Come on, Republicans —Trump incited the mob, and it's obvious how he did it

Come on, Republicans —Trump incited the mob, and it's obvious how he did it
© Greg Nash

Former President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE’s impeachment attorneys argue that he did not incite an insurrection on Jan. 6 because he never directed “anyone to commit lawless actions” and that he asked his audience to be peaceful but that they “completely misunderstood him.” Similarly, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment MORE (R-Ky.) defends Trump’s statements at the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse as only “figurative” speech.

The “figurative” speech defense has actually been refuted by an unlikely source, Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenAndrew Cuomo and the death of shame Prosecutors considered charging Trump Organization CFO with perjury: report Michael Wolff and the art of monetizing gossip MORE, Trump’s former attorney. Cohen, who pled guilty to criminal charges arising from his representation of Trump, once explained how Trump operates. “He doesn’t give you orders,” Cohen said, “He speaks in a code.”   

Trump is a master of the coded but unmistakable incendiary message. He used code to disparage individual and group racial characteristics without using explicitly racist terms (birtherism, Mexican rapists, Muslim ban). He used code that appeared to encourage violence by his supporters, such as his call to the “second amendment people” to stop then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE.

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He used code to praise the racial characteristics of his supporters, such as the time he told a Minnesota audience that they have “good genes,” which may have been a veiled reference to the eugenics theory identified with the Nazi exterminations. He used code to signal violent, far right extremist groups that someday he might call on them, such as the “stand back and stand by” advice to the Proud Boys. 

And at the rally on the Ellipse, after months of promoting the lie that the election had been stolen, Trump whipped a mob into a frenzy with more lies about the “stolen” election and then in code told them to assault the Capitol. He used the word “fight” numerous times, as in “fight like hell,” insisted they would never “take back their country with weakness” and, in a coded invitation to violence, told them that when elections are stolen “very different rules apply.”    

Early in his speech he told the crowd in passing to be “peaceful” and “patriotic,” but then devoted the next 50 minutes to inflaming them with statements such as, “if you don’t fight like hell you are not going to have a country anymore.” And he repeatedly told them to go to the Capitol and even said he would accompany them (he didn’t).  

None of Trump’s statements explicitly told the mob to attack the Capitol, but the mob understood from the code what he seemed to want, and it wasn’t a peaceful protest. When Trump told the crowd to “show strength,” Trump’s supporters shouted “Invade the Capitol building,” “Let’s take the Capitol” and “Take the Capitol now.” Do sophisticated Republican senators really think that the mob left the Ellipse in a peaceful mood and then spontaneously self-incited on their way to the Capitol? 

Inside the Capitol, the insurrectionists repeatedly insisted that they were doing Trump’s bidding (“our president wants us here”). Trump seemed to confirm that they were doing what he asked them to when, after the frightening scenes that are now the shame of our generation, he praised the rioters by saying, “We love you, you’re very special.” 

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“Figurative” speech, to use Rand Paul’s term, in fact is how criminals frequently disguise their criminal activity. Narcotics dealers, for example, use phrases like “pianos” and “boyfriends” instead of kilos of heroin in case they are being wiretapped (and juries still convict them). 

Senators such as Paul will vote to acquit Trump, but they should drop any pretense that he is an innocent man.

Gregory J. Wallance is a writer in New York City and a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations, where he was a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team that convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. He is the author of “America’s Soul in the Balance: The Holocaust, FDR’s State Department, and The Moral Disgrace of an American Aristocracy.”  Follow him on Twitter @gregorywallance.