A Comprehensive Analysis of Trump's January 6 "Incitement to Insurrection" Speech: Part I

This breakdown of one of the most dangerous presidential addresses in American history confirms the need for a Senate conviction and rigorous criminal investigation.

{Note: Part II of this analysis of Donald Trump’s January 6 Ellipse speech can be found here. Part III of this three-part series can be found here. To read Part III, subscribe to Proof at the link below for just $5/month—the lowest monthly subscription rate permitted by Substack.}

Part I

Media has yet to do a deep dive on precisely what Trump said in his January 6 speech in Washington, D.C.—a speech now called an “incitement to insurrection,” and the basis for Trump becoming the first president in American history to be impeached twice—so I’ve written this article to both unpack the speech and reveal its criminal components.

Many don’t realize that while the Roger Stone-developed tagline for Trump’s January rally was “Stop the Steal,” when Trump spoke at the Ellipse on January 6 he was flanked by banners reading, SAVE AMERICA MARCH—or, if you like, and as many rally-goers would have read it, “Save America! March!” The logistics for the event were handled by a company, Event Strategies, at which Stone associate and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort works. The lectern from which Trump spoke said SAVE AMERICA in giant letters, a fact worth noting given that “Save America” is also the name of the PAC Trump has used since the election to scam angry voters out of more than $300 million for a so-called “election defense” effort.

In other words, while we now know—as I’ve discussed in other newsletters before this one, as well as on Twitter—that several dark-money pro-Trump PACs were involved in funding Trump’s January 6 rally, and that marketing and recruiting assistance was provided to Trump pre-event by the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA, it’s fundamentally the case that Team Trump wanted the “Save America March” to be most closely associated with the Trump campaign’s ongoing efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Moreover, the repeated use of the Roger Stone-coined and Ali Alexander-advanced tagline “Stop the Steal” ensured that Trumpists at the Ellipse on January 6 would have understood their role to be tripartite: (1) save America, by (2) marching on the Capitol, and (3) “stopping” the “steal” of Trump’s election “win” then ongoing there—an event understood by the rest of America to be the routine, wholly constitutional certification of Joe Biden’s landslide election win by a joint session of Congress.

What we do not yet know is whether the use of the “Save America” phrasing at Trump’s January 6 rally means that some portion of the event was actually funded by Trump’s Save America PAC, which his campaign has relentlessly and even brutally pushed on Trump voters post-election via more than 500 unsolicited emails. This said, given that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke at the event, and was ostensibly on the Save America PAC’s “election defense” payroll on January 6 as Trump’s chief post-election advocate—even though we recently learned that Trump plans to stiff his personal attorney on legal bills—it is impossible to see the Save America March as entirely set apart from the long paper trail created by the 2020 Trump campaign’s concerted post-election disinformation and fundraising scam.

Seconds into his speech, Trump says, referencing the sprawling crowd before him, “These people are not going to take it any longer. They’re not going to take it any longer...They came from all over our country. I just really want to see what they do.” This is an astonishing admission by Trump, as it indicates that he thinks something of great significance but as-yet unknown dimensions is going to happen after he finishes speaking. While some might claim that the “they” in the final sentence of this excerpt refers to “media”—and indeed, Trump hereafter repeats the phrase “I just really want to see” but this time adds the words, “how they [media] cover it [what happens after his speech]”—it seems that the confusion Trump causes here is deliberate. Indeed, a common Trump rhetorical technique is to utter phrases that can grammatically complete either the sentence they follow or the sentence they reside in. Thus, Trump is simultaneously musing on what the armed mob before him will do once he’s done speaking and also how the media will thereafter report on their actions. Trump has a grave and vested interest in both subjects.

Trump next falsely says that “media and Big Tech…rigged” both the November 2020 election and the January 5 Georgia run-off, suggesting—in the context of past Trump remarks, and as will be confirmed by his statements hereafter—that he claims that a combination of pre-vote polling and post-vote vote-switching explains Republican losses in the recent elections determining executive-branch (November 2020) and legislative-branch (January 5) control of Washington.

