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

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 I of this lengthy 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 II

While most Americans don’t, on occasion some members of the media lose sight of how mean-spirited Trump is. The former president is a man who relishes cruelty. And so it is that, well into his January 6 speech, Trump turns his attention to the lone GOP senator who voted for his impeachment in January 2020, Mitt Romney, who a matter of hours earlier had been the subject of a viral video in which a man and woman are heard harassing him angrily in an airport.

With a smirk, Trump says, “I hope he [Romney] enjoyed his flight in last night.” The comment does two things: first and most obviously, it reminds the mob of the viral video of Romney getting harassed—which is important to the president because that’s exactly what he wants his fans to do to members of Congress as soon as his speech concludes—and less conspicuously, it reminds them that Romney is up at the Capitol right now, and that they too can express their opinions of him directly to his face if they go there. Trump adds, with sadistic glee, that Romney got “slaughtered” in the 2012 presidential election (which in fact Romney only lost by 3.9%; by comparison, Trump lost to Biden in 2020 by 4.4%). It’s a remark that returns Trump to a sordid propaganda technique he uses often: applying violent imagery to his enemies, particularly verbs, as a way of implying the degree of hate his listeners should feel for those adversaries.

Trump attorney Jenna Ellis once framed the January 2020 impeachment debate as a battle between “good and evil”, adding that it had clear religious dimensions, and Trump allies in the weeks leading up to Trump’s January 6 speech had begun with increasingly regularity to equate “socialism” with “Communism” (the latter, of course, notoriously anti-religion), so it’s little surprise that Trump adds to his bag of tricks on January 6 some religious rhetoric. He talks about how, in the past, the United States was “blessed”, but now it no longer has “free and fair elections” or a “free and fair press”—the latter an implicit reference to some earlier Stop the Steal/March to Save America speakers, who had told the mob that the mainstream media “suppresses” Americans and is “socialist and “Communist.”

In sum, the far-right canard thus constructed here is that Democrats want to bring godless Communism to America via the press. This is an important component of the picture Trump paints of a democracy teetering on the edge of authoritarianism—which it is, of course, though because of his own actions, not those of the American media establishment. Trump opines, instead, that it is the media that “suppresses thought, suppresses speech, and it’s become the enemy of the people” (a callback to his prior remark that the “real people” of America identifiable by the fact that they support him). This rhetoric dovetails with Trump’s coinage of the term “suppression polls”, which refers to any poll published by U.S. media that is unfavorable to Trump. The “suppression” component, according to Trump, comes in the fact that such polls might dissuade his voters from their high level of excitement about his political career.

A suppressed person eventually lashes out, of course, so Trump now turns to the theme of the Stop the Steal/March to Save America: “Fight!” He tells the crowd that Republicans are like a “boxer with his hands tied behind his back. It’s like a boxer. And we want to be so nice—we want to be so respectful of everybody, including bad people. And we’re going to have to fight much harder.” The message is clear: only a sucker doesn’t “fight,” and whatever fighting might be thought to entail, it certainly requires the use of both hands and isn’t anything remotely “respectful.” Trump also creates an unmissable binary between the “real people” he’s mentioned already and the “bad people” you can fight with both hands in disrespectful ways (that is, Democrats and Republicans in Name Only, or RINOs). That the latter group includes Mike Pence is evidenced by an ensuing line in Trump’s speech: “And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us. And if he doesn’t, that’ll be a sad day for our country.”

Again, Trump already knew when he said this what Mike Pence was going to do at the Capitol—but saw an advantage to himself in letting the mob be angrily surprised by it.

Now Trump comes to a volta—a “turn” or fulcrum of his incitement to insurrection. He has to get explicit about what he wants, and how, and when, and where, and by whom. Quoting the entirety of this section of Trump’s speech is essential, as this excerpt is absolutely critical to Trump’s criminal liability and eligibility for conviction during his historic second impeachment trial before the United States Senate.

“Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy”, says Trump without a trace of irony, even though he is attributing to Congress the very thing—“an egregious assault on democracy”—he is at that very moment trying to orchestrate, as the Stop the Steal/March to Save America had been devised to end with an armed mob marching on the U.S. Capitol.

