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The Prisoners of January 6th

Rick Wilson exposes the planning and responsibility behind the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, urging for accountability and consequences for those involved.
Published:January 11, 2024

By Rick Wilson

There have been two mass terror attacks planned against the United States Capitol in our lifetimes. The first failed; Osama Bin Laden’s plan to crash United Flight 93 into the seat of our government was foiled by the guts and determination of American heroes willing to charge the cockpit, knowing their lives would be forfeit.

The second attack on the U.S. Capitol came on January 6th, 2021, and was planned by an American President and his claque of enablers, cronies, thugs, and terrorists

Photo: Tyler Merbler

Unwilling to leave office despite his defeat, Trump’s doomed legal and political efforts to overturn the election reached a vital inflection point on January 6th, 2021. The Bannons, Stones, Joneses, Thomases, and others were clearly worried Mike Pence wouldn’t put Trump over America and, at some moment in the weeks before, planned the attack in its broadest strokes.

Given that a mob would be involved, they didn’t know every step that would transpire; they just knew that violence would shock the system and that their allies inside the Senate could seize a moment to delay the certification. They knew Trump would arouse them into the right state of outrage. And that the mob would do what mobs do: Attack. Violate. Raid. 

Fourteen Senators were ready to block certification, a quarter of the GOP caucus. Mike Lee, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz, Jim Lankford, Steve Daines, John Kennedy, Marsha Blackburn, Mike Braun, Bill Hagerty, Tommy Tuberville, and others weren’t scared of the attack; they were waiting to see how it turned out. 

Their shock troops in the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the 3%-ers staged weapons just outside DC and came to the “mostly peaceful” rally wearing their plate carriers and body armor. They coordinated among themselves and with Trump’s allies and staff. The Proud Boys were there to rev up the mob. The Oath Keepers were there to seize the certification documents, throwing the election into permanent doubt. 

Tabitha Morris and Mikayla Bianchin, two young Congressional staffers, foiled them when they hand-carried the Electoral College documents to safety as the scope of the attack became clear.

Trump’s terrorists breached the building at eight locations. They attacked the Capitol and DC Metro police. They entered the Capitol with the intent to stop the certification of the election. It wasn’t a tourist visit, it wasn’t a peaceful protest, and it wasn’t some desperate attempt to stop the Deep State from stealing the election from Trump. The sight of the violent Trumphadi mob beating attacking cops put the lie to their right’s “Back the Blue” rhetoric. 

The peaceful transfer of power was a hallmark of American political life. Around the world, America’s failure of stability and commitment to the law, the Constitution, and the democratic norms we champion was a humiliating coda to Trump’s reign. In Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran, the autocrats in charge nodded and smiled. 

It was America’s most shameful day in my lifetime, bar none.

Since that date, over 1,200 of the attackers have been arrested in connection with the attack. 710 have pleaded guilty. 210 felony convictions have been handed down. 450 have been incarcerated. 350 trials remain.

In its inimitable way, MAGA media complex and Trump activists have rebranded the criminals of January 6th as political prisoners, martyrs, and victims.

Because this country has convicted many of the small fry and shock troops and so few of the ringleaders, January 6th does have political prisoners, but they’re not the attackers from that grim day.

This nation, despite the very best efforts of the January 6th Commission and Special Counsel Jack Smith, has yet to reckon with that day truly. Too many elected Republicans, after a transitory, evanescent moment of righteous anger at Trump, fell instantly back into mute acceptance. Today, you will search long and hard for a Republican leader holding office at any level who will condemn even the most violent of the attackers.

After fighting Trump since 2015, I wanted more than anything to beat my sword into plowshares and leave Donald Trump and his fetid, febrile mob behind. We had two pro-democracy overseas projects (one of which, had we been successful, might have led to an Israel ready to deal with the Hamas attack instead of ignoring its approach, but that’s a longer story for another day), more books to write, and the anticipated joy of the impending marriages of my children ahead.

As I like to say, I wanted to watch my kids have their kids. I was exhausted after eight years of standing athwart the dark history of Trump’s corrosive and corrupt reign over our politics, our media, and our culture. I was there on Escalator Day and all the way through to Election Day 2020, knowing we had played our part in splitting the GOP vote to Joe Biden, just enough, and in just enough places.

Everyone in the Never Trump movement wanted it to be over.

Every single one of us.

We turned the crank on the air raid siren in October, asking Republicans if they’d support Trump in an illegal effort to overturn the election.
We beat the drum

On January 6th, we had the answer. It will never be over until, as a nation, we put the men and women who planned, directed, encouraged, enabled, and devised this dark plan in prison.

We will never reckon with that day until every candidate who supported Trump after the attack -- and every corporation who continued to fund the election denial caucus -- is politically punished. We will never reckon with that day until those who gave political succor to the man and movement that caused this attack are tried by a jury. We will never reckon with that day until the idea of trying to overturn an election through violence is utterly disqualifying. We will never reckon with that day. 

Until the Senators who were watching the state of play and preparing to make their move to delay the certification of the election are expelled and shamed, we will never reckon with that day. 

Stuart Rhodes, the Oath Keeper leader convinced of seditious conspiracy and now serving a lengthy prison sentence, told his followers in the runup to January 6th, "We are not getting through this without a civil war. Prepare your mind, body and spirit."

He may be right.

I wish I could tell you we are a strong enough nation where public will and robust legal, political, and media institutions demand and attain accountability for the crimes of January 6th. I wish I could tell you the way January 6th goes down in history depends on more than just your vote on one day this November.

But I cannot.

So when you hear Trump and his amen-chorus of Republicans calling their violent, vicious shock troops “political prisoners” or “martyrs” or “POWs”, remind yourself of a vital fact: they’re not the prisoners of January 6th.

We are.