Trump continues: “All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical Left Democrats, which is what they're doing, and stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they've done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.” Note the verb tenses here, and in doing so remember that Trump had first excitedly tweeted about the Save America March on December 19, 2020—the very day the event was moved to January 6 by its organizers (a synchronicity of messaging that strongly suggests Team Trump was connected to the event’s cynical and ultimately dangerously provocative scheduling). The point is that Trump appears to have aided in the setting of his speech’s date; certainly used his Twitter to gregariously advertise the speech and the march it was slated to precede; called on his most ardent supporters to descend on Washington for the event; scheduled his speech for just over an hour before the certification of Biden’s win was due to begin at the Capitol, so that rally-goers marching on the Capitol thereafter would arrive just as the joint session of Congress was beginning; and then, in the excerpt above, deliberately uses the present tense (“today…our election victory [is being] stolen”; “[it] is what they’re doing" [now]”) and the future tense (“we will never give up”) to establish both (a) what he considered to be happening in the moment (a “steal”), and (b) what he was demanding of the mob in the immediate future (to “stop” the “steal”). Moreover, he indicates that to not march and to not “stop the steal” would be for Trump voters to “concede” an election that had been “stolen” from them.

It is evident from the earliest moments of Trump’s speech that he considers the armed mob before him to be his army. He marvels gleefully at its size even as he vastly overstates it, calling the crowd “hundreds of thousands” strong. And yet, even Trump’s accidental or deliberate miscalculation is significant, as it goes to his mens rea (criminal intent). It’s not just that Trump believes he is sending a mob he knows includes militiamen, white supremacists, far-right radicals, and digital agitators from 4chan and 8kun to the Capitol, it’s that—per his public statement—he believes he is sending “hundreds of thousands” of people to the Capitol, a crowd clearly more than the men and women defending the Capitol perimeter would be able to handle.

Recall, too, that the rally attendance well outstripped what the rally’s organizers had legal permission for, a fact that now must implicate Trump as well given the recent admission by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) that on January 5 the White House called him to schedule his speaking slot for the next day. At what point does this level of involvement in planning an event—let alone the use of a Manafort-employing Trump campaign event-planning company to stage it—implicate Trump in not only the words of its speakers but its permit-obliterating size, callously boasted of by Trump himself?

Trump says, “Our country has had enough. We will not take it any more. And that’s what this [march to the Capitol] is all about.” Trump is underscoring here that he’s calling for immediate and consequential action, not merely metaphoric or symbolic resistance.

The insidiousness of Trump’s rhetoric is immediately amplified by his subsequent claim—wholly false, and he knows it—that he is going to “use a favorite term that all of you really came up with, [that] we will ‘Stop the Steal.’” Provable lies like this help investigators establish criminal intent, as of course “Stop the Steal” was a term coined by top Trump advisor Roger Stone and advanced by his south Florida associate (who has also been seen with Trump), Ali Alexander. Trump’s benighted attempt to associate this term with a grassroots campaign far removed from Trumpworld, the 2020 Trump campaign, or the Trump White House suggests what attorneys call “consciousness of guilt”: an awareness that the truth of a matter would be damning to the speaker.

Indeed, based on YouTube videos posted by Stone associate and Trump-photo-figure Alexander, the “Stop the Steal” tagline was attached to the Save America March not just by Alexander himself but by the deliberate action of Trump collaborators Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and especially Brooks. Breaking news just a few hours ago demonstrates that Trump adviser Steve Bannon—who returned to Trump’s inner circle shortly after the 2020 election—also sought to use the Facebook-banned “Stop the Steal” meme to get radical Trumpists to “take action” on January 6, indeed even setting up a Facebook group with that phrase as its theme on November 5.

It’s important to understand why Trump would be so determined to fraudulently disassociate himself from the origination of the “Stop the Steal” meme. It’s not just because the real story of the phrase harkens back to Roger Stone, Ali Alexander, and a political conspiracy born in south Florida, where Trump resides—see my former newsletter entry on this—but also the plain meaning of the words themselves. “Stop” is not “peaceful protest” verbiage; it does not envision an armed mob stopping blocks from the Capitol to useless shout slogans at a far-away building. Rather, it denotes an explicit intervention, and moreover one that can only be accomplished by “marching on the Capitol” (Eric Trump’s phrasing of the plan, from his January 6 Save America March speech) and “kicking ass” once one gets “to the Capitol” (Mo Brooks’ phrasing, in a speech Trump’s political director Brian Jack solicited, per Brooks).

As we will soon see with Trump’s exhortation that the armed mob before him “stand” and “fight,” “stop” is a physical action that in this context would require criminal conduct—and goes well beyond the exercise of anyone’s First Amendment rights, be it Trump’s or that of any Trumpist.

