Luke Mogelson, a contributing writer with the New Yorker, followed Trump supporters and filmed them as they forced their way into the Senate chamber on January 6. A Reporter’s Footage from Inside the Capitol Siege:
When Luke Mogelson attended President Donald Trump’s speech on the National Mall, in Washington, D.C., on January 6th, he was prepared for the possibility that violence might erupt that day. Mogelson, a veteran war correspondent and a contributing writer at The New Yorker, had spent the previous ten months reporting on the radical fringe of Trump supporters, from anti-lockdown militias to fascist groups such as the Proud Boys. After Election Day, he interviewed Trump supporters who showed up at ballot-tabulation sites, and who believed the President’s lies that the results had been “rigged” and his victory “stolen.” At one post-election pro-Trump rally in D.C., Mogelson witnessed racist violence against Black residents of the nation’s capital. At another event, he watched the host of the white-supremacist Web program “America First” declare, “Our Founding Fathers would get in the streets, and they would take this country back by force if necessary. And that is what we must be prepared to do.”
After Trump’s incendiary speech, Mogelson followed the President’s supporters as they forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, using his phone’s camera as a reporter’s notebook. What follows is a video that includes some of that raw footage. Mogelson harnessed this material while writing his panoramic, definitive report, “Among the Insurrectionists,” which the magazine posted online on Friday. (It appears in print in the January 25th issue.) His prose vividly captures how the raging anger and violence of the initial breach of the Capitol was followed by an eerily quiet and surreal interlude inside the Senate chamber, where Mogelson watched people rummaging through desks and posing for photographs. Although the footage was not originally intended for publication, it documents a historic event and serves as a visceral complement to Mogelson’s probing, illuminating report.
The accompanying report, Among the Insurrectionists (excerpts):
Beneath the soaring dome, surrounded by statues of former Presidents and by large oil paintings depicting such historical scenes as the embarkation of the Pilgrims and the presentation of the Declaration of Independence, a number of young men chanted, “America first!” The phrase was popularized in 1940 by Nazi sympathizers lobbying to keep the U.S. out of the Second World War; in 2016, Trump resurrected it to describe his isolationist foreign and immigration policies. Some of the chanters, however, waved or wore royal-blue flags inscribed with “AF,” in white letters. This is the logo for the program “America First,” which is hosted by Nicholas Fuentes, a twenty-two-year-old Holocaust denier, who promotes a brand of white Christian nationalism that views politics as a means of preserving demographic supremacy. Though America Firsters revile most mainstream Republicans for lacking sufficient commitment to this priority—especially neoconservatives, whom they accuse of being subservient to Satan and Jews—the group’s loyalty to Trump is, according to Fuentes, “unconditional.”
The America Firsters and other invaders fanned out in search of lawmakers, breaking into offices and revelling in their own astounding impunity. “Nancy, I’m ho-ome! ” a man taunted, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Someone else yelled, “1776—it’s now or never.” Around this time, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. . . . USA demands the truth!” Twenty minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, a thirty-five-year-old woman from California, was fatally shot while climbing through a barricaded door that led to the Speaker’s lobby in the House chamber, where representatives were sheltering. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, later said that she’d had a “close encounter” with rioters during which she thought she “was going to die.” Earlier that morning, another representative, Lauren Boebert—a newly elected Republican, from Colorado, who has praised QAnon and promised to wear her Glock in the Capitol—had tweeted, “Today is 1776.”
This has become code for a white supremacy male patriarchy, which is what this country was at its founding.
When Babbitt was shot, I was on the opposite side of the Capitol, where people were growing frustrated by the empty halls and offices.
“Where the fuck are they?”
“Where the fuck is Nancy?”
No one seemed quite sure how to proceed. “While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,” somebody suggested.
Then a man with a large “AF ” flag—college-age, cheeks spotted with acne—pushed through a series of tall double doors, the last of which gave onto the Senate chamber.
[F]rom the gallery, a man in a flak jacket called down, “Take everything! Take all that shit!”
