An Overwhelming Success.

John Ellis
7 min readFeb 15, 2021

News Items is a newsletter that “covers” four baskets: (1) World in Disarray, (2) Financialization of Everything, (3) Advances in Science and Technology. and (4) Electoral politics in the US and around the world. Six days a week, not Sundays. Commentary and analysis as well, when I think I have something to add. Below is a commentary on January 6th. You can subscribe by clicking here.

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How close we came” has been the mainstream narrative since the storming of the Capitol on 6 January. It was the b-roll of this past week’s impeachment trial. How many times did you see Vice President Pence and Senators Romney and Schumer being hustled to safety, steps ahead of the marauding mob? I saw it 20 times, at least, and I didn’t watch most of the coverage.

Op-ed pages and their digital equivalents were chock-a-block with “how close we came” commentary. It was the Big Talking Point of every talking head on every cable news program not carried by the Fox News Channel. And it hung over every word spoken by the House impeachment managers, most chillingly during Rep. Jamie Raskin’s presentation on the opening day of the trial.

The nice thing about the “how close we came” narrative was (and is)….it had a happy ending. Disaster was averted. The rule of law applied. A free and fair election result was certified. The winner was duly sworn into office 14 days later. The Republic sailed on, stalwart and steadfast.

Sadly for the Republic, “how close we came” is not the only “true” narrative. There’s another one, being written and updated on the fly in right-wing and militia chat rooms, on privacy-protected messaging apps, and at the further and furthest edges of right-wing media. That narrative has as its “basis of fact,” a kind of “after action” report and assessment of what happened on 6 January and what the Insurrection (for lack of a better word) accomplished.

That assessment was and continues to be: We won.

Not literally, obviously. The certification of the Electoral College results, as noted above, was delayed but not derailed. The government, despite the occupation, continued to function. But the point of the riot wasn’t just to make “citizens’ arrests” of hated lawmakers or attempt to undo the results of a presidential election. The point of the riot from the point of view of the “professional” Insurrectionists was also tactical.

Who were the “professionals?” From The Washington Post:

Self-styled militia members from Virginia, Ohio and other states made plans to storm the U.S. Capitol days in advance of the Jan. 6 attack, and then communicated in real time as they breached the building on opposite sides and talked about hunting for lawmakers, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

While authorities have charged more than 100 individuals in the riot, details in the new allegations against three U.S. military veterans offer a disturbing look at what they allegedly said to one another before, during and after the attack — statements that indicate a degree of preparation and determination to rush deep into the halls and tunnels of Congress to make “citizens’ arrests” of elected officials.

From The Associated Press:

An Associated Press review of public records, social media posts and videos shows at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as being at or near the Capitol riot, with more than a dozen others under investigation but not yet named. In many cases, those who stormed the Capitol appeared to employ tactics, body armor and technology such as two-way radio headsets that were similar to those of the very police they were confronting.

What did they look like?

via AP photos, “Ranger File”

What tactical intelligence were they gathering? Oversimplified, the “operation” was a probe of the nation’s political immune system. If you introduced insanity into the government’s bloodstream, what would happen? How would the various actors and institutions — law enforcement, the military, the intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice, elected officials, Republicans, Democrats, the media, the general public — react? How far could they (the Insurrectionists) go? How far would the “system” allow them to go?

Far, it turned out. Really far, by any measure. And looked at that way, from the professional Insurrectionists’ point of view, the “operation” was a stunning success, both for its rich harvest of “response intelligence” and the astonishing indulgence accorded it. Consider the following:

1. The Insurrectionists had and continue to have the support of the 45th president of the United States. Even as the mob hunted down Vice President Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (second and third in line to the presidency), they enjoyed then-President Trump’s support. Had he told them to stand down, they almost certainly would have done so, immediately. They were, to a remarkable degree, marching on his orders. And they were wired for directional signals, via Twitter and messaging apps like Telegram.

No signal meant keep going. No signal from the White House was sent and so keep going they did. It was only much later, as nightfall approached, that the president called for an end to the occupation, expressing concern not for the safety of some of the nation’s top elected officials, but with the observation that killing police officers might be bad for the Insurrectionists’ brand.

