A year after the incredible images of supporters of Donald Trump invading the Capitol, Americans are still struggling to take the full measure of this unprecedented attack on their democracy.
The violence of this assault, which shocked the United States and tarnished its image in the world, is immortalized in the many videos taken on January 6, 2021.
Attackers beat policemen with iron bars, a crushed officer on a doorstep screams in pain, rioters in riot gear chant “Hang Mike Pence” as the Vice President runs away, a woman is shot dead by police in the halls of Congress.
“Even during the Civil War, the insurgents did not violate the grounds of our Capitol, the citadel of our democracy,” noted President Joe Biden in July. “It caused an existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive.”
For the first anniversary of the attack, Democrats in Congress have therefore planned “solemn” commemorations, supposed to give a historical perspective to the events.
But Donald Trump has chosen a defiant tone: he intends to repeat, during a press conference in Florida, that the presidential election of November 2020 was stolen from him.
Although there is no evidence to support his point, at the heart of the assault on the seat of Congress, polls show that about two-thirds of Republican voters believe him.
And the elected Republicans, well aware that the billionaire remains the kingmaker in their camp, almost all lined up behind him. Because the party wants to regain power during the mid-term elections of 2022. In 2024, Donald Trump could even run for a new term.
– Concerted attempts –
Within a year, the course of events has become clearer.
Long before the election, the impetuous president had already denounced “massive fraud” and said he would not accept defeat.
When his rival’s victory was established, he and his supporters attempted to strike down the count in key states with complaints and pressure on local leaders.
When all these attempts failed, they postponed their efforts until January 6. That day, Vice President Mike Pence was to convene both houses of Congress to certify Joe Biden’s victory.
Donald Trump then called his supporters to a “big demonstration in Washington”. “Be there, it’s going to be huge!” He tweeted.
At the same time, pressure was mounting on Mike Pence to stop the certification of results, on the basis of questionable legal justifications circulated by allies of the president, his chief of staff Mark Meadows and elected Republican officials.
All these elements merged on D-Day.
As Congress prepared to convene, Donald Trump harangued his supporters in front of the White House, hammering that the election had been “stolen” from him.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” he added to the address of his number two, before inviting his supporters to go to Congress “to fight like devils”.
– Combats –
Thousands of people headed for the Capitol by then, including members of far-right groups like the Proud Boys, some in combat gear, with helmets and bulletproof vests.
In a hotel nearby, allies of Donald Trump assembled a “crisis cell”, today suspected of having made the link between the demonstrators, the Oval Office and elected Republican officials.
Overwhelmed, the Capitol police had failed to contain the crowds. Faced with chaos, the session was suspended, elected officials fled, others hid in closed offices.
It took more than six hours for police and federal reinforcements to regain control of the scene.
Finally, it was in the early hours of January 7 that Congress formalized the victory of Joe Biden.
Five people died in the assault, under confusing circumstances. Dozens were injured.
Since then, more than 720 people have been indicted for participating in this coup. The first sentences were handed down, including one of five years in prison for a man who had assaulted the police.
– Race against time –
But Americans are still waiting for politicians to account.
Immediately after the attack, Donald Trump was indeed the subject of an impeachment trial in Congress. However, he was acquitted very quickly thanks to the Republican senators.
Democrats don’t want to stop there. With their majority in the House of Representatives, they set up a commission of inquiry to shed light on its role on January 6.
One of its members, Liz Cheney, a rare Republican to support the investigations, made it clear that Donald Trump was in the crosshairs.
“Never in the history of our country has a parliamentary inquiry into the actions of a former president been so justified,” she said. “We cannot give in to President Trump’s attempts to hide what happened.”
The commission has so far interviewed nearly 300 people but is faced with the refusal to cooperate with relatives of the former president. And time is on its side: if the Republicans regain control of the House in the November 2022 election, they could end its work.
However, for William Galston, a political scientist at the Brookings Institute, “January 6 was the harbinger of a clear and present danger”.
Of course, “the attempt to invalidate the results of a democratic election has failed,” he told AFP.
But “will this be the case in three years? It is not so obvious. Because the people who were determined to invalidate the consequences of the 2020 election have learned a lot.”