“No!” an older man, who wore an ammo vest and held several plastic flex cuffs, shouted. “We do not take anything.” The man has since been identified as Larry Rendall Brock, Jr., a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.
This establishes that there was a pre-planned command and control in place for the capitol siege. This was not a riot that simply got out of control.
The young America Firster went directly to the dais and installed himself in the leather chair recently occupied by the Vice-President. Another America Firster filmed him extemporizing a speech: “Donald Trump is the emperor of the United States . . .”
“Hey, get out of that chair,” a man about his age, with a thick Southern drawl, said. He wore cowhide work gloves and a camouflage hunting jacket that was several sizes too large for him. Gauze hung loosely around his neck, and blood, leaking from a nasty wound on his cheek, encrusted his beard. Later, when another rioter asked for his name, he responded, “Mr. Black.” The America Firster turned and looked at him uncertainly.
“We’re a democracy,” Mr. Black said.
“Bro, we just broke into the Capitol,” the America Firster scoffed. “What are you talking about?”
Brock, the Air Force veteran, said, “We can’t be disrespectful.” Using the military acronym for “information operations,” he explained, “You have to understand—it’s an I.O. war.”
The America Firster grudgingly left the chair. More than a dozen Trump supporters filed into the chamber. A hundred antique mahogany desks with engraved nameplates were arranged in four tiered semicircles. Several people swung open the hinged desktops and began rifling through documents inside, taking pictures with their phones of private notes and letters, partly completed crossword puzzles, manuals on Senate procedure. A man in a construction hard hat held up a hand-signed document, on official stationery, addressed from “Mitt” to “Mike”—presumably, Romney and Pence. It was the speech that Romney had given, in February, 2020, when he voted to impeach Trump for pressuring the President of Ukraine to produce dirt on Biden. “Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and disruptive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine,” Romney had written.
Some senators had printed out their prepared remarks for the election certification that the insurrectionists had disrupted. The man in the hard hat found a piece of paper belonging to Ted Cruz and said, “He was gonna sell us out all along—look! ‘Objection to counting the electoral votes of the state of Arizona.’ ” He paused. “Oh, wait, that’s actually O.K.”
“He’s with us,” an America Firster said.
Another young man, wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeved undershirt, seemed unconvinced. Frantically flipping through a three-ring binder on Cruz’s desk, he muttered, “There’s gotta be something in here we can fucking use against these scumbags.” Someone looking on commented, with serene confidence, “Cruz would want us to do this, so I think we’re good.”
“I think Cruz would want us to do this,” one said after they broke into the Senate chamber and were going through documents on a senator’s desk.
“Yeah absolutely,” another said
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 17, 2021
Mr. Black wandered around in a state of childlike wonder. “This don’t look big enough,” he muttered. “This can’t be the right place.” On January 14th, Joshua Black was arrested, in Leeds, Alabama, after he posted a confession on YouTube in which he explained, “I just felt like the spirit of God wanted me to go in the Senate room.” On the day of the riot, as he took in the chamber, he ordered everyone, “Don’t trash the place. No disrespect.” After a while, rather than defy him, nearly everybody left the chamber. For a surreal interlude, only a few people remained. Black’s blood-smeared cheek was grotesquely swollen, and as I looked closer I glimpsed the smooth surface of a yellow plastic projectile embedded deeply within it.
“I’m gonna call my dad,” he said, and sat down on the floor, leaning his back against the dais.
A moment later, the door at the back of the chamber’s center aisle swung open, and a man strode through it wearing a fur headdress with horns, carrying a spear attached to an American flag. He was shirtless, his chest covered with Viking and pagan tattoos, his face painted red, white, and blue. It was Jacob Chansley aka Jake Angeli, a vocal QAnon proponent from Arizona, popularly known by his pseudonym, the Q Shaman. Both on the Mall and inside the Capitol, I’d seen countless signs and banners promoting QAnon, whose acolytes believe that Trump is working to dismantle an occult society of cannibalistic pedophiles. At the base of the Washington Monument, I’d watched Chansley assure people, “We got ’em right where we want ’em! We got ’em by the balls, baby, and we’re not lettin’ go!”