It’s important to emphasize, here, that Trump had visibility into the crowd before him; this wasn’t a radio or television address, in which a politician can’t see one’s audience. Trump would have been able to see the Confederate flags, the Revolutionary War–era “Gadsden” flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”), the men in tactical gear (military-issue helmets, Kevlar vests), the individuals bearing arms and those wearing or carrying gas masks, the faces contorted with anger and perhaps even the crowds near the back of the mob so eager to “march on the Capitol” (as Eric Trump had earlier invited them to do) that, per major-media reports, many left Trump’s speech early to do so. Their frenzied eagerness to get to the Capitol as quickly as possible would not have been lost on him.

We must also consider what major-media reports tell us about Trump’s conduct after he’d fled back to the White House. Various first-hand accounts previously linked to by Proof over and over again describe Donald Trump—as he was watching the assault on the Capitol on television—as “delighted”, “excited”, “pleased”, a “little bit happy”, and “borderline enthusiastic.” His aides found the president’s reaction both unsettling and wholly inappropriate, as was his subsequent and (per media) “repeated” refusal to call out the National Guard to quell an attack he watched, in good humor, in real time.

House impeachment managers have thus far focused a significant percentage of their attention, as far as we can tell, on that portion of Trump’s January 6 speech in which he exhorts the assembled mob to “fight like hell” over the 2020 election. While the managers’ emphasis is by no means misplaced in this, as a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator, I would argue that the most emphasis should be on those words Trump said on January 6 that—when placed in context—not only can’t be misconstrued as euphemistic, but clearly establish his criminal intent with respect to the incitement to insurrection allegation he’s currently facing. And the words uttered by Trump after his post-ironic reference to an “egregious assault on our democracy” supposedly being waged by Congress are, to me, the crucial words in Trump’s speech in this respect. Here they are:

“After this [speech], we’re going to walk down—and I’ll be there with you—we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down, any one [i.e., any street] you want, but I think right here {he looks off-stage to make sure he has that right}. We’re going to walk down to the Capitol {the crowd roars}...and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

As noted in Part I of this analysis, and elsewhere on Proof, Trump knew by January 6 that he would not be marching with the crowd assembled before him. Major media reporting suggests that the reason for this is that the Secret Service had forbidden it, but we have no means of knowing (a) if Trump would have marched to the Capitol had the Secret Service allowed it, (b) whether the Secret Service had in fact ever been approached on this question (as the source of the major media report might well be a Trump loyalist in the White House rather than someone with knowledge of Secret Service protocols, as the Service is historically mum on the logistics of their protection details and strategies), and (c) whether Trump or his agents laundered their prior plan to stay away from the march by using the Secret Service as a cover. We simply can’t know which, if any, of these scenarios is the one that played out in the days or even the nearly three weeks since Trump began advertising the January 6 rally on December 19.

But we do know that either Trump’s statement, above, had been previously entered into his teleprompter or it had not. If it was in his teleprompter, it means he green-lit a speech with a premeditated lie whose only purpose could have been to embolden the crowd to march forthwith on the Capitol. Indeed, as has been universally reported, including here at Proof, many of the insurrectionists would later say that they went to the Capitol at Trump’s direct invitation. The New York Times even published, recently, an astonishing cell phone-data map that shows the crowd from Trump’s speech up at the White House Ellipse quickly moving en masse, upon its conclusion, to the Capitol.

If, instead, Trump ad-libbed his promise to go to the Capitol with the marchers—knowing it to be a lie—it suggests not only that he solely controlled the inclusion of the lie in the speech, but also that he had sufficient consciousness of guilt about the lie that he did not run it past his speechwriters, who might naturally be expected to have challenged him on it immediately, asking why he’d make a promise the Secret Service had already told him he couldn’t keep. In either case, whether the lie was loaded into Trump’s teleprompter or not, it mirrors the lie he had earlier told about Mike Pence: assuring the crowd that he didn’t know what Pence would do up at the Capitol when in fact Pence had already told him that he would not seek to block the certification of Biden’s victory. {Note: Trump briefly, if perhaps accidentally, acknowledges his conversation with Pence: “I’m not hearing good things [about what Pence plans to do at the Capitol].”}

If the job of the House managers is to show that Trump was aware his words were likely to lead to a breach of the Capitol, the fact that he fled to the White House after his speech is one of the chief pieces of evidence that he had foreknowledge of the dangers of marching to the Capitol with his enraged voters. But if the House managers can also show that Trump lied to the mob about his own participation in the march—and did so in a premeditated way—doing so to embolden them to “fight like hell” at the Capitol under a benighted sense they’d received license to do so directly from the President of the United States, this combination of data points (i.e., Trump’s flight to the White House, coupled with his promise that he’d do no such thing) becomes perhaps the most incriminating piece of evidence against Trump the House managers now possess.

