“Unprecedented Moment”: Far-Right Forces Swarm D.C. to Back Overturning Election, Egged On by Trump

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Thousands who refuse to accept President Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden are protesting in Washington, D.C., as Congress meets to count the Electoral College votes and certify the results. Mayor Muriel Bowser has called in the National Guard ahead of the protests, after anti-democracy protesters clashed with police near Black Lives Matter Plaza. Police arrested six people on charges that include bringing illegal guns to the city. National security reporter William Arkin says it is “an unprecedented moment,” with the sitting president actively encouraging the unrest. We also speak with Jason Wilson, an investigative journalist who tracks the political right and extremist movements, who says the Trump presidency has seen a startling merger of the GOP with the far right. “There’s not really a sharp dividing line between violent, far-right street activists and the supporters of the president in Congress,” says Wilson.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Thousands who refuse to accept President Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden are protesting in Washington, D.C., today as Congress meets to certify the results and make it official. Pro-Trump protesters clashed with police Tuesday night near Black Lives Matter Plaza. Mayor Muriel Bowser has called in the National Guard ahead of today’s protest. Police arrested six people on charges that include bringing illegal guns to the city.

This comes as the leader of the Proud Boys hate group, Enrique Tarrio, was released without bail Tuesday, after D.C. police arrested him Monday for allegedly burning a Black Lives Matter banner at a historically Black church during protests in the city last month and possession of high-capacity firearm magazines. Tarrio was ordered to stay out of D.C. He’s posted on social media that Proud Boys members would be incognito for this week’s protest.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who Trump pardoned last month, spoke at last night’s rally and thanked the “digital soldiers” — a reference to the conspiracy theory QAnon. This is podcast host Clay Clark addressing Tuesday’s “Stop the Steal” protest.

CLAY CLARK: Last night, about 150 of us went into Whole Foods, and we dressed up like people that aren’t idiots hiding from a virus that’s not deadly: We did not wear a mask! Who here is up to the task of not wearing a mask? I ask you again: Who here is up to the task of not wearing a mask? Jesus is king, and it’s time to let freedom ring! … Turn to the person next to you and give them a hug, someone you don’t know. Go hug somebody. Go ahead and spread it out, mass spreader. It’s a mass spreader event! It’s a mass spreader event!

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump tweeted he’ll be speaking at today’s so-called Save America rally near the White House and has promoted the event for weeks.

Meanwhile, Trump signed an executive order Tuesday night that asks Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to, quote, “assess actions of Antifa activists,” stop its members from entering the United States, and see whether it can be classified as a terrorist organization.

All this comes as all 10 living former U.S. defense secretaries signed a Washington Post op-ed Sunday declaring the time for questioning the results of the election has passed. They also said the U.S. military should not intervene in the presidential election. They wrote, quote, “Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory.”

For more, we’re joined by William Arkin, national security reporter for Newsweek, whose recent piece is headlined “Threat of Pro-Trump Violence in Washington Overshadows Inauguration Security [Plans].”

Can you start, Bill Arkin, by talking about what the police and the authorities are most concerned about today in the streets of Washington, D.C.?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, they’re most concerned about Donald Trump, whether he is going to instigate the thousands of people who have flooded into the district to take up violence, either to march on the Capitol or even try to enter the Capitol during the elector count.

The people I’ve talked to — and it’s been a broad range of National Guard, law enforcement and military officials — all say to me that this is an unprecedented moment, unprecedented because you have a president who is not only instigating protest and violence against this constitutional process, but also because there are other conditions which have been introduced: first, talk of martial law; second, talk of an implementation of the Insurrection Act, which would allow the military and the National Guard to engage in law enforcement; third, a kind of break between the District of Columbia and the federal government, as was exemplified by a letter sent yesterday by the mayor of the district to the acting attorney general, to the acting secretary of defense, asking them not to put any nonuniformed people onto the streets of D.C.; and then, finally, the question of who is actually in charge of the U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Park Police, the uniformed branch of the Secret Service today and in the coming week, because there’s really no one in charge. In fact, the secretary of homeland security is in the Middle East right now.