2. Their actions were and continue to be downplayed if not tolerated by many Republican members of Congress. The Insurrectionists didn’t believe for one second that this weekend’s impeachment vote hinged on procedural, jurisdictional or Constitutional questions. They viewed it as a proxy vote on the events of 6 January; a test of power. Those who voted to acquit were with them. Those who voted to convict were against. In the event, forty-three Senators, all Republicans, voted to acquit.

Looked at through the Insurrectionist lens, the vote was a clear win. Eighty-six percent of the Republican members of the United States Senate voted against punishment of the Insurrectionist attack on the United States Senate, because, they said, of their concerns about “procedure.” You could almost hear members of the Oath Keepers and 3 Percenters cackling over that. The Insurrectionists had and have no doubt, at all, that the GOP Senators voted the way they did because they were weak and easily intimidated. Learning the extent of that weakness and fear was, for the Insurrectionists, exhilarating.

3. It got better closer to home, particularly in so-called Red States. Any Republican who, in their view, voted against them in either the House impeachment proceedings or the Senate “trial” was, in almost every case, censured by his or her local or state Republican Party. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) was but one of many who found herself in the crossfire of rabid right-wing politics and the target of credible death threats. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) were the most recent examples of state party censure. GOP officials across the country were so cowed by the Insurrectionist menace that they couldn’t bring themselves to make clear and unequivocal statements that those issuing death threats against elected officials who voted for impeachment or conviction would be hunted down and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

4. Tactically speaking, perhaps the most amazing piece of intelligence gathered from the events of January 6th was that for hours, the nation’s law enforcement, military and intelligence communities froze. Despite desperate pleas for back-up and the evident need for a massive counter-attack, nothing happened. It was as if everyone charged with the duty of defending the federal government from any such attack was instead watching it on television. For the longest time, the only law enforcement agents “on the ground,” aside from the Capitol Police, were District of Columbia cops.

5. Most important, what the attack revealed was that the Insurrectionists had a numerically large base of support, much larger, I suspect, than they could have ever imagined. And that they therefore had leverage they never imagined, which enabled them to influence things across the political landscape, sometimes without even knowing they had done so.

Does anyone think that Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing to be the Attorney General of the United States was delayed until next week because Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) felt that to do so sooner would “violate the committee’s standard of only holding a confirmation hearing 28 days after receiving paperwork.”

Really? Break that down: There’s an attack on the Federal government that requires an enormous and well-managed investigation by the Department of Justice to determine exactly what happened and to bring those responsible to justice. The person nominated to lead and oversee that investigation and eventual prosecution (as Attorney General of the United States), is almost uniquely qualified to do just that. All that is needed is his expedited confirmation. And Sen. Graham is supposedly concerned about when his paperwork arrived?

Fairly or not, the Insurrectionists saw Graham’s “hold” on the hearings as a concession to them, in honor of one of the martyrs of the militias, Timothy McVeigh, who was relentlessly and successfully prosecuted by Mr. Garland (and later executed by lethal injection) for his role in the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing. A lot of people who study domestic terrorism see a lot of Timothy McVeigh in the dark alleys of the Insurrection.

6. And then there was the media coverage. Does anyone think that the Fox News prime time talent would twist themselves into triple-knotted pretzels to avoid criticism of the Insurrectionists without audience research that showed criticism of the Insurrectionists would hurt their ratings? Of course not. As has been said many times before, the audience programs Fox News. The audience didn’t want to watch programming or hear commentary critical of the Insurrection, because it implied criticism of Donald Trump. So none was served up in prime time. The audience was obeyed.

One could go on, but enough is enough. Colin Clarke, a domestic terrorism expert at the Soufan Group, had it right when he told The Washington Post that the January 6th attack represented a “proof of concept” for dangerous extremists.

“They talk about things like this in a lot of their propaganda, and the fact that the Capitol Police allowed this to happen, you can call it a security breach, or intelligence failure, but these people do not look at this as a failure, they look at it as an overwhelming success, and one that will inspire others for years.”

Simply put: They’ll be back.



John Ellis

Founder and Editor, News Items. Political analyst. Founder of and contributing editor to Bird News Items. Former columnist for The Boston Globe.