Note too that, in the bolded quote above, Trump doesn’t just focus on the past—his complaints about the election—contrary to the claims of his recent Answer to the Article of Impeachment, which suggests that that’s all he did on January 6. Indeed, Trump’s legal team has been at great pains to say that the entirety of Trump’s now-infamous speech at the White House Ellipse was a retrospective of longstanding grievances. As we see above, however, Trump was in fact determinedly focused on the present and near-future. Trump repeats the phrase “we’re going to walk down [to the Capitol]” not just once or twice but three times; he emphasizes the words “the Capitol”; he even recommends to the gathered mob which street they should walk down to get to the Capitol, so anxious is he that they should do so; he makes sure that the mob understands exactly when it should march (right “after” his speech, he says, with there being extensive evidence from major-media reporting that his speech had been scheduled to ensure the march after it would arrive at the Capitol right when the joint session was beginning). The former president even looks off-stage to make sure that he is giving the mob the proper marching orders—pun only slightly intended.

Trump even goes so far as to underscore that the marchers must, when they arrive at the Capitol, express themselves in a way that the members of Congress will hear—something that would be impossible to do from outside the Capitol building itself—and that in so expressing themselves they must target individual senators and House members on the basis of how they plan to vote on the certification of Biden’s election victory. It’s remarkable, indeed, how comprehensive the quote above is in establishing Trump’s direct orchestration of the events at the Capitol. To the extent House managers decide, as they likely will and in fact must, to get “into the weeds” on precisely what Trump said on January 6 at the Ellipse, this section of his speech must be a key focus.

Worth understanding, as well, is the grammar of Trump’s incitement, which is—not just in a case like this, but any allegation of incitement—not academic but actually essential to the actus reus (criminal act) of the offense. Whereas Trump’s legal team would like to imply he was focused on the past, notice how all of the tenses in the block-quote above are present and future (present tense: “take back out country”; “show strength”; “be strong”; future tense: “we’re going to walk down to the Capitol,” which he then repeats twice; “we’re…not going to be cheering so much for some of them”).

Incitement to insurrection is accomplished not merely by violent words, but by words of instruction that are carefully calibrated to produce a violent result at their back end.

“We have come [to the Stop the Steal/March to Save America rally, and thereafter the Capitol] to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated—lawfully slated.”

Notice that whereas the picture Trump had painted of what he expected the mob to do up at the Capitol had been, seconds earlier, merely “cheering on” certain GOP House members, Trump has already found that framing unsatisfactory and switched to the far more aggressive “demanding.” How does a peaceful mob standing far from the Capitol “demand” that something happen, and imminently? Trump doesn’t say, perhaps because he knows it impossible, and indeed is not actually what he’s ever intended.

But the evolution from “cheering” to “demanding” is not the only evolution in Trump’s instructions to the mob that House managers will need to clock at his impeachment trial: Trump also switches from “march down to the Capitol” to “march[ ] over to the Capitol building (emphasis supplied). Under any other circumstances, this evolution might be regarded as a minor one—but not in a trial for incitement to insurrection.

Remember that House managers ideally will establish that Trump was providing the mob not just with an emotional incentive to be violent (though he certainly did that), but also with explicit instructions on how to achieve the ends Trump was exhorting them to achieve. Having already given the mob the “when,” the “how,” the “where,” and the “why”—each of these being components of Trump’s incitement that House managers will want to establish—Trump now turns to drilling down on each of these components of his plan to maintain control over the United States. Does he want his mob to merely go to “the Capitol,” which could easily denote the Capitol grounds or perhaps even just the area around the Capitol (which is where the Jericho March had originally intended to perform its pseudo-religious and seditious ablutions)? No, the building itself is where the mob needs to go, Trump now clarifies. And lest the picture Trump is painting of what is about to occur remain unclear, remember that Trump has already marveled aloud at what he says is the astounding size of the crowd before him: “hundreds of thousands.”

So it’s not merely that Trump wanted a mob to “fight like hell” to put an end to a major constitutional event about to unfold up at the Capitol, it’s that he wanted a crowd of hundreds of thousands to march immediately to the Capitol building itself and “stop” what was then happening there by “demanding”—in the form of them “fighting like hell”—that certain Republican senators, and the Vice President of the United States, engage in specific, knowingly illegal actions whose components Trump had already outlined in detail to the crowd. And Trump had added, on top of all this, and while speaking to a crowd he knew had come to Washington at his explicit invitation, that “I know” these events will come to pass, that is, “I know [you’ll all do as has been demanded of you].”

