the former president*. The only question is how close it all comes to El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago his own self, but the Post’s work leaves him only two possible options: either he was criminally negligent during the insurrection, or he was simply, you know, criminal. FBI Director Christopher Wray doesn’t come out of this smelling like a rose, either. The Bureau either missed, or failed to take seriously, a great number of flags that were spelling out, in semaphore, “DANGER IS COMING SOON” prior to the events of January 6.

Of course, the Post left no doubt where the breadcrumbs ultimately lead.

[Trump was] the driving force at every turn as he orchestrated what would become an attempted political coup in the months leading up to Jan. 6, calling his supporters to Washington, encouraging the mob to march on the Capitol and freezing in place key federal agencies whose job it was to investigate and stop threats to national security.

There also are dozens of delectable little side-tidbits. For example, John Eastman, the administration* lawyer whose boat presently is taking on water by the gallon, comes out blaming the bunkered-down Mike Pence for inciting the mob that came to the Capitol to hang him. Or there’s a terrified Senator Lindsey Graham, demanding that the Capitol Police re-stage the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin on the Capitol steps. (As we have seen, the senator has made peace with at least some of the rioters’ demands.) The series is too extensive and detailed to be adequately summarized here. Suffice it to say that any explanation downplaying the danger posed by the participants is inadequate. These were serious people with serious intent.

One of the most striking flares came when a tipster called the FBI on the afternoon of Dec. 20: Trump supporters were discussing online how to sneak guns into Washington to ‘overrun’ police and arrest members of Congress in January, according to internal bureau documents obtained by The Post. The tipster offered specifics: Those planning violence believed they had ‘orders from the President,’ used code words such as ‘pickaxe’ to describe guns and posted the times and locations of four spots around the country for caravans to meet the day before the joint session. On one site, a poster specifically mentioned Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) as a target.

And the report is also solid in demonstrating that, in many ways, the coup is not yet over.

Election officials in at least 17 states have collectively received hundreds of threats to their personal safety or their lives since Jan. 6, with a concentration in the six states where Trump has focused his attacks on the election results.

All that being said, there seems to be something missing in the extraordinary reportage that went into the report. Ultimately, the entire report is about institutional failure and institutional vandalism and institutional piracy. It reads like a search for institutional solutions. (“Don’t elect bunco autocrats” leaps immediately to mind.) That is all well and good. There certainly are improvements that can be made at, say, the FBI. But there is more to be discussed and digested, on the fly, because the coup is ongoing.

Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI - Getty Images
Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI - Getty Images

The report reeks of bureaucratic failure inspired by what appears to be a refusal of law-enforcement agencies to believe that large gatherings of largely Caucasian males are capable of mass violence. The rioting occurred not only because law-enforcement agencies failed to communicate between each other, but also because those same agencies lacked the imagination to conceive that the rioting even was possible. And that element of the story was available to the authors, as press critic Dan Froomkin demonstrates by pointing us to a February report from ProPublica, in which Capitol Police officers opened up to the ProPublica reporters about their impression of events which were then still quite fresh.

Shot:

The interviews also revealed officers’ concerns about disparities in the way the force prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations versus the pro-Trump protests on Jan. 6. Officers said the Capitol Police force usually plans intensively for protests, even if they are deemed unlikely to grow violent. Officers said they spent weeks working 12- or 16-hour days, poised to fight off a riot, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police — even though intelligence suggested there was not much danger from protesters. “We had intel that nothing was going to happen — literally nothing,” said one former official with direct knowledge of planning for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “The response was, ‘We don’t trust the intel.’”

Chaser:

By contrast, for much of the force, Jan. 6 began like any other day.“We normally have pretty good information regarding where these people are and how far they are from the Capitol,” said Keith McFaden, a former Capitol Police officer and union leader who retired from the force following the riot. “We heard nothing that day.”

Maybe the conventions of journalism are inadequate to the crisis at hand, which is a crisis that so many people at elite media institutions seem unwilling to confront. I’d like not to believe that. Too many people are doing too much good work in the craft for me to devalue it like that. Because of that work, the evidence of the crisis is all around us, and the evidence is in every political news story in one way or the other if you’re willing to look upon it. It is a huge deadweight threatening to sink the republic, and that’s not about who got what email. It’s about whether we believe in that republic anymore or not.

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