Joe Biden Is President, but Donald Trump’s Legacy of Violence Looms

Now that Donald Trump is gone from office, what’s next? This week on Intercepted: There are a slew of unanswered questions about the siege of the Capitol. Americans are being asked to believe that the national security apparatus — the same one that charged nearly 200 people en masse, including journalists and observers, with felony rioting when Trump was inaugurated in 2017, and has leveled federal charges including terrorism charges on Black Lives Matter protesters — failed to see the threat to the U.S. Congress posed by right-wing extremists, even as people organized across social media platforms in plain sight.

In response to the Capitol assault, Joe Biden and some members of Congress are looking to expand new domestic terrorism laws. They are using the exact same playbook deployed by the Bush-Cheney White House after 9/11 and embraced across the aisles in Congress. This is a dangerous moment where policies with very serious implications could be rushed through in the heat of the moment.

The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux, Ken Klippenstein, Alice Speri, Natasha Lennard, Sam Biddle, Mara Hvistendahl, and Murtaza Hussain share their thoughts on the transition of power from Trump to Biden that is happening today.

 

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted. 

[Musical interlude]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from The Intercept in New York City. And this is Intercepted.

[Sound of crowd and military deploying tear gas and rubber bullets]

JS: Over the summer, across this country we saw heavily armed police officers mercilessly respond to protesters who were challenging police brutality, racism, and impunity. As many have noted, these police actions stand in stark contrast to the response to Trump supporters who violently seized the Capitol on January 6 — where one Capitol police officer was killed by the so-called “law and order” crowd. 

Kevin Rincon, CBS: The violent demonstrations that consumed the Capitol this week left five people dead. Among then, 42-year-old Brian Sicknick, a Capitol police officer since 2008, a native of New Jersey.

JS: There are a slew of unanswered questions about this siege of the Capitol. Did members of Congress aid the attacks and, if so, which ones and in what way? What role did senior military or law enforcement play in the events, either through inaction or active support? What was the role of U.S. military veterans and local law enforcement in the siege? There must be congressional investigations running parallel to those aimed at the individual rioters to address these questions. But will any probe go far enough in critically examining how we got here — beyond blaming Donald Trump and the elected leaders and media figures who enabled him for fomenting and inciting violence? And now that Trump is gone from office, what’s next?

The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol appears on the surface to be a colossal intelligence failure. We’re being asked to believe that the national security apparatus failed to see the threat to the U.S. Congress posed by right-wing extremists even as those people organized across social media platforms in plain sight. Maybe they chose to ignore it. Or maybe people in key positions actively supported it. The same security apparatus — that charged nearly 200 people en masse, including journalists and observers, with felony rioting when Trump was inaugurated in 2017 and has leveled federal charges, including terrorism charges, on Black Lives Matter protesters — that they didn’t see this coming? As of its most recent accounting in June, the FBI reports that more than 13,000 people have been arrested for crimes related to this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. That number not only includes demonstrators, but also far-right violence. 

For many decades, and certainly since 9/11, we’ve not only seen the endless expansion of U.S. militarism abroad, but a paramilitarization of law enforcement agencies at home. 

George W. Bush: Right after the September 11 attacks, I established the Office of Homeland Security in the White House and gave it a critical mission to produce a national strategy for homeland security. And today, I’m sending to Congress our new national strategy for homeland security. This comprehensive plan lays out… 

JS: Since 9/11, DHS has become a behemoth — absorbing 22 distinct government agencies. The agency now includes Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE), the Secret Service, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, among others. DHS also issues grants to help local law enforcement purchase military-grade equipment. Couple that with the Defense Department’s 1033 program that has transferred more than $7.4 billion dollars worth of equipment to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies. 

Over the years we’ve seen countless examples of how the focus of the security apparatus — from DHS, to the FBI and local law enforcement — is directed at Black and brown people. The weight and power of these agencies have largely been directed away from white right-wing extremists, even though last September, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee that these right-wing extremists represent a clear threat. 

