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President Trump is going out in a blaze of violence.
His critics always warned it would end this way—in a haze of chaos, fistfights, shattered glass, gunfire, death, and tear gas. On Wednesday, they were proven right.
When Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, they sent shockwaves around the world. But their violent actions ended Trump’s presidency in the spirit in which it began: The 74-year-old real estate magnate burst onto the political scene five years ago and urged his followers to break rules and demonize their enemies. In a debate during his reelection campaign, Trump famously urged his street-brawling supporters to “stand back and stand by.” On Wednesday, he told them to march forward.
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” Trump told his followers in a rally on the Ellipse in D.C. Wednesday around noon, moments before they attacked Congress. “You have to show strength. And you have to be strong.”
In the havoc that followed, a mob of extremists stormed the Capitol building for the first time since the War of 1812, and America witnessed the closest unrest to an attempted coup since the Civil War. Rioters broke windows and raged through the Capitol building, fighting cops and literally climbing the walls. Officials found explosives. One woman was shot inside the Capitol and later died from her wounds.
By the time cops cleared demonstrators off Capitol Hill Wednesday evening, even stalwart Republicans pointed an accusatory finger at Trump. Former GOP President George W. Bush slammed Trump’s “reckless behavior.” Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, ripped Trump for having “caused” the violence, and thundered: “This will be part of his legacy.”
“The president bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point,” Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said in a statement.
Even some of Trump’s most noted enablers recoiled in horror.
“These violent people have no respect for democracy,” tweeted Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff. ”Pure insanity and disgusting.”
But as former President Barack Obama put it Wednesday evening, as the scene began to clear: “We’d be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise.”
In fact, Trump probably relished the feeling of watching his followers trash Capitol Hill, his niece, the psychologist Mary Trump, told VICE News in a phone call Wednesday night.
“Donald got off on every single second of what he saw today,” Mary said. “He enjoyed every single second. He wasn’t going to end it.”
“Donald got off on every single second of what he saw today.”
During his reelection campaign, Trump pointedly refused to agree to a peaceful transition of power.
And one of Trump’s former closest associates, Michael Cohen, has long warned that Trump would unleash destruction in the days before he left the White House. He told Congress over a year ago that Trump would never accept a peaceful transition of power if he lost the election.
Shortly after Trump’s defeat in November, Cohen told VICE News his view on that score remained unchanged.
“There is zero chance that Trump will accept this decision and leave without causing chaos,” Cohen said.
After all, Trump got his start in national campaigning by urging his own rally attendees to violence.
"If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously, OK? Just knock the hell… I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise," Trump said, way back on February 1, 2016.
At another rally soon after that one, Trump told security guards not to go too lightly on protestors. His most violent pronouncements sometimes came wrapped in a half-menacing, half-joking—which allowed his defenders to brush them away.
“Get him out,” Trump said of one protester. “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court. Don't worry about it.”
Those violent exhortations eventually mixed together with mind-bending conspiracy theories that nurtured the resentment and grievance among his followers. Trump falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from him. He pushed insane rumors about dead people voting or corrupt technology. He refused to denounce the unhinged QAnon conspiracy movement, which holds that Trump is really some undercover superhero battling blood-sucking satanists and child molesters. And he eventually embraced other ideas pushed by “Q,” the movement’s mysterious leader.
Trump’s outlandishness and unfounded claims about election fraud were first accepted by a majority of Republican voters—then embraced. And their anger seethed.
Members of Congress joined in, challenging Trump’s defeat in court and pledging to fight Biden’s victory in the legislature even when the battle had clearly become pointless.
On Wednesday, during his speech before the violence broke out, Trump urged his followers—and Vice President Mike Pence—to pressure Congress into handing him a second term, despite his loss, in a presentation replete with violent phraseology from multiple speakers who joined Trump on stage.
Trump blamed his defeat on late-night “explosions of bullshit,” falsely claiming his opponents had somehow dumped phony ballots into the system in the dead of night.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, urged the mob to “trial by combat.”
Trump’s son Don Jr. sarcastically congratulated the crowd on gathering peacefully without burning down any buildings, suggesting violence would only be used by Trump’s opponents.
The mob chanted, “Fight for Trump!” And Don Jr. egged them on.
“That’s right, guys, that’s the message! These guys better fight for Trump,” Don Jr. shouted. “If you’re gonna be the zero, and not the hero, we’re coming for you. And we’re gonna have a good time doing it.”
“We’re gonna have to fight much harder,” Trump intoned, denouncing those who don’t agree that he won the election as “stiffs” and “stupid people.”
Later, once violence erupted, Trump stayed true to his incendiary form. He released a video in which he put more energy into denouncing the election than urging his followers to go home. To those of his fans who were still gathered on Capitol Hill, Trump added: “We love you. You’re very special.”
As a result, Twitter locked Trump’s infamous account for 12 hours and warned he could soon get kicked off permanently. But Trump’s comments were hardly anything new.