In the next section of his speech, Trump promises the crowd that he will “prove [he won the election] in a landslide.” He says that data from the “real pollsters”—presumably he means the internal 2020 campaign ones that he paid for—who assured him that would win if he got a certain number of votes. This confirms that when he spoke of media being involved in the so-called “theft” earlier he was indeed referring to what he has in the past variously called “fake polls” or “push polls” or “suppression polls” (that is, polls Trump and his team contend are part of a massive media conspiracy to suppress Trump’s vote tally by framing votes for Trump as fruitless). Note here that Trump is not just exhorting the mob to take action, but also making a detailed case for why they must do so. He thereby provides them not just with a general but a highly specific incitement to action.

Needless to say, Trump’s “case” is littered with lies, including that Biden didn’t really get 81,283,563 votes (note: he did) but rather “80 million computer votes”, an outrageous return to Trump’s false claim that “media and Big Tech…rigged” the election.

But let’s be clear about exactly what Trump is alleging here: he’s saying that Biden’s win was the product of a hacking conspiracy, ironically precisely the claim he falsely says Democrats leveled at him in 2016 (in fact, the allegation against Trump at the time had been that he amplified Russian propaganda and was secretly pursuing a massive real estate deal with the Kremlin during the election—both allegations happen to be true—not that his win was the result of vote-switching produced by a Trump-Russia conspiracy). I make the comparison to 2016 just to note that Trump is on record as calling the idea of falsely accusing someone of a vote-hacking conspiracy the most vile and provocative allegation any politician could ever make. Yet here he does so, casually even, with respect to the 2020 Biden campaign, unnamed “Big Tech” companies, and the Democratic Party writ large. In a sense, therefore, he damns himself with these false allegations, as he’s already on record discussing at great length how transgressive he considers allegations of just this stripe to be. Moreover, he tells the crowd that this entirely fanciful vote-hacking conspiracy is a “disgrace” and wouldn’t even happen in “third-world countries”.

In fact, Trump has it reversed: vote manipulation does happen in those countries where Trump allies like Putin, Erdogan, Orban, MBS, and MBZ exercise autocratic control of the levers of government, but it has never happened in the United States in a way established by reliable evidence. And that goes equally for 2016 and 2020. Note that in this section of the speech Trump is clearly crafting an excuse for both his loss of the White House (November 2020) and Republicans’ loss of the Senate (January 2021).

“We will not let them silence your voices,” Trump says, referring to media and Big Tech. His continued (and odd) emphasis on media and Big Tech at this point in his speech, rather than Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, helps to explain why during the subsequent assault on the Capitol there was, in addition to grave hostility toward law enforcement, RINOs (“Republicans in Name Only”), Mike Pence and Congressional Democrats, evident aggression directed toward the media. Trump’s riotous mob destroyed and burned journalists’ equipment, chased them from the scene, and in one particularly troubling case fashioned a cord belonging to a television network into a noose. It is easy for us to forget that the president’s speech wasn’t merely incitement toward an interruption of the ongoing joint session of Congress, but toward acts of aggression directed at politicians of both parties, journalists at the Capitol just doing their jobs, and even—with tragic results—members of law enforcement tasked with defending the Capitol from assault.

One of the biggest lies in Trump’s “incitement to insurrection” speech was the fraudulent premise that Trump would be accompanying the mob to the Capitol himself. This part of Trump’s January 6 scam was calibrated to embolden the crowd to march toward the seat of American government and even, as later events would reveal, make thousands and thousands of them feel entitled to criminally trespass on the grounds of the Capitol—with a minimum of 300, and likely more than 500, being estimated by the Washington Post to have illegally breached the building itself. Many of us have by now seen the YouTube video in which an insurrectionist screeches off-camera, seemingly directing his vituperation at the Capitol’s law-enforcement defenders, “We were invited here by the president!” It’s impossible to imagine one of the seditious rioters who assailed the Capitol on January 6 saying something so absurd without the president having confirmed it personally less than an hour earlier. Indeed, besides the Trump campaign sending fundraising emails to Trump voters post-election repeatedly referring to recipients as prospective members of the “Trump Army”—a framing Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle echoed in the first line of her speech at the January 4 Trump rally in Dalton, Georgia, yelling, “Where my soldiers at?”—numerous January 6 insurrectionists, including “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley and Texas realtor Jenna Ryan, would say after their arrests for federal crimes that they had come to D.C., in their view, on the explicit invitation of the president. On January 16, the Washington Post published an article entitled, “‘Trump Said to Do So’: Accounts of Rioters Who Say the President Spurred Them to Rush the Capitol Could Be Pivotal Testimony.”