“Fuckin’ A, man,” he said now, looking around with an impish grin. A young policeman had followed closely behind him. Pudgy and bespectacled, with a medical mask over red facial hair, he approached Black, and asked, with concern, “You good, sir? You need medical attention?”
“I’m good, thank you,” Black responded. Then, returning to his phone call, he said, “I got shot in the face with some kind of plastic bullet.”
“Any chance I could get you guys to leave the Senate wing?” the officer inquired. It was the tone of someone trying to lure a suicidal person into climbing down from a ledge.
“We will,” Black assured him. “I been making sure they ain’t disrespectin’ the place.”
“O.K., I just want to let you guys know—this is, like, the sacredest place.”
Chansley had climbed onto the dais. “I’m gonna take a seat in this chair, because Mike Pence is a fucking traitor,” he announced. He handed his cell phone to another Trump supporter, telling him, “I’m not one to usually take pictures of myself, but in this case I think I’ll make an exception.” The policeman looked on with a pained expression as Chansley flexed his biceps. (above).
A skinny man in dark clothes told the officer, “This is so weird—like, you should be stopping us.”
The officer pointed at each person in the chamber: “One, two, three, four, five.” Then he pointed at himself: “One.” After Chansley had his photographs, the officer said, “Now that you’ve done that, can I get you guys to walk out of this room, please?”
“Yes, sir,” Chansley said. He stood up and took a step, but then stopped. Leaning his spear against the Vice-President’s desk, he found a pen and wrote something on a sheet of paper.
“I feel like you’re pushing the line,” the officer said.
Chansley ignored him. After he had set down the pen, I went behind the desk. Over a roll-call list of senators’ names, the Q Shaman had scrawled, “its only a matter of time / justice is coming!”
* * *
In the Senate chamber on January 6th, Jacob Chansley took off his horns and led a group prayer through a megaphone, from behind the Vice-President’s desk. The insurrectionists bowed their heads while Chansley thanked the “heavenly Father” for allowing them to enter the Capitol and “send a message” to the “tyrants, the communists, and the globalists.” Joshua Black, the Alabaman who had been shot in the face with a rubber bullet, said in his YouTube confession, “I praised the name of Jesus on the Senate floor. That was my goal. I think that was God’s goal.”
While the religiously charged demonization of globalists dovetails with QAnon, religious maximalism has also gone mainstream. Under Trump, Republicans throughout the country have consistently situated American politics in the context of an eternal, cosmic struggle between good and evil. In doing so, they have rendered constitutional principles of representation, pluralism, and the separation of powers less inviolable, given the magnitude of what is at stake.
Trump played to this sensibility on June 1st, a week after George Floyd was killed. Police officers used rubber bullets, batons, tear gas, and pepper-ball grenades to violently disperse peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square so that he could walk unmolested from the White House to a church and pose for a photograph while holding a Bible. Liberals were appalled. For many of the President’s supporters, however, the image was symbolically resonant.
“[W]hite folks feel real emboldened these days,” Toni Sanders, a local activist, told me. Sanders had been at the square on June 1st, with her wife and her nine-year-old stepson. “He was tear-gassed,” she said. “He’s traumatized.” She had returned there the day of the march to prevent people from defacing the fence, and had already been in several confrontations. While we spoke, people carrying religious signs approached. They were affiliates of Patriot Prayer, a conservative Christian movement, based in Vancouver, Washington, whose rallies have often attracted white supremacists. Kyle Chapman, a prominent Patriot Prayer figure from California (and a felon), once headed the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, a “tactical defense arm” of the Proud Boys. A few days before the march, Chapman had posted a statement on social media proposing that the Proud Boys change their name to the Proud Goys, purge all “undesirables,” and “boldly address the issues of White Genocide” and “the right for White men and women to have their own countries where White interests are written into law.”