Christopher Wray: Within the domestic terrorism bucket, the category as a whole, racially motivated violent extremism is, I think, the biggest bucket within that larger group. And within the racially motivated violent extremist bucket, people subscribing to some kind of white supremacist-type ideology is certainly the biggest chunk of that. 

Elissa Slotkin: Ok, that’s very helpful.

JS: There’s this racist strain in U.S. politics and culture that has always existed. You know it. I know it. Though some are in deep denial or just lying about it. Donald Trump has publicly attempted to mainstream white supremacy and give it the stamp of approval from the highest levels of power in the United States. What gets talked about less is how, on this parallel track under Trump, law enforcement, police — all levels of it — were cultivated as a political class. In the run-up to the election, Trump won the support of police unions, including the largest one: the Fraternal Order of Police. Michael McHale, president of the National Association of Police Organizations spoke at last year’s Republican National Convention about why they endorsed Trump. 

Michael McHale: The differences between Trump-Pence and Biden-Harris are crystal clear. Your choices are the most pro-law enforcement president we’ve ever had or the most radical anti-police ticket in history. We invite those who value the safety of their family and loved ones to join the hundreds of thousands of members of the National Association of Police Organizations and support the re-election of President Donald J. Trump. Thank you, and God bless America.

[Musical interlude]

JS: Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump championed, emboldened, and exploited the country’s law enforcement apparatus, a structure that has grown massive and powerful in the last two decades. The Capitol attack signaled a new progression in that relationship as we’ve seen more reports confirming current and former law enforcement and military involvement.  

In response to the Capitol siege, Joe Biden and some prominent members of Congress are looking to expand new domestic terrorism laws and they are using the exact same playbook deployed by the Bush-Cheney White House after 9/11, a playbook that was embraced across the aisles in Congress. History shows us clearly that the response to the Capitol siege should not be to further expand the powers of law enforcement and the reaches of the national security apparatus. This is a dangerous moment where policies with very serious and far reaching implications could be rushed through in the heat of the moment.

Our producer, Jack D’Isidoro, talked to reporters from The Intercept to gather their thoughts on the transition of power from Trump to Biden that’s happening today. 

Ryan Devereaux: I’m Ryan Devereaux. I’m a staff investigative reporter at The Intercept covering homeland security.

On January 20, 2017, I was in Washington D.C. for inauguration. I witnessed countless arrests, tear gassing, and what really ultimately ended up being a massive prosecution of dissenters challenging the Trump administration as it was coming to power.

[Protest ambience]

The incoming administration had made it so abundantly clear that their mission was to punish and terrify immigrant populations as a means to whip up their base and hold onto their political power. 

Donald Trump: The Democrat party is openly inviting millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders, and overwhelm our nation.

RD: They wanted to send a message and they wanted to use the law enforcement apparatus as a political tool. And what we found, particularly in the Department of Homeland Security, was an agency that was all too willing to lend its resources to that effort. 

Donald Trump: The policies I put into place are uniformly and strongly supported by the men and women of ICE and Border Patrol. We worked on them together. Just like we did on the wall, we worked on the policies together … because nobody knows this whole world better than those from DHS.

RD: The border has been changed in historic ways over the past four years that is all about locking up our borders, creating a fortress America, and turning back the demographic shift in this country to preserve a white Western society.

[Musical interlude]

There’s a really real concern that when this administration leaves, all concern about immigrants, matters at the border, will sort of disappear. Liberals will forget the militarization that is entrenched in that part of our country, with its deep commitment to detention, a carceral approach to how we manage the movement of people across borders into our country. And getting the public to understand and care about that with Donald Trump gone, I think is going to be a real challenge.

Lin Wood: We had a disputed election. The playbook is now for violence in the streets. They planned it. It’s going to happen. People tell Trump, President Trump, if you do this there’s going to be street violence. There’s going to be street violence either way. 