So we have this very strange mixture of people who are both on high alert, but also the wildcard, in Donald Trump, as to what he will both do at his speech today at the Ellipse in front of the White House and then, secondly, what he could do in the coming days ahead in terms of issuing an order to the national security establishment, to the military, that the military would, I think, have to say that they could not follow because it was an unlawful order.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, William Arkin, I wanted to ask you — this issue of the joint statement by all the living former defense secretaries, which, according to some reports, was a letter or statement organized by former Vice President Dick Cheney, that would seem to indicate to me that these people, because they obviously are all connected to the current military establishment, that there are some — it’s not just rumors, but it’s actual — they’ve been getting some sense that the White House and President Trump might actually be thinking of attempting to, as you say, invoke the Insurrection Act or, in some way or other, bring the military in. Is it your sense that there’s actually been these kinds of discussions among top brass of the existing military?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, Juan, I’ve been covering the military for over 30 years. I remember when Dick Cheney was the secretary of defense, before he was vice president, in the first Bush administration. It is true that he was one of the organizers of this letter. And it really is an unprecedented statement, a bipartisan statement, that says that the military has no role. But I think it’s more of a message to the military itself, a reminder, if you will, that they need to go back to the Constitution and go back to their oath to the Constitution, to recognize that they are not just merely toys of the commander-in-chief. They’re not merely saluting soldiers without a brain. They have to also understand the difference between a lawful and an unlawful order.

And part of the problem that we’re facing right now is that there’s an acting secretary of defense, a person who was installed by Donald Trump after the election, a wildcard himself, that we don’t really know where he stands because he hasn’t said anything. And so, though, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who got a lot of criticism in June when he accompanied the president into Lafayette Park in uniform, and thereby sort of implicitly gave the military’s imprimatur and support for what the president was doing — he has put out a statement saying that the military has no role in the election.

The reality is that there are an awful lot of active-duty military engaged in Washington, D.C., in inaugural security, in the air defense of D.C., in reconnaissance operations and in emergency response, in support of everything from weapons of mass destruction events to continuity of government, thousands of active-duty military who are on alert and who could be called out and who would be called out if in fact the local authorities were overwhelmed. And so you have, on the one hand, a kind of a secret operation going on in the background that is the standard for inaugural security and the transition from one presidency to another, and then, on the other hand, you have this highly charged political reality that the incoming White House is not speaking to the outcoming White House, and the president of the United States is off in his own fantasyland.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Jason Wilson into this conversation, investigative journalist who tracks the political right and extremist movements for The Guardian, the Southern Poverty Law Center and elsewhere. Talk about who’s out there today, expected to be out there. You’ve got QAnon supporters, Proud Boy members, Republican leaders. Trump is apparently going to address them. Can you talk about the confluence of these groups and where guns fit into it? You even have the new congressmember, Boebert, from Colorado, who says she’s bringing her Glock into Congress, which Nancy Pelosi and others are trying to stop.

JASON WILSON: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head, actually, Amy. I mean, you know, it’s just another demonstration of the fact that during the life of this presidency, there’s been a kind of merger between far-right activist groups and the Trump version of the GOP. There’s not really a sharp dividing line between violent, far-right street activists and the supporters of the president in Congress. You know, yeah, you’ve got at least three congresspersons, from my count, who are talking about participating in this rally. You’ve got all of these Trump-world figures, like Roger Stone, Jack Posobiec, Sebastian Gorka, who are all talking about being a part of this.

And yeah, I mean, the guns are not only a sort of indication of the militancy and radicalism of the GOP in 2021, but they’re bound up with the version of freedom that we’ve seen articulated by far-right street activists throughout the life of the presidency, as well. So, you know, the guns are integral, really, to the political ideology and the political project of this movement. And again, they’re an indication of militancy, as well.

And I’m pretty concerned that we’re going to see some violence today. And don’t forget, I mean, everyone is rightly focused on the rally in D.C., but there are parallel rallies happening all over the country at state capitols. So there are a lot of moving parts today. There’s a lot happening all around the country. And I’m concerned that the conditions are kind of ripe for some sort of violence, maybe in more than one of those places.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jason Wilson, we only have about a minute or so left, but I’m wondering if you could comment on this whole issue that some of the Trump supporters are reportedly going to be coming dressed in black, which would make them indistinguishable perhaps from antifa folks, if some antifa folks show up, to counterprotest. Are you concerned about the possibility of agents provocateurs actually instigating violence as a means to give Trump an excuse for more drastic actions?

JASON WILSON: Yeah, I would — I mean, again, over the life of the Trump presidency, these groups have evolved in their tactics. And provocation has always been a quiver in their bow, not only provoking counterprotesters, but provocation of police or setting up the conditions where police respond with force to protests. So, yeah, I mean, disguising themselves as anti-fascists, they’ve done this before. And the fact that they’re talking about it now doesn’t surprise me at all. And, you know, as I said, they’re looking to trigger some kind of violence in the streets, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. We’ll, of course, cover this closely today inside and outside Congress. We want to thank Jason Wilson, investigative journalist who tracks the political right, and William Arkin, national security reporter for Newsweek.

In 30 seconds, we’ll be back getting response to the Wisconsin judge ruling that the white police officer who shot Jacob Blake point blank in the back seven times will not be charged. Stay with us.

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