“Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” President Trump tweeted in the wee hours of the morning on Dec. 19, 2020.
And wild it would be. It was the day a riot became an insurrection, a day in which lives were lost, lives were changed forever, and 150 police officers were injured defending the US Capitol from a violent mob unleashed by a man who swore to protect and defend the Constitution.
With meticulous care the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection used the seventh in their series of public hearings Tuesday to document the hours leading up to that fateful tweet and to tell the story of the days that followed — days in which three organized groups of violent extremists joined forces to help thwart the peaceful transition of power.
Many of the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters brought weapons to Washington and they brought a plan — a plan to wreak havoc on the Capitol. And they did it — along with thousands of fellow travelers, all believers in the infallibility of Donald Trump — because they were following orders issued by the man himself.
As for Trump, the body of evidence grows that he knew from the start that his claims of election fraud were without any factual basis.
“I told him it was crazy stuff,” William Barr, Trump’s then attorney general, told the committee, which played the video of his sworn testimony.
“I agreed with Barr,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone confirmed during his deposition taken only last Friday.
“I told him there’s no probable cause, and we’re not going to seize the [voting] machines,” Barr also testified.
But on Dec. 18 Trump met with a group of outsiders — collectively called “the crazies” by White House staffers — who included attorney Sidney Powell, disgraced former National Security chief Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani, and Patrick Byrne, former CEO of Overstock. Once invaded by White House staffers, the meeting became a six-hour long shouting match.
“I don’t think any of these people were providing the president with good advice,” Cipollone told the committee in what was likely the understatement of the day.
The group left shortly after midnight. At 1:42 a.m. Trump sent the fateful tweet.
Within hours it was picked up by right wing media gurus like Alex Jones who insisted, “The time for action is now.” Others were already talking about “storming the Capitol” and referencing a “Red Wedding” — fans of “Game of Thrones” will need no explanation there; suffice to say it refers to an extremely violent event.
That morning the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys announced their alliance. Members of both groups have since been charged with seditious conspiracy.
A former employee of Twitter, who had raised concerns with his employers about the president’s tweets, told the committee in a prerecorded interview in which his voice and identity were disguised, “My concern was the president was speaking directly to extremist organizations.” The on-line response, he testified, was fast and furious, some tweeted about a “firing squad,” another added, “It’s time for the ‘day of the rope.’”
Trump continued with a dozen more tweets about the upcoming rally.
“Cops don’t have ‘standing’ if they’re lying in a pool of their own blood,” one Trump fan responded.
And still the president kept at it.
The committee also showed a draft tweet Trump had seen during that time but didn’t send. It encouraged people to march to the Capitol. But a number of rally organizers did somehow get the word that the president wanted this march to head to the Capitol. Folks like Ali Alexander, head of Stop the Steal, telegraphed the plans days earlier — a plan for Trump to “unexpectedly” call for the march in his speech. Alexander was called before a federal grand jury last month.
The committee laid out a convincing case that there was nothing spontaneous about Trump’s “last minute” call to march to the Capitol. It was as carefully scripted as his old reality TV shows. And if it wasn’t spontaneous then Donald Trump knew exactly the havoc he was about to unleash on the beating heart of American democracy.
As committee vice chair Liz Cheney put it, “Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices. … Donald Trump cannot escape responsibility by arguing he is willfully blind.”
Nor can he escape responsibility for the damage done during those long hours when rioters roamed through the Capitol, endangering the lives of lawmakers, Vice President Mike Pence, and those assigned to protect them. The tortured tale of what Trump did — or didn’t do — during those hours when the nation’s government was in peril is the committee’s next target.
The nation knows how that part of the story ends. What it doesn’t know is whether the man who set this plot in motion will pay a price for his deeds.
“I think we’ve gotten exceedingly lucky that more bloodshed did not happen because the potential has been there from the start,” Jason Van Tatenhove, former spokesman for the Oath Keepers, who has since renounced the group and its leader, Stewart Rhodes, testified Tuesday.
“I do fear for this next election cycle,” he added. “What else is he [Trump] going to do if he gets elected again.”
What indeed. Safeguarding the nation from that possibility through better laws might help. But exposing the many sins of Donald Trump is far more crucial.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.