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I continue to believe that there is no basis for assigning blame to President Trump for the reprehensible rioting at the Capitol last week. Last Friday, I thought that calls for impeachment were premature, irresponsible, and I went so far as to call them “deranged.” Nothing that I have seen or heard over the past week has changed my mind about this initial conclusion. Indeed, further information has strengthened my position. I do, however, remain willing to consider additional evidence.
I’m going to walk through some important issues, in summary fashion. I’d appreciate your feedback.
I. Propriety of Impeachment
I was surprised by the number of Right-leaning commentators who initially favored impeachment, and asserted that President Trump “incited” the rioting. The two that I respect most, who expressed this opinion, were Andy McCarthy and our own Jon Gabriel.
Here are a few contrary viewpoints that have come out over the past week:
1. Alan Dershowitz, no man of the Right, has a column strongly opposing impeachment (here), contending that the President did not incite violence and that the impeachment is an unconstitutional violation of the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Part of his argument is:
Whatever one may think of President Trump’s speech last Wednesday—I personally found it deeply upsetting—one thing is clear: It was fully protected by the First Amendment. Nothing the president said constituted unprotected “incitement,” as narrowly defined by the Supreme Court over nearly a century of decisions. His volatile words plainly fell on the side of political “advocacy,” which is protected speech.
2. Ben Stein’s column titled Goodbye, America is strongly critical of the charges against the President, calling them “The Biggest Lie of the Postwar Era.” Stein has such a way with words. He concludes:
As soon as Mr. Trump heard about the rioting at the Capitol, he urged his supporters to stop and go home.
Nevertheless, the news media and the leftists and the RINOs insisted that Mr. Trump had “incited” his followers to attack the Capitol. To punish him, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Amazon, and every other large internet platform took away Mr. Trump’s email and then shut down the platforms for Parler because it had contributors who had defended Mr. Trump and thus were party to his January 6 “incitement.”
There was no precedent for this shutdown of free speech. Nazis and Muslim terrorists still have use of the internet. Only the president who got more than 70 million votes is shut off.
What’s even worse is this: I have read every word of Mr. Trump’s January 6 speech to his supporters. There is not one single word of “incitement” to lawlessness. In fact, Mr. Trump, explicitly tells his fans to be “peaceful.”
And so, over a clear-cut lie, the powers in media and politics have ended free speech in America. And Joe Biden has not even been sworn in yet. These are terrifying times. Goodbye, America.
3. Victor Davis Hanson, who I’ve been following closely, finally has a column out that strongly opposes the impeachment (here). His prior commentary, at least that I’ve seen, was a bit
unambiguous, and he seemed to be reserving judgment. This article calls the impeachment a “farce” and “one of the greatest travesties of modern politics.” He concludes:
So what, then, was this latest impeachment gambit really about? Of course, it was a Parthian shot to discredit supporters of Trump—and perhaps stop Trump from running for president again.
But it was also aimed preemptively at opponents of what will soon be the most left-wing Congress in history—one that in days will try to change the very institutions of American government in ways never tried before.
I’m inclined to agree with these three gentlemen.
II. Further News Reports Regarding Timing and Pre-Planning
The specific details and timeline of the rioting on January 6 remain unclear to me. It does appear that the rioting at the Capitol started before President Trump even concluded his speech.
It is difficult to find reporting of this (I had to resort to DuckDuckGo). This article at the Conservative Review claims that the rioting began 20 minutes before the end of President Trump’s speech. As I understand it, the rally was a fair distance away from the Capitol, but I don’t know precisely how long it would have taken to walk the distance. I cannot vouch, in any way, for the Conservative Review, as I know nothing about this website.
This claim is consistent with a timeline published by USA Today, which reports (if you dig through it):
- The President started speaking at about 11:50 am.
- The President spoke for more than an hour.
- Rioters began grappling with police on the Capitol steps at 1:10 pm.
- Capitol police ordered the evacuation of nearby buildings (not the Capitol) at 1:26 pm.