Trump supporter in Dalton, GA: If you’re sitting at home on your couch and you’re watching from your living room and you’re sitting around crying about what’s going on and you’re not prepared to shoulder a weapon and show up and support your president and not allow this to be stolen from him, don’t cry to me and tell me about your patriotism. Get out and do something about it.

RD: What happens to the militarized and paramilitary far right in the United States? As we speak, there are bulletins flying around the law enforcement apparatus detailing insurgent threats from armed right-wing groups. That energy is not going to disappear overnight. 

Long before Donald Trump entered the political picture there were warnings inside the Department of Homeland Security, with the election of the first Black president Barack Obama, that the far right was mobilizing and activating itself in serious ways and that they were going to focus in on the border and immigration as sort of animating issues, and that they would seek to recruit law enforcement and military. And those warnings weren’t just ignored, they were buried because Republicans cast them as an attack on veterans, as an attack on conservatives.

You know, fast-forward a decade, we have armed groups in the streets plotting the kidnapping of elected officials, laying siege to the Capitol building, very much talking and acting as if they are already in a civil war. I mean how we as a country respond to that, it’s going to be one of the most important stories of the next four years.

Capitol rioter: You think we’re outnumbered? There’s a fucking million of us out there — and we are listening to Trump, your boss.

DJT: We won this election by a magnificent landslide and the people of the United States know it. All over, they’re demonstrating. They’re angry. They’re fearful. We cannot allow a completely fraudulent election to stand.

DJT: We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue — I love Pennsylvania Avenue — and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to …

DJT: You will never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. 

DJT: We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with: We will stop the steal. 

Ken Klippenstein: The lack of personality cult around Biden, I think, will make it easier to actually look at the mechanisms of government and what’s going on because there will be less of this monomaniacal focus on the head of state.

I’m Ken Klippenstein. I’m an investigative reporter for The Intercept.

People are going to forget that ICE exists and that we have a huge Department of Homeland Security — the largest collection of law enforcement agencies in the entire country. Look at border patrol agents. They outnumber FBI agents. DHS, this is a very young agency. People forget how new this is. This is a post-9/11 agency. And my fear with this incoming administration is that people will see that he has policies that are much less shocking and, in my opinion, much better but that doesn’t mean that there’s no problems going on, you know. And my fear is everyone’s gonna be so shell-shocked, you know, they’ll just lose their capacity to be shocked by things.

However, if you want to talk about, like, FOIA and things like that, they keep all the same people in place. The head of FBI’s records division, David Hardy, same guy under Obama, same guy under Trump, because they understand that they are going to prevent embarrassing things from getting out. Any document the government produces is public property and they created it in our name and we should have access to it.

And so we’re going to have a situation where Biden comes into office, he has to decide what is — it’s almost a mirror image of 2008, 2009, when Obama came into office and he had to decide, Okay, how am I going to fix this thing that was falling apart from the economic crash? And so that, unfortunately, is a very ominous backdrop for these types of far right groups that we’ve seen proliferate under the Trump administration. And there’s this attitude that once the sorcerer’s apprentice figure that’s kind of orchestrating a lot of the stuff is gone, that they’ll go away. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s true. The conditions are still going to be there that, you know, are known to cause people to consider these kinds of extremist ideologies and pursue those kinds of things. So that’s going to get a lot worse. 

Capitol rioters: We want Trump. We want Trump. We want Trump.

KK: If you talk to guys in the FBI, they have intelligence reports that are very clear about this. They know that the conditions bear a strong relation to the types of extremism that we’re seeing. They don’t have the tools to be able to respond to those conditions. All they can do is stop, you know, if some guy’s going to take an IED somewhere.

Joe Biden: Yes, they should be treated as they’re a bunch of thugs, insurrectionists, white supremacists, anti-semites. 6M is not enough? I mean, come on. You know, these shirts they’re wearing. These are a bunch of thugs. Thugs. And they’re terrorists, domestic terrorists. And that’ll be a judgment for the Justice Department to make as to what the charges should be. But the fact is they should be prosecuted.