The founder of Patriot Prayer, Joey Gibson, has praised Chapman as “a true patriot” and “an icon.” (He also publicly disavows racism and anti-Semitism.) In December, Gibson led the group that broke into the Oregon state capitol. “Look at them,” Sanders said as Gibson passed us, yelling about Biden being a communist. “Full of hate, and proud of it.” She shook her head. “If God were here, He would smite these motherfuckers.”
[T]he Republican Party’s cynical embrace of Trump’s attempted power grab all the way up to January 6th has strengthened its radical flank while sidelining moderates. Seventeen Republican-led states and a hundred and six Republican members of Congress—well over half—signed on to the Texas suit asking the Supreme Court to disenfranchise more than twenty million voters. Republican officials shared microphones with white nationalists and conspiracists at every Stop the Steal event I attended. At the Million maga March, Louie Gohmert, a congressman from Texas, spoke shortly after Alex Jones on the steps of the Supreme Court. “This is a multidimensional war that the U.S. intelligence people have used on other governments,” Gohmert said—words that might have come from Jones’s mouth. “You not only steal the vote but you use the media to convince people that they’re not really seeing what they’re seeing.”
“We see!” a woman in the crowd cried.
In late December, Gohmert and other Republican legislators filed a lawsuit asking the courts to affirm Vice-President Pence’s right to unilaterally determine the results of the election. When federal judges dismissed the case, Gohmert declared on TV that the ruling had left patriots with only one form of recourse: “You gotta go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and B.L.M.”
Gohmert is a mainstay of the Tea Party insurgency that facilitated Trump’s political rise. Both that movement and Trumpism are preoccupied as much with heretical conservatives as they are with liberals. At an October rally, Trump derided rinos—Republicans in name only—as “the lowest form of human life.” After the election, any Republican who accepted Biden’s victory was similarly maligned. When Chris Krebs, a Trump appointee in charge of national cybersecurity, deemed the election “the most secure in American history,” the President fired him. Joe diGenova, Trump’s attorney, then said that Krebs “should be drawn and quartered—taken out at dawn and shot.”
As Republican officials scrambled to prove their fealty to the President, some joined Gohmert in invoking the possibility of violent rebellion. In December, the Arizona Republican Party reposted a tweet from Ali Alexander, a chief organizer of the Stop the Steal movement, that stated, “I am willing to give my life for this fight.” The Twitter account of the Republican National Committee appended the following comment to the retweet: “He is. Are you?”
* * *
Trump was lying when, after dispatching his followers to the Capitol, he assured them, “I’ll be with you.” But, in a sense, he was there—as were Alex Jones, Nicholas Fuentes, and Ali Alexander. Their messaging was ubiquitous: on signs, clothes, patches, and flags, and in the way that the insurrectionists articulated what they were doing. At one point, I watched a man with a long beard and a Pittsburgh Pirates hat facing off against several policemen on the main floor of the Capitol. “I will not let this country be taken over by globalist communist scum!” he yelled, hoarse and shaking. “They want us all to be slaves! Everybody’s seen the documentation—it’s out in the open!” He could not comprehend why the officers would want to interfere in such a virtuous uprising. “You know what’s right,” he told them. Then he gestured vaguely at the rest of the rampaging mob. “Just like these people know what’s right.”
After Chansley, the Q Shaman, left his note on the dais, a new group entered the Senate chamber. Milling around was a man in a black-and-yellow plaid shirt, with a bandanna over his face. Ahead of January 6th, Enrique Tarrio, the Proud Boys chairman, had released a statement announcing that his men would “turn out in record numbers” for the event—but would be “incognito.” The man in the plaid shirt was the first Proud Boy I had seen openly wearing the organization’s signature colors. At several points, however, I heard grunts of “Uhuru!,” a Proud Boys battle cry, and a group attacking a police line outside the Capitol had sung “Proud of Your Boy”—from the Broadway version of “Aladdin”—for which the organization is sardonically named. One member of the group had flashed the “O.K.” sign and shouted, “Fuck George Floyd! Fuck Breonna Taylor! Fuck them all!” He seemed overcome with emotion, as if at last giving expression to a sentiment that he had long suppressed.