It is at this point in his speech that Trump arrives at his pre-planned legal defense: that is, the pre-entry, into his teleprompter, of a word he clearly believes will exculpate him from the mayhem he apparently already knows or suspects is about to unfold.

Trump tells the crowd, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

This is Trump’s first and only mention of anything on January 6 being “peaceful.”

The problem Trump faces in exploiting this pre-planned self-exculpation is not only that it directly contradicts everything else he has already said and is about to say, but that his subsequent actions confirm that these words were contrary to Trump’s own intentions. If indeed Trump had wanted the crowd to “peacefully,” er, “fight like hell” up at the Capitol, he would have been mortified when, after he’d frantically fled back to the White House with his entire family and political team, he saw on television that all the people who’d just been at his rally—remember the New York Times cell phone map, above—were now up at the Capitol involved, many of them, in a violent insurrection. But in fact, we know that Trump’s only reaction to the violence was to be “delighted”, “excited”, “pleased”, a “little bit happy”, and “borderline enthusiastic.” We know he was so giddy at the violence, indeed, that his aides were profoundly creeped out by his response. We know that when they begged him to call out the National Guard to stop the violence, he refused, doing so “repeatedly” per major-media investigative reports.

So Trump’s lone, pre-planned usage of the word peacefully in a 75-minute incitement to insurrection can’t be credited due to its in-speech context and its post-speech context. We might add, too, that that “post-speech context” includes Trump giving a televised speech, post-insurrection, in which he committed to a “peaceful transition of power”; major-media reports thereafter informed America that Trump quickly “regretted” the recording of that video. So House managers needn’t simply rely on the speech itself, or on Trump’s conduct at the White House, to demolish his claim of wanting a “peaceful” rally. Trump told several witnesses at the White House that committing to a “peaceful” transfer of power was a mistake—and he can’t now escape that harrowing confession.

‘Today”, Trump next says, “we will see whether Republicans stand strong for [the] integrity of our elections. But whether or not they stand strong for our country—our country—our country has been under siege for a long time. Far longer than this four-year period.” Note the use of military terminology (“our country…[is] under siege”) and the needless repetition of “our country,” which in being repeated three times underscores that whoever has placed the nation “under siege” is fundamentally not American, indeed is like a foreign invader surrounding the “real” Americans who were then arrayed before Trump at the Ellipse.

I have also noted in the past that one of Trump’s chief propaganda techniques is attaching ideas to his enemies that he actually wants his listeners to pursue; in essence, Trump will say to his voters, “If they’re doing this, why can’t we?” Trump has used this propaganda technique so frequently that all consideration for the possibility that it is coincidental must be abandoned. Rather, it’s clear that Trump projects his own desires onto his adversaries as a way of moving what is called the Overton Window—that is, the universe of actions those he’s speaking to consider imaginable and conscionable. So when Trump here says the enemies of the mob before him have placed “America under siege,” what he’s really asking implicitly is, “Why aren’t we besieging anything?”

It’s a helpful construction for Trump, given that he wants the mob to put the Capitol under siege within the next 60 minutes.

There are brief sections of Trump’s January 6 speech that I’ve ignored here, as they are just fraudulent, systematically deceitful recitations of his supposed accomplishments as president. These should not be recounted, as they’re deliberate disinformation. But I’ll note that at one point, as Trump is lying about actions he took with respect to the Department of Veterans Affairs, he conjures up an imagined scenario in which he is firing an employee at the VA who has betrayed our soldiers; “Joe, you’re fired, get out of here!” Trump thunders.