It’s for this reason that it’s not just the verb tenses of Trump’s speech that are critical, but his pronouns as well. Trump uses the first-person plural pronoun “we” throughout his speech as an adjunct to his fraudulent premise that he will be joining the crowd as it participates in the “Save America March [on the Capitol]” he has convened.

“We’re not going to let [the theft of the election] happen. Not going to let it happen”, Trump opines, even though—as we’ve since learned from major media—Trump had been told days before the January 6 march that he himself would not be permitted by the Secret Service to join the rally-goers as they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol.

Every lie a defendant charged with incitement tells in the inciting speech in question is regarded as significant evidence by law enforcement. Why? Because, as does so much else in such a situation, it goes to the question of mens rea (criminal intent). A man earnestly expressing his opinions under the First Amendment, with no prior plan or scheme to have his opinion produce a particular result or particular conduct on the part of others, need not systematically manipulate to his audience with lies; by comparison, a man who knows his audience must be induced toward a particular result or particular conduct is likely to not only lie but lie in a way that is systematic.

So it was with Trump on January 6.

Trump’s lie about marching to the Capitol alongside the armed mob arrayed before him is matched by a lie about an equally important matter: whether he has already spoken with Mike Pence about what the vice president does or doesn’t plan to do as he presides over a joint session of Congress and the final certification of Joe Biden’s November victory. More on that shortly.

Trumps’s introduction of the first-person plural is met with the first occurrence of his speech being interrupted by an extended chant by his would-be army, which in this instance Trump melodramatically permits to build, as it’s the chant he most approves of and that most matches his ambitions: “FIGHT FOR TRUMP! FIGHT FOR TRUMP! FIGHT FOR TRUMP!” He grimly soaks it in, letting it carry on awhile.

I just want to pause here to say that, knowing what we know now about the context for, and results of, Trump’s January 6 incitement—two homicides, three accidental deaths, two suicides, scores of serious injuries, hundreds of criminal suspects, two pipe bombs, countless guns and tasers and lead pipes and truncheons wielded by rioters, a potential capture-and-kill plot, a USCP officer crushed in a door, stolen laptops and destroyed offices, feces and urine left in Capitol halls—it really is terrifying to watch what Trump is doing here, and to see the calculation with which he does it.

We now know from several major-media reports that Trump originally wanted to increase the military presence at his Save America March as a way to “stop antifa,” though there was not then—and still has not been—any intelligence suggesting that antifa was present or played any role in Trump’s January 6 insurrection. But isn’t it odd that (a) the claim to the contrary is now central to Trump’s and Giuliani’s respective defenses to their incitement of an assault on the Capitol, and (b) when Trump was given the opportunity to call in the National Guard after he knew the Capitol was under attack, he “repeatedly” refused, per major-media reports? These two facts further suggest criminal intent on Trump’s part, and on the part of his agents; indeed, they raise the startling possibility that Team Trump had predetermined its post-coup cover story—should the desired outcome of the coup not be realized—and underline that from the moment he finished speaking on January 6, Trump acted exactly as you would expect an insurrectionist to act as opposed to a President of the United States.

After remarking again on the crowd size—and musing out loud that he wishes the soldiers and law enforcement officers keeping a portion of the massing crowd in a cordoned-off section of the Ellipse rather than up by the stage would permit that portion to move closer to him—Trump suddenly switches his line of thought to Rudy Giuliani, saying, “And Rudy you did a great job. He’s got guts. Unlike a lot of people in the Republican Party.” Unless this is a free association of some kind, it’s easy to understand this unexpected address to his off-stage personal attorney as a tacit acknowledgment that either (a) Giuliani was instrumental to the planning and execution of the Save America March (and thus Trump’s perception of its success, as measured, by him, by crowd size), or (b) Giuliani’s speech, which preceded Trump’s by about 30 minutes, was intended to dovetail with Trump’s own and in the president’s mind had done so beautifully.

In any case, this seeming “throwaway” line calls to mind Giuliani’s ongoing status as a Trump co-conspirator with respect to the January 6 insurrection, the Trump-Ukraine scandal, the Trump-Russia scandal, and for that matter Giuliani’s pre–2016 election weaponization of the Clinton email scandal (by way of veiled threats against then–FBI director James Comey). It reminds us, in other words, that Giuliani has and always will be the weak link in Trump’s criminal cadre. Indict him and flip him and federal prosecutors’ pathway to the indictment and prosecution of the president himself is made clear; it’s for this reason that legal and political analysts near-universally expect Trump to issue a pardon to Giuliani before he leaves office. Indeed, the recent revelation that Trump is stiffing Giuliani on unpaid legal bills underlines that if Trump issues a pardon to his personal attorney it is both because Giuliani knows the president’s secrets and must be kept quiet but also because Trump wants to pay him for his services in something other than the coin of the realm.