[A]t the Capitol on January 6th, the interactions between Trump supporters and law enforcement vacillated from homicidal belligerence to borderline camaraderie—a schizophrenic dynamic that compounded the dark unreality of the situation. When a phalanx of officers at last marched into the Senate chamber, no arrests were made, and everyone was permitted to leave without questioning. As we passed through the central doors, a sergeant with a shaved head said, “Appreciate you being peaceful.” His uniform was half untucked and missing buttons, and his necktie was ripped and crooked. Beside him, another officer, who had been sprayed with a fire extinguisher, looked as if a sack of flour had been emptied on him.
A policeman loitering in the lobby escorted us down a nearby set of stairs, where we overtook an elderly woman carrying a “trump” tote bag. “We scared them off—that’s what we did, we scared the bastards,” she said, to no one in particular.
The man in front of me had a salt-and-pepper beard and a baseball cap with a “We the People” patch on the back. I had watched him collect papers from various desks in the Senate chamber and put them in a glossy blue folder. As police directed us to an exit, he walked out with the folder in his hand.
[O]n the north end of the Capitol, a renewed offensive was being mounted, on another entrance guarded by police. The rioters here were far more bitter and combative, for a simple reason: they were outside, and they wanted inside. They repeatedly charged the police and were repulsed with opaque clouds of tear gas and pepper spray.
“Fuck the blue!” people chanted.
“We have guns, too, motherfuckers!” one man yelled. “With a lot bigger rounds!” Another man, wearing a do-rag that said “fuck your feelings,” told his friend, “If we have to tool up, it’s gonna be over. It’s gonna come to that. Next week, Trump’s gonna say, ‘Come to D.C.’ And we’re coming heavy.”
Later, I listened to a woman talking on her cell phone. “We need to come back with guns,” she said. “One time with guns, and then we’ll never have to do this again.”
Although the only shot fired on January 6th was the one that killed Ashli Babbitt, two suspected explosive devices were found near the Capitol, and a seventy-year-old Alabama man was arrested for possessing multiple loaded weapons, ammunition, and eleven Molotov cocktails. As the sun fell, clashes with law enforcement at times descended into vicious hand-to-hand brawling. During the day, more than fifty officers were injured and fifteen hospitalized. I saw several Trump supporters beat policemen with blunt instruments. Videos show an officer being dragged down stairs by his helmet and clobbered with a pole attached to an American flag. In another, a mob crushes a young policeman in a door as he screams in agony. One officer, Brian Sicknick, a forty-two-year-old, died after being struck in the head with a fire extinguisher. Several days after the siege, Howard Liebengood, a fifty-one-year-old officer assigned to protect the Senate, committed suicide.
Right-wing extremists justify such inconsistency by assigning the epithet “oath-breaker” to anyone in uniform who executes his duties in a manner they dislike. It is not difficult to imagine how, once Trump is no longer President, his most fanatical supporters could apply this caveat to all levels of government, including local law enforcement. At the rally on December 12th, Nicholas Fuentes underscored the irreconcilability of a radical-right ethos and pro-police, pro-military patriotism: “When they go door to door mandating vaccines, when they go door to door taking your firearms, when they go door to door taking your children, who do you think it will be that’s going to do that? It’s going to be the police and the military.”
During Trump’s speech on January 6th, he said, “The media is the biggest problem we have.” He went on, “It’s become the enemy of the people. . . . We gotta get them straightened out.” Several journalists were attacked during the siege. Men assaulted a Times photographer inside the Capitol, near the rotunda, as she screamed for help. After National Guard soldiers and federal agents finally arrived and expelled the Trump supporters, some members of the mob shifted their attention to television crews in a park on the east side of the building. Earlier, a man had accosted an Israeli journalist in the middle of a live broadcast, calling him a “lying Israeli” and telling him, “You are cattle today.” Now the Trump supporters surrounded teams from the Associated Press and other outlets, chasing off the reporters and smashing their equipment with bats and sticks.
