House Select Committee investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on
the U.S. Capitol has produced several bombshell revelations in the
last two weeks.
came the news that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, had
Trump administration Chief of Staff Mark Meadows exhorting him to
fight to overturn the 2020 election results. Then, on Monday, a
federal judge, in deciding to grant the committee access to emails
from conservative lawyer John Eastman, ruled
that former president Donald Trump
“more likely than not” committed federal crimes.
House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol
by a pro-Trump mob claims
it has evidence
that Eastman, a former law clerk to Justice Thomas, believed he would
support his legal maneuver to block a Joe Biden victory.
came the news that a seven-hour-and-37-minute gap exists
in Trump’s phone records
turned over to the committee.
revelations remind us of how critical it will be for the public to
get a full sense of what investigators find, as well as for the legal
system to hold the perpetrators accountable, lest another coup
attempt take place.
there is another hard historical reality we must also face. Selecting
our governmental leaders through free and fair elections and a
peaceful transfer of power is a concept not embraced by all
Americans. Indeed, the Capitol insurrection was not the first of its
kind on U.S. soil. And after past coup attempts, the U.S. government
failed to prosecute the conspirators, allowing them to go free or
even permitting them to remain in power when they succeeded. As the
public learns more about the Jan. 6 insurrection and the politicians,
organizations and funders behind the attempted coup, calls for
indictments will take place within a historical context of past coups
and coup attempts that evaded accountability.
overthrows of democratically elected state and local governments
happened multiple times in the aftermath of the Civil War.
example, in 1874, a Democratic Party-aligned militia of Confederate
veterans known as the White
took over the Louisiana Capitol and New Orleans City Hall for three
days, in what was known as the Battle of Liberty Place. The
was dedicated to upholding white supremacy and intimidating Black
voters, expelling Republicans from power and defending a “hereditary
civilization and Christianity menaced by a stupid Africanization.”
Louisiana’s Republican governor had been elected two years
earlier because of the Black vote, and the elected lieutenant
governor was Black.
response, President Ulysses S. Grant ordered the army to suppress the
insurrectionists, who had killed at least 13
in the city’s integrated police force, cut New Orleans’
telegraph lines, and demanded the resignation of the governor and the
installation of his losing Democratic opponent. Yet none of the
insurrectionists were charged and that was it.
years later, Reconstruction was over. In 1877, Republican Rutherford
B. Hayes became president, and he removed
from the South. The Confederates regained control of Louisiana and
suppressed the Black vote. In 1891, a monument praising the coup
attempt — depicted as the “overthrow of carpetbag
government ousting the usurpers” — was erected.
Massacre of 1898,
a white supremacist mob known as the Red Shirts forcibly removed the
progressive biracial coalition of White and Black elected leaders of
Wilmington, N.C., a majority Black city and the largest city in the
state. The thought of Black people governing and competing with White
people was unthinkable for those who saw their way of life threatened
and who sought to “protect”
White women from Black men.
100 Black government officials were removed from power at gunpoint,
and replaced with unelected Whites under a White
Declaration of Independence.
The offices of the Daily Record, a Black-owned newspaper, were burned
to the ground, and as many as 250 Black people were murdered and
thousands fled the city. The coup was a deemed a success for the
city’s White business elite. In 1900, the state legislature
enacted voting restrictions to disenfranchise Black voters, including
a poll tax and literacy test. Black power would not return for the
greater part of a century.
those who targeted the presidency evaded consequences. In 1933, a
group of the wealthiest
men in America
— Wall Street bankers and leaders of business and industry —
hatched a plan to remove President Franklin D. Roosevelt from office
and replace him with a fascist dictator. Wall Street financiers
opposed Roosevelt’s New
— a program of public works projects, economic regulations, and
income and wealth redistributive measures designed to end the Great
Depression and attack economic inequality. Critics viewed Roosevelt
as part of a socialist,
communist or Jewish conspiracy
to end capitalism. With capitalism
for the masses, these men viewed fascism as a solution.
was their plan: as part of what has become known as the Business Plot
or Wall Street Putsch, a
paramilitary force of 500,000 veterans
was to march to the Capitol. Wall Street would supply $30
with Remington Arms supplying the guns. Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, a
highly decorated Marine veteran and a Quaker who had participated in
every U.S. war since the Spanish-American War, was recruited to lead
the coup. Butler had participated in regime change in Latin American
countries and the installation of dictators on behalf of corporate
America, who would exploit these countries and their resources for
Butler refused to participate and he revealed
to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who said he had no authority to
investigate, and had no evidence a federal crime had been committed.
Hoover then told Roosevelt, who reportedly laughed
and said: “Fantastic!”
McCormack-Dickstein Committee, later known as the House of
Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities held hearings on
the conspiracy. And yet, legally, nobody was held accountable,
leaving historians and journalists to
who was even involved (Many have speculated that coup
included General Motors’ Alfred P. Sloan, the DuPont family,
former New York governor and presidential nominee Al Smith, and
Prescott Bush — father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of
George W. Bush — who would later become a U.S. senator —
despite the fact that none were ever concretely linked to the plot.)
the Business Plot was not carried out to completion — Roosevelt
presumably struck a deal with the executives to not pursue treason
charges in exchange for dropping their opposition to the New Deal —
none of those who plotted the coup was prosecuted or even subpoenaed
to testify. Further, the committee withheld the names of the plotters
in Butler’s testimony in its final report to Congress.
history of coup attempts shows a disturbing trend: people whose ideas
were too unpopular and repulsive to prevail at the ballot box have
resorted to violent, extralegal and antidemocratic means to get their
nation unable or unwilling to deal with its legacy of insurrection is
consigned to a future of insurrections. At a time of heightened
government corruption, extensive efforts to suppress and
disenfranchise voters and a lack of faith in social institutions to
solve our problems, some people believe elections are rigged or make
theories abound, and growing public distrust in free and fair
elections only provides a breeding ground for domestic insurgencies.
Remedies for restoring public trust include greater transparency and
accountability from government and media companies that spread
disinformation, reforming or replacing broken institutions, and
increasing civic education and participation.
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