As for the possibility that Trump is here merely commending Giuliani’s speech, let’s remember—from the second “January 6 speech analysis” I published on Twitter—that in Giuliani’s speech he not only shouted “Let’s have trial by combat!” but explicitly promised the gathered Trumpist mob that if they could just do something to buy the president and his personal lawyer “two days,” evidence confirming that Trump had in fact “won” the November 2020 presidential election would emerge publicly. It was an explicit inducement and invitation to engage in dramatic and illegal operations at the Capitol. If Trump were to be commending his attorney for that exhortation, that too would be incriminating.

That Trump is at least partly referencing Rudy’s recent “trial-by-combat” speech is evidenced by his next words after noting that Giuliani has “got guts” and “fights”: “that’s a tough act to follow.” Trump at once seems to reference his own speech as “follow[ing]” Giuliani’s but also, more broadly—given that this seemingly personal and private reflection was in fact delivered to an armed mob of tens of thousands—it alludes to the fact that the way Giuliani “fought” the “theft” of the November 2020 election will be a tough act for the Save America marchers to follow. It thereby acts as an implicit challenge to the crowd to display the same “guts” and will to “fight” that, per the president, his personal attorney has lately demonstrated.

Trump now moves to consideration of his vice president, Mike Pence, using another Save America March speaker—(now-former) Chapman University law professor John Eastman—as a segue. Eastman had briefly spoken between Giuliani and Trump, focusing his attention on the professor’s false claim that Pence had, on January 6, the ability to unilaterally reject Joe Biden’s election as president and send the question back to individual state legislatures for further deliberation. (This was the dubious “plan” for January 6 that Giuliani had referenced during his own speech, which I analyzed in comprehensive detail on Twitter here.) Eastman had previously made a name for himself in Trumpworld by falsely claiming that then-VP candidate Kamala Harris was not eligible to serve as vice president because of the circumstances of her birth.

Trump’s real interest is in Pence, however, not Eastman. “I hope Mike Pence will do the right thing [up at the Capitol],” Trump says. “Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we’ll win the election. All he has to do—this is from one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country [Eastman]—he has the absolute right to do it, he’s supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our Constitution and protect our Constitution. States want to revote—the states got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to re-certify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to re-certify. And we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

This entire monologue is a scam.

Per major-media reporting, by January 6 Mike Pence had already told Donald Trump—in a face-to-face conversation at the White House—that he would not be preventing Joe Biden’s certification as president-elect on January 6. But Trump must hide this fact from the crowd (just as he hides the fact that he has no intention of marching to the Capitol with the crowd) because he believes it would enervate them and make them less likely to do what he is instructing them to do. But Trump’s words are also false because there has not, in fact, been any consensus within any state legislature that it must “re-certify” its slate of electors. Only scattered Trumpist state legislators have voiced such an opinion.

Trump’s lies here will have grave consequences. The mob had already built a gallows on the Mall with a blaze-orange noose—matching the color used by several contingents of Proud Boys to signify those among their number intending to storm the Capitol—and making clear, in doing so, that the noose was intended for Pence. At the Capitol, the mob chanted “HANG MIKE PENCE!” Following the breach of the building, a number of insurrectionists went “hunting” for the vice president. A CNN report days after the insurrection revealed that the armed mob got within “seconds” and “100 feet” of Pence and his family’s safe room during the insurrection. Trump’s lie about Pence, which indicated to the mob that if they could get to him they could make him do Trump’s bidding, thus endangered the vice president and his family in measurable ways.

Nor was Trump’s endangerment of Pence attenuated; rather, it was deliberate. This much is made clear by what Trump says next: “I just spoke to Mike [Pence] and I said, ‘That [rejecting the Biden electors] doesn’t take courage, what takes courage is to do nothing.’” This comment is so unusual that it’s easy to miss what it is: a threat. Trump is telling his vice president that if he doesn’t do as Trump commands him he will (to borrow a phrase Trump once infamously used with respect to the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich) “go through some things.” The president’s premise is that the consequences of Pence not obeying his “order” to stage a “coup”—as one major-media outlet will later frame the Pence camp’s understanding of matters—will be far worse than actually doing his constitutional duty. And of course it is Trump himself who intends to be the author of those consequences, which is why he spends a portion of his January 6 speech whipping an armed mob into a frenzy over Pence’s conduct.