- A Congresswoman tweeted that she was being evacuated after a pipe bomb report at 1:46 pm.
- Rioters breached the police lines on the west side of the Capitol at 2:11 pm.
- C-SPAN reported that rioters crossed Statuary Hall at 2:33 pm.
- At 2:38 pm, the President tweeted: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
- At 2:44 pm, “[s]hots are reported fired in the House chamber.” I have heard nothing more about shots inside the chamber. This may be the shooting of rioter Ashli Babbitt, which occurred just outside the House chamber.
- At 3:13 pm, the President sent a second tweet: “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you.”
- The DC National Guard was mobilized at 3:51 pm.
- At 4:17 pm, the President tweeted a video which, among other things, told people to “go home now” and that “[w]e have to have peace.”
It’s hard to figure out precisely what happened. That’s a very tight timeline.
There are reports (for example, USA Today here), that the FBI issued a “dire warning” on the day before the riot about “violent extremists” planning an “armed uprising in Washington” that was “described as a ‘war’ to coincide with Congress’ certification” of the electoral vote. If true, such pre-planning would further undermine any claim that the President incited the rioting.
III. False-Flag and Antifa
There was a fair amount of speculation that the rioting was instigated, or even entirely conducted, by Antifa or other Leftist agitators. I have seen little evidence of this, though it remains plausible that some such “false-flag” operations occurred.
It is very difficult to reach a conclusion on this issue. Most of the rioters, in the videos that I have seen, looked and sounded like Trump supporters. This appears to be true of poor Ashli Babbitt, the rioting Air Force vet who was shot and killed.
I don’t think that the “false-flag” claims are entirely unsupported. Here is a Fox article about a left-wing activist who has reportedly been charged in federal court, after allegedly having participated in the rioting and made various statements urging others to participate.
IV. Poor Ashli Babbitt
I don’t want to litigate this issue in detail. The death of Ms. Babbitt is a tragedy, but I do not think that it was a crime. It looks like justifiable homicide, to me. This is a preliminary conclusion, as additional details may emerge.
The videos that I’ve seen show a very violent confrontation at the doors of the Speaker’s Lobby, which I understand to be the final doorway that could be defended before the very entry to the House Chamber itself. Ms. Babbitt was reportedly unarmed, but it also plainly wearing a large backpack. The scene was pandemonium, with rioters hammering on and breaking the glass doors and the flanking windows. Ms. Babbitt pushed to the front of the crowd, and tried to climb up through the broken sidelight window on the right. She was shot, reportedly by a Capitol policeman.
I disagree strongly with those who have called this a “murder.” It remains early, and I expect that an investigation is underway. I do think that such lack of support for the police, in difficult circumstances, is a major cause for both the Capitol rioting and the widespread rioting that we saw last year.
V. Republican and Conservative Support for Impeachment
This is difficult to gauge. My impression is that the overwhelming majority of Republicans and Conservatives find no basis for impeachment and no cause for allegations of incitement against President Trump, and find this to be another misleading Leftist narrative being pushed for cynical political purposes. Here are my data points.
First, the vote in the House on impeachment. The Republican vote was 197 nays, 10 ayes. Four were absent, of whom three (at least) have publicly stated their opposition.
Second, the Ricochet “poll” that I posted yesterday (here). Through the first 112 votes, 86% oppose and 12% support.
Third, the public opinion polling on Trump’s job approval. I am even more skeptical of polling than before, and the RCP average of polls shows a precipitous drop, from 44.2% approval on January 5, to 39.7% today. But there are a small number of polls, and I worry about “push polling.”
I generally find Rasmussen to be the best poll. I think that it’s a robocall poll, which perhaps makes it less likely to engage in “push-polling,” and I think that it reports a 3-day moving average. Per Rasmussen (here), there’s been essentially no change in Trump’s job approval. It was 47% on January 5, and is 48% today (January 15), ranging from a low of 46% to a high of 49% in the interim.
This has been a very troubling nine days for me. Thanks for providing a forum for me to share my thoughts. I look forward to your comment.
Wokeistan delenda est.Published in