KK: Just look at what’s happening right now. They’re talking about creating some kind of new domestic terror designation. You know, if Biden isn’t careful, all of the creepy-crawlies in the national security apparatus are going to be trying to get him to, instead of, you know, respond to the economic conditions, intensify the already, I think, quite adequate law enforcement and intelligence apparatus that we have, which I don’t think is going to improve the situation. It may actually make it worse. If you work for the federal government or a contractor or anything like that in the area that I report on, shoot me a text message via Signal at (202) 510-1268.

News anchor: They broke the glass in the United State Capitol and now they are climbing through the window. This happened moments ago.

Jim Acosta: The President is just watching this on TV. He is now a spectator of the destruction that he has unleashed. 

Mike Gallagher: I mean, I have not seen anything like this since I deployed to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. I mean…

Alice Speri: The Capitol attack earlier this month, I mean it’s something that we’ve warned about this. We’ve warned about the fact that law enforcement was not taking this seriously. So it’s not like it was shocking but it was still completely incredible to watch it unfold.

My name is Alice Speri and I am a criminal justice reporter at The Intercept.

You know, even though Trump is gone now, certainly all the forces that put him there have not gone anywhere. If anything, they’ve kind of grown stronger and more emboldened. There’s a risk in thinking this is over and this is a parenthesis and it’s now done and we can move on  and it is not over because Trump is gone. Absolutely.

Another story that I’ve been covering for the last four years and that, you know, just kind of blew up in this last couple of weeks is the question of police and particularly federal law enforcement surveillance of ideology. And I’ve written a lot about their obsession with Black Lives Matter and activism that’s critical of police and leftist activism. And antifa is kind of the new, you know, really the new obsession for law enforcement. 

Tom McClintock: If we’d prosecuted BLM and antifa rioters across the country with the same determination these last six months, this incident may not have happened at all.

AS: All of this while far right extremists, white supremacist, extremist violence in this country were very much on the rise. And, you know, a number of agencies — the FBI, DHS — kind of buried reports and indications that this was really the growing fact.

In response to the Capitol attack, I think we’re going to see a further crackdown. We’ve already seen calls for more domestic terrorism laws, harsher prosecutions. The FBI said that they were going to file, you know, mass conspiracy charges, essentially against hundreds of people. And even from the left, there’s this kind of desire to punish those responsible for what happened on the Capitol. But I think we have to be very careful when we talk about giving the criminal justice system more power, more resources, more laws to do this because inevitably, as it always happens, these laws, resources end up being used against other groups and particularly people of color, people that tend to dissent from the left.

We, in the last few years, we have seen the government devote more resources to what it calls domestic extremism, violent extremism, but that they have then collapsed the categories together where they’ve put Black Lives Matter and antifa and, you know, far right white supremacist altogether as if they were comparable, which of course they’re not.

We’ve got to be very careful in watching what the response to this will be. Already we have seen states propose anti-protest law, supposedly in response to what happened on the Capitol, even though that’s something they’d been looking to do for months after the Black Lives Matter protests and the George Floyd protests.

Yes, we do have an institution as a whole, policing, that was founded on a certain premise and has a certain racist history. And so for many people, it is difficult to kind of discern between law enforcement and white supremacist ideology in the first place. There’s that, but then there is also the very active efforts by far right extremist groups to really position people inside police departments. A number of FBI and DHS reports that were written, years ago some of them, and that were buried because they really reveal that federal law enforcement were aware and monitoring the presence of far right extremists in police departments across the country and in the military.

We did see at the Capitol, you know, some police are really putting their lives on the lines and attempting to stop the assault on the Capitol. But then we also saw others that really were very comfortable with the presence of the rioters there. And so I think there are people who are affiliated with far right groups that are in law enforcement. And I think it’s certainly a priority that those are identified and dealt with. But at the same time, there is a broader, you know, if not straight-up white supremacist ideology within law enforcement, acceptance of that ideology.