It is clear that Trump does not care what the mob does to Pence if Pence does not do what Trump wants—and if the mob can measurably move Pence toward doing as he has been commanded via intimidation, Trump is willing to accept that outcome. If the mob instead decides to take Pence hostage using the flex handcuffs brought by at least two insurrectionists, or if it instead seeks to hang Pence from a blaze-orange noose on the National Mall, or if it instead seeks to assassinate him and his family in the halls of the Capitol as they try to make their escape, it’s not clear whether Trump has any opinion on such eventualities at all.

Major media reports that Trump treated Pence “horribly” in the days leading to the insurrection, at one point shouting at him in the Oval Office, “I don’t want you to be my friend, I want you to be my vice president!” According to one Pence ally, when Pence realized—on January 6, at the Capitol—that Trump had endangered him and his family, he was the angriest this friend of the vice president had “ever seen him.”

Turning his attention from the current vice president to a former one—Joe Biden—Trump says, of the prospect of Biden ascending to the presidency on January 20, “We’re just not gonna let that happen.” It’s a stunning statement, both for the return of that telling “we” (Trump implicates himself in direct action to block the peaceful transfer of power) and the words “not” and “let,” which indicate to the crowd not only that it, in conjunction with the president, has the power and authority to block the peaceful transfer of power, but that their combined resolve to do so must be absolute.

These are seditious words, especially in the context in which Trump is saying them.

At a number of points in his January 6 speech, Trump rambles a bit, perhaps realizing that this may be the last public address of his that will be widely carried live by the media. So the address at times becomes a smorgasbord of grievances and false claims of achievement, including when the president brags about having signed a law (it was not a law) that said, in his paraphrase, “You hurt our monuments, you hurt our heroes, you go to jail for ten years.” What is remarkable about this brief reference to an executive order he signed exhorting executive-branch officials to rigorously enforce an existing federal law is that Trump utters these words as he is literally in the midst of sending an army against our heroes and our monuments. Worth noting too, is how this acknowledgment by Trump informs his criminal intent: if Trump is aware that you cannot hurt (or conspire to hurt) a federal monument like the U.S. Capitol, how can he possibly now claim that he didn’t know the he was doing precisely this on January 6, or claim that his incitement to do so was protected by the First Amendment?

But on January 6 Trump didn’t just want to send his “Trump Army” against the United States Capitol, he wanted them to understand the stakes involved in them doing so. “We’re gathered,” Trump tells the crowd, “for one very very basic and simple reason: to save our democracy.” It’s important to understand the gravity of Trump’s language here: he’s trying to convince an armed mob that what they’re about to do imminently—march to the Capitol—is no less a cause than “saving our democracy.” And top Trump Congressional ally Mo Brooks had teed up the crowd for this pitch just an hour earlier by telling his listeners that American “patriots” throughout history had been willing to give their “blood, sweat, and tears” to save democracy. The message Trump and Brooks had thus coordinated—literally so, given that Brooks now says Trump’s political director, Brian Jack, solicited his January 6 speech—is unambiguous: the Save America mob not only needed to march to the Capitol, or as Eric Trump had put it “march on the Capitol,” but would need to expend “blood, sweat, and tears” in doing so in order to “save democracy” as generations of “patriots” had previously done.

Trump augments the picture he’s painting of what needs to happen at the Capitol by telling the mob that “they [Democrats] have lost control…They’ve used the pandemic as a way of defrauding the people out of a proper election.” The premise is clear: “control” over our democracy (which needs to be “saved”) will be reasserted by marching on the Capitol and wresting the proceedings ongoing there away from the out-of-control Democrats. Trump thereafter adds an odd brushstroke to his picture, telling a bizarre “Sir” story—a story that serves as an excuse for him to pretend to be someone calling him “Sir”—in which unnamed government officials are telling him that the Democrats’ election theft “will never happen again” and that “in four years” he is “assured [the presidency]”. That Trump uses his “high-ranking military official voice” for this “Sir” story (the president has several “voices” he does, ranging from cringing subordinates to army generals) confirms that he wants rally-goers to believe the military supports his conspiracy theories about a stolen election and has gone so far as to promise him the presidency in four years. It’s a particularly malicious straw man, as it is intended to beg the question in the mind of any would-be insurrectionist,
”If the military acknowledges that the election was stolen from President Trump, why should President Trump have to wait four years to get what’s rightfully his? And what can we do to help him retrieve what he’s lost?”