There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of names in the world, so it’s hard to say that Trump using his chief political enemy’s first name in a made-up story about firing someone who has abused and betrayed American soldiers is a coincidence. Indeed, I take this musing by Trump as yet another indication that so much of his rhetoric on January 6 was deliberate. As has been analyzed by Chris Cuomo and Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley at CNN, videos shown to the January 6 mob on huge television screens not long before Trump spoke repeatedly included brief shots of Joe Biden as a means of stoking the mob’s anger—even though Biden wasn’t at the U.S. Capitol and technically had no role whatsoever in what was then happening up at the Capitol. It’s clear that Trump wanted to be conscientious about repeatedly mentioning anyone and everyone the mob might hate, so slipping Biden’s first name into a tale about betraying our armed services did the trick on that score in the context of Trump having few other mechanisms via which to slip Biden into his speech. {Note: Trump complaining about his election loss might seem like an implicit invocation of Biden, and to an extent it is, but remember that Trump’s line on Biden has always been that he’s mentally incompetent and therefore played no role in “stealing” the election. Finding ways to stoke hatred of Joe Biden is therefore a rhetorical dilemma for Trump.}

Besides asides about his “accomplishments” or the 2020 election that I won’t cover here, there are also brief phrases in Trump’s speech that are telling but don’t connect to much. For instance, at this point in his speech he says the words “Now we’re out here fighting”, which doesn’t connect to anything but doubles down on (a) the idea that Trump intends to participate in whatever happens after the rally, hence the “we,” and (b) the idea that January 6 is about “fighting.” Just so, there’s a point in his speech in which Trump is again lying about the 2020 election—really, it’s important to note that at no point on January 6 or at any time before or after has Trump even stumbled into a true statement about the 2020 election, making it demonstrably harder for him to claim his views on the election were honest opinions made in good faith—at which he begins a sentence with, “Everybody had us down for a victory [before election day in 2020]…” It’s a strange lie because, as we’ll all remember, Trump is generally fanatical about lying in the other direction, falsely saying that the media is against him and predicts his downfall even when polling data points the other way. Here, I’m reminded of the penultimate scene in the Jim Carrey film “Liar, Liar,” in which the comedian’s character, an attorney, suddenly realizes that a client of his—a very vain woman—has lied on her driver’s license to make herself older, a circumstance that for a moment Carrey’s character can’t process due it running counter to common sense. In this case, Trump choosing to lie by falsely indicating that the entire media was in his corner and predicting a win pre-election is explained by the bizarre requirements of his Big Lie about the 2020 general election. That lie requires pre-election polls to have pointed toward a Trump win, when in fact he knows they pointed toward his loss. Amazingly, the crowd eats up this lie even though this—more than any other lie Trump has told them thus far—is easily contradicted by even the most modest research into 2020 polls.

“Today we see a very important event, though. Because right over there {he points to the U.S. Capitol} right over there we see the event [that’s] gonna take place—and I’m gonna be watching, because history is going to be made.”

This line is so important, as remember that Trump’s goal—as is the goal of anyone trying to incite a mob—is to first paint a picture that the mob then seeks to realize in real time. Here, Trump places himself inside the Capitol by saying that he’ll personally be “watching” the “very important event” about to happen inside the Capitol (the joint session of Congress to certify Biden’s electoral victory). Note that the mob would have no reason to doubt Trump, here, as not only has Trump repeatedly told them that he’s going to go to the Capitol personally but they likely know, as many Americans do, that the President of the United States has the special privilege of being able to enter the Capitol and go on the House and Senate floors due to his station. So no one listening to Trump on January 6 would’ve doubted him as he painted a picture of himself inside the Capitol—the same building he’d just told the mob to go to—in the near term.

So why does it matter if Trump tells the crowd that he’s about to enter the Capitol?

Because with his next words, he paints a picture of the mob being inside the Capitol, too.

“We’re going to see whether or not we have great and courageous leaders or whether or not we have leaders who should be ashamed of themselves.”

See the bait-and-switch? First it was “I’m gonna be watching,” now it’s “we’re going to see.” So in the mental image Trump the insurrectionist is conjuring for his armed mob, they’re inside the Capitol building alongside him. He’s already told them to go to the Capitol “building,” and now he is quite clearly placing them inside it—a federal crime if any of them attempt to realize his vision in the hours ahead.

This is why I keep saying, here at Proof and on Twitter, that there’s more than enough evidence of Trump’s insurrectionist and inciting intent in giving his January 6 speech that the burden has now shifted to Trump-as-defendant to paint for the jury (both the senators and the jury at home, i.e. America) what he imagined would happen after his speech. He must convince the Senate and the nation that he had a peaceful vision for how the mob would conduct itself at the Capitol. The problem he has, of course, is that there’s no such vision to be offered—not a coherent one, at least. Look at it this way: what possible permutation of events could lead to an armed mob being at once well off the Capitol grounds, peacefully shouting, but also in a position to “see” what senators inside the building were doing? Had Trump’s team erected big TV screens outside the Capitol to show a crowd they presumed would gather peacefully there what was happening within? Of course not. Trump needed the crowd inside the Capitol—again, a federal crime—and needed to paint a picture for them of them being so positioned.