DJT: I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You’ve seen the way others are treated…

[Musical interlude] 

Natasha Leonard: My name is Natasha Leonard and I’m a columnist at The Intercept. Trump was not, however, abhorrent, an aberration from the politics as usual that so many mainstream Democrats and liberals are longing to return to, looking forward from this point. With the inauguration we’re sitting through now, that’s so crucial to remember. We are not going back to halcyon days. 

Joe Biden: We begin a new chapter. The Vice President-elect and I will do our best to meet all the expectations you have for the country and the expectations we have for it. I’m confident, I am truly confident, together -— together — we can get this done and come out better off than when we went into this crisis.

NL: A lot of the infrastructures of this country that predated the Trump era were already committed to upholding property, whiteness, patriarchy. The far right have been the extremist threat of our time, both before and certainly to an extended degree under Trump. We’ve paid a lot of attention to carceral punishment, carceral infrastructure, policing, the Black liberation struggle we saw in absolute potent rebellion last summer, how that’s going to go forward. These are the things I want to be focusing on, and I don’t think the need for that kind of focus and elevation will go away under President Biden, certainly not.

Michael Flynn: Within the swing states, if he wanted to, he could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election in each of those states. I mean, it’s not unprecedented. I mean, these people out there talking about martial law …

Louis Gohmert: Basically and, in fact, the ruling would be that you got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM because…

Ted Cruz: As we defend our constitution, as we defend our freedom and we will not go quietly into the night.

Mo Brooks: Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.

Rudy Giuliani: Let’s have trial by combat.

Donald Trump, Jr.: That’s right guys, that’s the message. These guys better fight for Trump. This isn’t their Republican party anymore. This is Donald Trump’s Republican party. This is the Republican party that will put America first.

Sam Biddle: So much of what he said the four years after his inauguration, you know, so much it was just fantasy. How do you take seriously and strategically cover someone who, on a fundamental level, is just so full of shit?

DJT: The unprecedented assault on free speech we have seen in recent days. These are tense and difficult times. The efforts to censor, cancel, and blacklist our fellow citizens are wrong and they are dangerous. What is needed now is for us to listen to one another, not to silence one another.

SB: My name is Sam Biddle and l am a technology reporter at The Intercept. 

I think the companies that have kicked Trump off their platforms, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or YouTube, they’ve all cited the Capitol riots as sort of the last straw. But I think that falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny. I mean, Trump has been inciting acts of violence throughout his presidency. It is, I think, not a coincidence that he’s only getting banned in the very, very, very last days of his presidency, and especially after the Republican party lost control of Congress. We are seeing these companies do the pragmatic, cynical thing, which is realign with power.

I think the idea that the president of the United States can be censored is absurd. He is literally the most famous living person on the planet. This is a person whose platform is built into his title. I am deeply concerned that legislators, public interest groups, etc. are going to see headlines about skinheads using Signal and say, “Oh, well, here’s just the proof we need that encryption enables terrorism and we need backdoors to these platforms in order to thwart whatever plans are being hatched on there, which I think would be an enormous mistake.

Capitol rioters: Stop the steal! Stop the steal! Stop the Steal!

Mara Hvistendahl: I’m Mara Hvistendahl and I’m an investigative reporter with The Intercept. 

So last spring, when many states introduced dramatic measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, there were a group of activists — mainly white, middle class — who used this moment to build a movement. But there were also many people who maybe had not been conspiracy theorists up to that point, who may have been furloughed, lost their jobs or out of work and looking for answers about what was going on. These groups, that mostly started on Facebook but also on other platforms, offered this community that they were suddenly missing out on in the rest of their lives. So you have people stuck at home on their devices, angry, upset that they’re there and looking for other people to connect with. And the people that they end up connecting with are also mad about the lockdown, also feel like this is an injustice, and so you know, they form this community there.

Black Lives Matter and anti-racist demonstrations started across the country. People in these Facebook groups that I was monitoring were acting outraged that they were not allowed to demonstrate, had been kept inside for weeks, and yet protesters on the left were out in the streets. 

Protesters: I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!