Trump answers the rhetorical question he’s implicitly asked, and does so immediately—thereby ensuring his listeners don’t have to work out any of the complicated logistics on their own. “Let’s go back [to where things stood] eight weeks [ago]. We want to go back—and we’re going to get this right”, he says, referring here, as he often has in the preceding eight weeks, to the status of his race against Joe Biden as of the evening of the presidential election—when Trump claims, falsely, that he was leading in every battleground state. This dovetails with Giuliani’s just-delivered promise that if the mob can simply buy Trump just two days and convince Pence to send Biden’s electoral slates “back to the states,” various GOP state legislatures will return to Trump the victory so cruelly taken from him on November 3.

Trump continues: “We have someone in there who should not be in there and our country will be destroyed and we’re not going to stand for that.” What’s bizarre about the construction of this sentence is that it wrongly refers to Biden as someone who is already “in there”—the White House—when in fact Trump himself is, of course, the current occupant of that building. This disconnect offers us some evidence that Trump is actually aiming for metaphor here rather than something more literal. “In there” can be taken to mean “in power,” which Trump has falsely said the Democrats are in Washington; but it could also mean “in the Capitol,” which is where the purportedly in-control Democrats presently were at the time Trump was speaking. Indeed, the phrase “someone in there who should not be in there” is vague—who is “someone”? where is “there?”—which, in the context of the speech, seems deliberate. Any rally-goer attending a rally following which they plan to march “there” (the Capitol) to confront those who “should not be” doing what they’re doing “there” will hear, “We have someone in there who should not be in there and our country will be destroyed and we’re not going to stand for that” as simultaneously referring to “Biden and the White House” and “the Congressional Democrats at the Capitol” about to certify Biden’s electoral-college victory.

This rhetorical construction is a form of sleight-of-hand—a grammatical bait-and-switch—that Trump uses often, slipping into ambiguity deliberately so that listeners can hear either or both of two deceitful and nefarious meanings. And the alternative reading, in this instance, is not much better for Trump: that he refuses to say Biden’s name, instead calling him “someone,” because he’s aware that he is preaching insurrection against the duly-elected president-elect and wants to abstract that fact for either himself, his audience, or both.

Professors who teach propaganda at the undergraduate or graduate levels will want to teach this speech in the coming decades, and in doing so will surely note how Trump’s words are regularly calibrated to carry double resonance. In this case one could arguably hear a triple resonance, as “someone in there [the Capitol]” who is about to engage in actions that will “destroy” the country could equally be applied, in Trump and his fans’ view, to Vice President Pence. Needless to say, this generative ambiguity is also critical to Trump’s rhetoric for a far simpler reason: he has a terrible command of the facts relevant to his speech; he doesn’t understand how any of the government processes that he’s discussing and describing work; and he is attempting to incite criminal conduct he is too cowardly to speak of other than euphemistically. This is the speech of a man who wants to incite insurrection against the United States government while somehow finding a way to not be held accountable for it. The sort of rhetorical “drift” Trump generates here, along with a compelling and insidious breed of ambiguity, is common in official propaganda—particularly fascist propaganda.

Further evidence that Trump wants his words to carry triple resonance, and function as an indictment of not just Biden and the Democratic Party but Trump’s own vice president, comes with the president’s very next words: “For years Democrats have gotten away with election fraud and weak Republicans—and that’s what they are, there’s so many.” Here we find another Trump rhetorical technique, which is to suggestively cut sentences short in a way that lets a listener’s mind run wild. This sentence from Trump’s speech unambiguously charges Democrats with “election fraud,” but we must notice that it’s not at all correspondingly clear what the “weak Republicans” have done. In this way, Trump associates “weak Republicans” (often a code for “Mike Pence” in the context of this speech) with “election fraud” without having any of the necessary facts to make that argument earnestly and openly. Trump thereby implies that if Pence fails to do as he’s been commanded to do and stage a “coup” at the Capitol, he is complicit in and guilty of the same “election fraud” that the armed mob before him is in a froth over Democrats having allegedly committed.