Trump continues: “Throughout history, throughout eternity, they [the GOP] will be ashamed [if it doesn’t contest Biden’s win]. And you know what? If they do the wrong thing, we should never ever forget that they did. Never forget. We should never ever forget. With only 3 of the states in question, we win the presidency of the United States. And by the way, it’s much more important today than it was 24 hours ago.”

I cannot emphasize this enough: the chief rhetorical gambit nearly every Trump agent executed in the hours before the insurrection was so identical that coordination of the messages is a near-certainty. The gambit? To treat January 6 as the real election day.

It’s so audacious that it bears repeating: Team Trump convinced the mob that January 6 was election day.

Trump speaks of the 2020 election as something that not only hasn’t happened yet but is about to happen up at the Capitol. And he tells the crowd that it is empowered to ensure that the “election” about to happen at the Capitol comes out the right way. It’s so delusional that there’s a deranged sort of genius to it; it’s impossible to whip a mob into a frenzy sufficient to get them to wage an armed insurrection unless you convince them the intensity of their “marching” and “fighting” and “demanding” will determine the outcome of an election. Think of it: what would you do if you truly believed that your actions over the next 60 minutes could determine whether Trump became the de facto dictator of the United States or, instead, Joe Biden became president and our republic survived? And what would you do if you’d been told by speaker after speaker and video after video that all this was so? This is just what happened when Michael Flynn spoke to the crowds on January 5, and Roger Stone, and George Papadopoulos, and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Matt Couch, and Vernon Jones, and Patrick Byrne; this is what happened on January 6 when Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) spoke, and Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), and when Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and Rudy Giuliani spoke. Every Trumpist speaker, explicitly or implicitly, had the very same message: the election is today, and you and you alone can decide its outcome. Also please know that the future of the United States is at stake in what you do today.

Not only is this construction a lie in all the obvious ways, it’s also a lie in small ones, too. Trump wasn’t “three” states from winning the 2020 election, he was 37 electoral votes away from doing so—meaning that while flipping certain combinations of states (like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Nevada) would be enough to change the election outcome, other combinations (like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada) would not be. Indeed, approximately an hour after Trump implied that a change in any three state victories won by Biden would alter the result of the 2020 election, his attorney would call Tommy Tuberville and demand that the U.S. senator challenge ten states on the House floor. Giuliani’s demand—which doubled the number of states he had told the mob at the Ellipse Trump could conceivably contest—underscored that Trump knew his claims to winning any state he’d actually lost were in fact so shaky only throwing the spaghetti at the wall to see what would stick gave him any chance of winning even one state he in fact lost. As with many other lies Trump told the January 6 mob, this one establishes his state of mind with respect to incitement to insurrection: he wanted the mob to mistakenly believe he was close to “winning” an election he’d lost badly.

As for Trump then saying, “This is now—what we’re doing—a far more important election than it was two days ago,” and thereafter falsely calling the January 5 run-off election in Georgia a “setup,” adding that “[now] the only line of demarcation—the only line we have—is the veto of the president of the United States,” his clear intent is to frame January 6 as not just the real election day but as a moment at which the life or death of America will be decided. It’s for this reason even the narrowest definition of the “Big Lie” must acknowledge that Trump wasn’t just lying about the outcome of the 2020 election, but also fraudulently positing January 6 as the date of a general election when it was anything but.

“I want to thank the more than 140 members of the House—those are warriors; they’re over there working like you’ve never seen before, studying, talking, actually going all the way back, studying the roots of the Constitution—because they know we have the right to send a bad vote that was illegally gotten [back to the states].”