MH: And the chatter in these groups turned very racist, pro-Trump, and you could kind of watch people fall further and further dow the rabbit hole. 

[Musical interlude]

MH: One reason why it’s important to understand what happened with these groups is that after the election, when you had a few million people already in these Facebook groups, the Stop the Steal effort was able to draw on those members and recruit them very quickly to the Stop the Steal groups. Essentially, they pivoted from being anti-science and anti-pandemic measures to, you know, being against the democratic election — electoral process — and, you know, calling for essentially overthrowing the Republic. 

Rioters: Break it down! Break it down! Break it down!

MH: So for many people in these groups, the tech crackdown has enforced their perception that they are under attack. You know, if you look at it rationally, they’re white, middle class people who in many ways are reacting against a call among people of color to have more rights to fight back against police violence. But within their worldview, they are under attack and the crackdown by Facebook and by Twitter on far-right groups has only underscored that perception for them. 

Ainsley Earnhardt: You know, there are 75 million people that voted for President Trump and they’re scared. They’re worried about what the future of this country looks like. Many of them …

Steve Doocy: They’re confused!

Ainsley Earnhardt: They are. They’re confused. They’re heartbroken that their candidate didn’t win and they don’t want to be forgotten. And Tucker Carlson really hit home with this last night, listen …

Murtaza Hussain: During his four years in office, Trump served as such a thoroughly radicalizing force for millions of people. Now, that he’s out of office, I still expect that the consequences of Trumpism will be long lasting in the United States. We see this with the mob which sacked the Capitol earlier this month, and we’re likely to see it in other political actions, including violent actions in the years to come.

My name is Murtaza Hussain. I’m a reporter at The Intercept and I cover national security, civil liberties, and foreign policy.

Well now that power has transitioned, we’re all hoping that we can return to some sort of approximation of normality, and normality being defined as pre-2016. But I think that entertaining a hope for nostalgia never really pans out because, although Trump is no longer in office, the effects of his presidency, particularly the cultural effects, the technological change which has happened during that time, he’ll continue having ramifications for years to come. He emerged from deep cultural currents within society and there’s still a hunger for a candidate who satisfies many of the same political, social, and even psychological needs that Trump did.

He was not authoritarian much more so than previous presidents like George W. Bush or even Obama. He was very much in a continuity with them. But the psychological experience of his presidency for his followers and many of his opponents was that they were being ruled by a mid-20th century strongman, which is what he reveled in portraying himself as. And his rule gave rise to a movement which described itself as The Resistance, similarly dealing in categories which are no longer presently applicable. 

And Biden, in many ways, has been the killswitch to the virtual reality machine. If the four years of Trumpism got too intense, Biden is a very reassuring return to the pre-Trump status quo.

In the years to come, a lot of the changes and turbulence we’ve seen over the past few years, and which we’re likely to see in the years to come, are based on the changing technological context. The banning of Trump from social media, it’s very interesting, because in one sense, it’s tech companies restricting the speech of the president, the highest elected office in the country. On the other hand, it’s not totally clear why they should be so monumental, because if anyone still has a way of getting their voice heard it should be the president. He can call a press conference. He can give a speech anytime he likes and presumably be covered by the news media. But in reality, it’s the tech which is driving events in many cases. I’m a very strong believer that Trump would not have been elected without the bully pulpit of Twitter and the way he used it to manipulate the broader media.

And we tend to think of ourselves as the actors in history and technology being our tools. But I think it’s just as plausible to say that communications technology is the actor and we are being acted upon and comporting ourselves to its prerogatives. 

It’s never going to stop being weird, either. Everything is going to be weird forever because the weirdness is being driven by technology. So the idea that Biden, for instance, will come back to office and we’ll return to anything approaching normal is just wrong because Trump is an epiphenomenon of technological change, which we have no precedent for in history.

So this could be permanently weird. That’s the only way to feel normal.

[Musical interlude]

JS: And that does it for this episode of Intercepted. You can follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Supervising producer is Laura Flynn. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. 

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