Lest you think Trump is done with this line of rhetoric, he now deploys the same technique to achieve—somewhat masterfully, in propaganda terms—a quadruple resonance. “Many of the [weak] Republicans I helped get elected”, he now adds to his comment above. See what he’s done? Now he is simultaneously talking about (1) Joe Biden, (2) Congressional Democrats, (3) Vice President Mike Pence and (4) Republicans up at the Capitol who are about to certify Biden’s victory alongside Congressional Democrats and Mike Pence. In this way, Trump seeks to appeal to an armed mob that considers itself to have been victimized, like Trump himself, by, well, everyone: all Democrats and all Republicans. And it is this generalized fear, anxiety, and anger that Trump is trying to stoke. That he does so successfully is evidenced by the fact that the mob he incites soon after invades the Capitol and seeks to harm, while there, anything and anyone—from Capitol police to members of Congress, from the Vice President of the United States to members of the media.

Trump, having seamlessly shifting from focusing on Biden and the Democrats to Pence and the Republicans, continues: “They’re weak Republicans. They’re pathetic Republicans. If this happened to the Democrats, there’d be hell all over the country going on.” Trump here tells his “army,” not so subtly, what should be happening right now, not just in Washington but in state capitals all around America: “hell.” I wrote above that Trump wants to paint a picture for his listeners, a common practice in both propaganda and incitement, and here the picture Trump paints is of patriots causing “hell”—which can only be read as intimidation, destruction, and violence—all across the country. His use of the word “hell” also carries resonance with another word he uses in his speech, in this case repeatedly, that being the word “fight.” The combination of the two words (“fight like hell”) is no coincidence, and further gives his army an exhortation to and license for a certain level of mayhem. (And in case anyone has missed it, Trump will use the full exhortation—“fight like hell”—in a matter of minutes.)

If “this happened to the Democrats,” Trump opines, “There’d be hell. All over the country. But just remember this: you’re stronger, you’re smarter, you’ve got more going...they try to demean everybody having to do with us, and you’re the real ‘people’—the people that built this nation. Not the people that tore down our nation.” The challenge inherent in these words is unmistakable: if the Democrats had an election stolen from them, there’d be “hell” all over the country, and because you Trumpist Republicans are “stronger” and “smarter” and have “more going” than the Democrats the “hell” you produce right now should be on a scale Democrats wouldn’t be capable of producing. But there’s also implicit disapprobation here: if Democrats would raise hell, why aren’t you? You, who are so superior to Democrats (and weak Republicans) in every way that counts?

Trump now rants again about “weak Republicans,” invoking lost jobs, immigration policy, military funding, his “America First” slogan, and other conservative rhetorical touchstones. Then he adds—in part, surely, to mechanistically conjoin the words “fight” and “hell” for the mob arrayed before him—“You have to get your people to fight. And if they don’t fight, we have to primary the hell out of the ones that don’t fight.”

Trump’s use of the word “fight” throughout his January 6 speech must be understood as an exhortation to violence. Remember that he has told an armed mob, which has no parliamentary or bureaucratic means of “fighting,” that unless they go to the Capitol and do something of real consequence there, American democracy will die. What other instruments could an armed mob think they’re being asked to use than the only ones at their disposal? While “fighting,” in the context of Congressional Republicans, could be taken to mean “use aggressive and unprecedented parliamentary procedures,” when the word “fight” is attached to a mob—which it has been throughout the Save America March rally, and will continue to be—there is no possible reading of the term that does not include physical force.

Trump now briefly returns to his prepared remarks to rant about the election “theft,” but thereafter almost immediately turns from his teleprompter-loaded script to add, falsely, “That election was over at 10PM.” He terms the mail-in ballots for Biden that came in after 10PM on November 3—which every major-media outlet had told Americans in advance would be largely for Biden, and come disproportionately from big cities—“explosions of bullshit.” The crowd roars in response.

Trump’s calculated use of vulgarity, intended to rile up the crowd, works perfectly to that end, as the mob now breaks into their third prolonged chant of Trump’s speech (which, again, Trump waits to let build for a while): “STOP THE STEAL! STOP THE STEAL! STOP THE STEAL!” This is the Trump adviser Roger Stone–devised tagline that Trump post-election adviser Steve Bannon used to create a social media group on November 5, and which was used by Stone associate Ali Alexander (see my prior newsletter entry on him) to promote the Save America PAC’s “election defense” efforts in the lead-up to the Save America March. At the March, the tagline is an unofficial appendage to the event; indeed, it is called the “Stop the Steal rally” by some media outlets, as that had been the phrasing used by Alexander during his weeks of planning the event with Trump Congressional allies Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, and Mo Brooks.

In other words, this is exactly the chant that Trump and his allies have wanted to encourage and to hear at an event of this sort for over two months by the time January 6 arrives.