This is legally false, of course, as Trump has already been told by White House lawyers. Moreover, note Trump’s return—again and again—to martial metaphors, in this case via the word “warriors.” What is odd with Trump’s rhetoric, here and at other times, is that it’s not always clear whether it’s merely Trump’s vile inclination to speak in violent terms or whether it’s a studied predilection; in any case, lines like those in which he alleges Romney got “slaughtered” in the 2012 election always beg the question of whether Trump is simply drawn to violence by his nature or fashions it into a weapon after a contemplation of its consequences. At this point in his speech, for instance, Trump falsely claims that the January 5 Georgia runoff was “rigged”—he adds that it was the “equipment” that was rigged, an allegation for which, unlike some of his others, he doesn’t even pretend to have evidence—and notes that because of what the Democrats did in Georgia to steal the runoff, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler “never had a shot.” A milder invocation of violence can hardly be imagined, but given all the similar invocations surrounding it, it can hardly be wholly ignored, either. Any dictionary will gladly remind us that the 1700s colloquialism “‘have a shot at’ alludes to firing a gun.” To be sure, the odds are vanishingly small that Trump was thinking of guns in speaking of the Georgia runoff; that said, no rhetorical analysis of a Trump speech on January 6 or any other date can fail to note that the now-former president consistently seeks out for his colloquialisms those with a clearly violent connotation.

We must keep in mind, in making this analysis, that Trump is in the midst of issuing threats as he elects which colloquialisms to use. Indeed, his next line is, “I actually think, though, it takes more courage [for members of Congress] not to step up [and block Biden’s victory].” This is an unambiguous threat, and worse still, it’s a repetition of an identical sentiment offered previously (as to Mike Pence) in his speech. What he means here is that working at cross purposes to him is deleterious to the health of any member of Congress—so much so that if you cross him, you’d best do so with some measure of courage. And lest anyone hearing Trump’s words on January 6 think that his threat is made casually and in reference to a distant time in the future, he adds, “And I think a lot of those people [in Congress] are going to find that out [they better have courage if they certify Biden’s victory]. And you {addressing the mob} better start looking at your leadership, because your leadership has led you down the tubes.”

That Trump’s threat against members of Congress—and their need for “courage” if they plan to cross him—is imminent is unmistakable here, and yet it is also further buttressed by him addressing his remark’s conclusion directly to the assembled mob.

I noted earlier that at points in his January 6 speech Trump simply rants, and this is one such point—so I’ll summarize only the salient components of this particular ramble. Trump returns to his prior theme of a “rigged” election; he accuses the media of being full of Communists who want to “silence” people (aligning social media companies with the very sort of totalitarian state that his top adviser, Michael Flynn, was at the time urging him to establish, with Trump responding so positively that he briefly considered making Flynn his new FBI director or chief of staff for the final weeks of his presidency); Trump repeatedly speaks about “fighting”, indeed doing so wistfully, noting that in prior eras Americans had more of a willingness to “fight” (an implicit challenge to the crowd, by subtly denigrating or “negging” it); he spreads what he’s repeatedly been told by his own administration officials is Russian disinformation on Ukraine, adding, incredibly, that “if I said that [what he falsely says Biden said to Ukrainian officials], it would be a whole different ballgame”, a remarkable statement because he had within the prior year been impeached for saying to Ukraine precisely what he now falsely claims Biden said.

Trump also offers more violent imagery, saying that the media has gone “dead” and now re-introducing a line I referenced above (“Romney got slaughtered”); he then offers even more words with that emphasize force, including (emphasis supplied), “We will not be intimidated into accepting the hoaxes and the lies that we’ve been forced to.” He calls the 2020 election “fake”, a central premise in his preposterous notion—again, one bolstered by nearly even speaker at both the January 5 and January 6 rallies, though it’s unknown whether the White House coordinated this rhetoric or not—that the “real” election day in the United States is January 6, despite this date being in fact just the day Congress exercises a ministerial function regarding an election every state had certified as final and complete and accurate more than three weeks earlier. And then he claims again—and without any evidence, again—that Democrats “cheated like hell” in the Georgia runoff election that was held January 5.

That Trump’s plan in this speech is to empty the entirety of his sordid bag of tricks upon the White House Ellipse—and do so, disgracefully, while standing behind the Presidential Seal of the United States—is made evident by his sudden left turn into racism at this point in his speech, selecting four Democrats in particular to viciously attack (see if you can spot the trend): “Stacy Abrams”; “Oprah”; “Michelle Obama”; “Barack Hussein Obama.”

Trump’s festival of grievances now turns to how “unhappy” he is with the Supreme Court, about whom he notes that he “fought like hell” for three of them to get on the court—note the violent rhetoric, and the combination of two words he’s been setting up for more than a half-hour now, “fight” and “hell”—and spins a conspiracy theory about SCOTUS that seems to come from nowhere: “It almost seems they're all going out of their way to hurt all of us. And to hurt our country. To hurt our country.” The purpose of this bizarre and inane wish-casting is unclear, beyond deliberately amping up the mob’s paranoia. As if sensing the preposterousness of his own rhetoric, Trump lamely explains that perhaps his own Supreme Court picks are ruling against him in recent post-election litigation because they fear if they don’t, they will lose friends on “the social circuit.”