There was a ritualistic atmosphere as the crowd stood in a circle around the piled-up cameras, lights, and tripods. “This is the old media,” a man said, through a megaphone. “This is what it looks like. Turn off Fox, turn off CNN.”
Another man, in a black leather jacket and wraparound sunglasses, suggested that journalists should be killed: “Start makin’ a list! Put all those names down, and we start huntin’ them down, one by one!”
“Traitors to the guillotine!”
“They won’t be able to walk down the streets!”
The radicalization of the Republican Party has altered the world of conservative media, which is, in turn, accelerating that radicalization. On November 7th, Fox News, which has often seemed to function as a
civilian branch state media of the Trump Administration, called the race for Biden, along with every other major network. Furious, Trump encouraged his supporters to instead watch Newsmax, whose ratings skyrocketed as a result. Newsmax hosts have dismissed covid-19 as a “scamdemic” and have speculated that Republican politicians were being infected with the virus as a form of “sabotage.” The Newsmax headliner Michelle Malkin has praised Fuentes as one of the “New Right leaders” and the groypers as “patriotic.”
At the December 12th rally, I ran into the Pennsylvania Three Percent member whom I’d met in Harrisburg on November 7th. Then he had been a Fox News devotee, but since Election Day he’d discovered Newsmax. “I’d had no idea what it even was,” he told me. “Now the only thing that anyone I know watches anymore is Newsmax. They ask the hard questions.”
It seems unlikely that what happened on January 6th will turn anyone who inhabits such an ecosystem against Trump. On the contrary, there are already indications that the mayhem at the Capitol will further isolate and galvanize many right-wingers. The morning after the siege, an alternative narrative, pushed by Alex Jones and other conspiracists, went viral on Parler: the assault on the Capitol had actually been instigated by Antifa agitators impersonating Trump supporters. Mo Brooks, an Alabama congressman who led the House effort to contest the certification of the Electoral College votes, tweeted, “Evidence growing that fascist ANTIFA orchestrated Capitol attack with clever mob control tactics.” (Brooks had warmed up the crowd for Trump on January 6th, with a speech whose bellicosity far surpassed the President’s. “Today is the day American patriots start takin’ down names and kickin’ ass!” he’d hollered.) Most of the “evidence” of Antifa involvement seems to be photographs of rioters clad in black. Never mind that, in early January, Tarrio, the Proud Boys chairman, wrote on Parler, “We might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.” Or that his colleague Joe Biggs, addressing antifascist activists, added, “We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you.”
[Trump] will not disappear. Neither will the baleful forces that he has conjured and awakened. This is why iconoclasts like Nicholas Fuentes and Alex Jones have often seemed more exultant than angry since Election Day. For them, the disappointment of Trump’s defeat has been eclipsed by the prospect of upheaval that it has brought about. As Fuentes said on the “InfoWars” panel, “This is the best thing that can happen, because it’s destroying the legitimacy of the system.” Fuentes was at the Capitol riot, though he denies going inside. On his show the next day, he called the siege “the most awe-inspiring and inspirational and incredible thing I have seen in my entire life.”
At the heap of wrecked camera gear outside the Capitol, the man in the leather jacket and sunglasses declared to the crowd, “We are at war. . . . Mobilize in your own cities, your own counties. Storm your own capitol buildings. And take down every one of these corrupt motherfuckers.” Behind him, lights glowed in the rotunda. The sky darkened. At 8 p.m., Congress reconvened and resumed certifying the election. For six hours, Americans had held democracy hostage in the name of [faux] patriotism.
The storm might be here.
Prosecute everyone who was there at the Capitol and who instigated this insurrection. We’ll build more prisons.