And because no tour of the groups Trump wants the January 6 mob to hate—Biden; the Democratic Party; weak-kneed Republicans; Black people, especially Black women; effete judges—would be complete without yet another attack on the national media that is the sole reason anyone in America ever heard the name “Donald Trump” to begin with, Trump now says (without irony) that a favorite tactic of the media is to accuse their enemies of doing what they themselves are doing (in fact a favorite tactic of Trump himself). He then adds, “If I were media, I’d do the same, hate to say it.” It’s hard to underscore how devious this rhetoric is; Trump projects his own depravities onto others, but in so doing claims license to engage in similar depravities as a matter of fairness—thereby devising an excuse for faults that were always his and his alone in the first instance. I call this maneuver a “meta-meta-attack,” and will add that I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone attempt it in public discourse besides Donald Trump.

“For the sake of our Constitution, for the sake of our children, we [hereby] lay out our case [for election fraud]...”

I won’t repeat the “case” Trump hereafter supplies, as it’s all gibberish and lies, but just keep in mind how historically extraordinary this rant is. Trump is speaking more than 60 days after the election ended; following the election, Trump lost more than 65 state and federal lawsuits; every U.S. state and jurisdiction had, by January 6, long ago certified the election results and told him—often in calls with election officials—that his claims of fraud, illegitimate election protocols, and ballot shenanigans were bunk.

So Trump’s rant here (and it’s long) is delivered despite every word he says having been rejected in conversations he was present for with election law experts and attorneys. Trump has been told over and over and over that everything he’s saying is a lie, and he persists anyway in lying, now to an angry mob he’s about to launch at the U.S. Capitol.

And yet, thoroughly deceitful as it is, Trump’s rant is necessary because, remember, the core theme of his speech is that the November 2020 election was “fake” and the real election day is January 6. Trump can’t create a scenario around this theme that is credible to anyone unless he can establish the November election as an actual nullity.

“The only way [Pennsylvania can re-certify their electors] is if Mike Pence agrees to send it [the electoral slate] back [to Pennsylvania].” Understand what Trump is telling the mob: that state elections officials believe he won and are simply asking for the right to get their electoral slates back so they can re-certify the election with Trump winning. He’s saying his November 2020 loss was a paperwork error that a mob could readily fix. 

Now, some bona fide gibberish:

“Mike Pence has to agree to send it back. And many people in Congress want to send it back. Think of what you’re doing. Let’s say you don’t do it....let’s say they’re stiffs, and they’re stupid people, and they say Pennsylvania and other states want to redo their votes, they want to see the numbers—they already have the numbers—very quickly, and they want to redo. Their legislature! Because many of these votes were taken, because it wasn’t approved by their legislature.”

Got that? I sure hope not, as it doesn’t actually mean anything. Indeed, it underscores that Trump has no earthly clue how elections in America work, and that every time he tries to pretend otherwise he produces a wacky second-grade book report like this one. But then, it doesn’t really need to make sense, as its only aim is to generate a cloud of doubt. More inanity:

“If you don’t do that [send the slates back to the state legislatures], you will have a President of the United States for four years—with his wonderful son [Hunter Biden]—you will have a president who lost all of these states....a president who was voted on by a bunch of stupid people.”

I know this rhetoric is confusing. To simplify: “stupid people” means Congress; “voted on” is Trump’s attempt (again) to frame January 6 as the real election day in America; and the now-former president’s point appears to be that Congress’s “vote” must reflect what Republican legislatures want, rather than what the voters want. This of course has nothing to do with how democracy works, but even that aside, note that Trump is lying in implying that state legislatures across America want to alter their slates of electors. All Trump knows is that a handful of his loyalists in several key states want to do so. But for Trump, that’s enough to be going on with—enough to falsely tell a mob of tens of thousands that their representatives are being cheated as much as (in his view) he is.

It’s important to note that these words, in their totality, are incitement to insurrection. Trump is preaching the overthrow of a democratically elected government and arguing for a new system of government in which voters don’t decide the president, but rather GOP state legislatures—whose judgment is then to be rubber-stamped by Congress. 

{Note: Part III of this analysis of Trump’s January 6 speech is coming shortly.}