This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on January 11, 2021.
The Department of Defense’s January 8, 2021 press release purports to “memorialize the planning and execution timeline” of the deadly insurrection that it calls the “January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests in Washington, DC.”
The memo’s minute-by-minute account creates a false illusion of transparency. In truth, its most noteworthy aspects are the omission of Trump’s central role in the insurrection and the effort to shift blame away from Trump and his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.
Who is Christopher Miller?
By November 9, every news organization declared that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election. On that day, Trump fired Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller, an Army retiree who worked for a defense contractor until Trump tapped him as his assistant in 2018. Miller’s promotion began a departmental regime change that embedded three fierce Trump loyalists as top Defense Department officials: Kash Patel (former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)), retired army Gen. Anthony Tata (pro-Trump Fox News pundit) and Ezra Cohen-Watnick (former assistant to Trump’s first national security adviser, Mike Flynn).
At such a late date in Trump’s presidency, many asked why the shake-up at the Department of Defense? We may be learning the answer.
Prior to the Attack
The department’s January 8, 2021 memo ignores Trump’s central role in igniting and then encouraging the January 6 insurrection. In fact, the only reference to Trump appears in a January 3 entry, when Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley meet with him and he concurs in activation of the DC National Guard “to support law enforcement.”
Other than that, Trump is conspicuously absent, along with the most important parts of the story. In the date and time entries that follow, only those in italics and preceded with “(DoD Memo)” summarize items from the Defense Department’s January 8 memorandum. The memo ignores every other fact set forth in this post.
Dec. 19, 2020: Trump tweets: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
Jan. 3, 2021: Replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers, Trump tweets: “I will be there. Historic day.”
Jan. 4: The National Park Service increases the crowd estimate on the January 6 rally permit to 30,000 — up from the original 5,000 in December.
January 6, 2021:
8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets: “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
Noon: Trump begins to address the mob and continues speaking for more than 90 minutes.
- “We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
- “We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election.”
- “I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people.”
1:00 p.m.: While Trump continues his rant to the mob, some members of Trump’s crowd have already reached the US Capitol Building where Congress assembles in joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. An initial wave of protesters storms the outer barricade west of the Capitol Building. As the congressional proceedings begin, Pence reads a letter saying that he won’t intervene in Congress’s electoral count: “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority.”
1:10 p.m.: Trump ends his speech by urging his followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. “We’re going to the Capitol. We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
If the District of Columbia were a state, its governor alone could have deployed the National Guard to crush the riot. Instead, Trump and his Defense Department had that responsibility, and an unprecedented assault on a sacred institution of government succeeded, if only for a few hours.
(DoD Memo) 1:26 p.m.: The Capitol Police orders the evacuation of the Capitol complex.
1:30 p.m.: The crowd outside the building grows larger, eventually overtaking the Capitol Police and making its way up the Capitol steps. Suspicious packages — later confirmed to be pipe bombs — are found at Republican National Committee headquarters and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.
(DoD Memo) 1:34 p.m.: DC Mayor Muriel Bowser
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy— who reports to Miller — for more federal help to deal with the mob.
Bowser is told that the request must first come from the Capitol Police.
(DoD Memo) 1:49 p.m.: The Capitol Police chief asks the commanding general of the DC National Guard for immediate assistance.
2:15 p.m.: Trump’s mob breaches the Capitol building – breaking windows, climbing inside and opening doors for others to follow.
(DoD Memo) 2:22 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy discusses the situation at the Capitol with Mayor Bowser and her staff.
They are begging for additional National Guard assistance. Note the time. It’s been almost an hour since Bowser requested help.
2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
After erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, the mob shouts, “Hang Mike Pence.” Rioters create another noose from a camera cord seized during an attack on an onsite news team.
2:26 p.m.: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund joins a conference call with several officials from the DC government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. Piatt later issues a statement denying the statements attributed to him.
“I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance,” Sund says. “I have got to get boots on the ground.”
The DC contingent is flabbergasted when Piatt says that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary McCarthy, approve the request. “I don’t like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background,” Piatt says. Again and again, Sund says that the situation is dire.
(DoD Memo) 2:30 p.m.: Miller, Army Secretary McCarthy and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff meet to discuss Mayor Bowser’s request.
(DoD Memo) 3:04 p.m.: Miller gives “verbal approval” to full mobilization of the DC National Guard (1,100 members).
It has now been more than 90 minutes since Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for assistance. It took an hour for Defense Department officials to meet and another half hour for them to decide to help. And Bowser still doesn’t know the status of her request.
(DoD Memo) 3:19 p.m.: Pelosi and Schumer call Army Secretary McCarthy, who says that Bowser’s request has now been approved.
(DoD Memo) 3:26 p.m.: Army Secretary McCarthy calls Bowser to tell her that her request for help has been approved.
The Defense Department’s notification of approval to Bowser came two hours after her request.
While Miller and his team were slow-walking Mayor Bowser’s request, she had sought National Guard assistance from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R). At about the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Northam directly for help and he agreed.
3:29 p.m.: Gov. Northam announces mobilization of Virginia’s National Guard. But there’s a hitch. Federal law requires Defense Department authorization before any state’s National Guard can cross the state border onto federal land in DC. That approval doesn’t come until almost two hours later.
The Defense Department “repeatedly denies” Hogan’s request to deploy the National Guard at the Capitol. As he awaits approval, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls Hogan from the undisclosed bunker to which he, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been evacuated. Hoyer pleads for assistance, saying that the Capitol Police is overwhelmed and there is no federal law enforcement presence.
4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters, “I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side…It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, 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 see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.”
(DoD Memo) 4:18 p.m.: Miller gives voice approval notifying surrounding states to muster and be prepared to mobilize their National Guard personnel.
(DoD Memo) 4:32 p.m.: Miller gives verbal authorization to “re-mission” DC National Guard from city posts where most have been directing traffic and monitoring subway stations “to conduct perimeter and clearance operations” in support of the Capitol Police force.
4:40 p.m.: More than 90 minutes after Governor Hogan had requested federal approval to send his state’s National Guard troops to DC, Army Secretary McCarthy calls and asks, “Can you come as soon as possible?” Hogan responds, “Yeah. We’ve been waiting. We’re ready.”
5:40 p.m.: The first DC National Guard personnel arrive at the Capitol.
(DoD Memo) 5:45 p.m.: Miller signs formal authorization for out-of-state National Guard personnel to muster and gives voice approval for deployment to support the Capitol Police.
The first Maryland National Guard personnel don’t arrive at the Capitol until January 7 at 10:00 a.m. The first Virginia National Guard members arrive at noon.
6:01 p.m.: Trump tweets: “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
(DoD Memo) 8:00 p.m.: The DC Capitol Police declare the Capitol Building secure.
The Aftermath of the Attack
8:31 p.m.: After widespread media reports that Pence, not Trump, had actually given the order to deploy the National Guard, Kash Patel — Miller’s chief of staff and former top aide to Rep. Nunes — tells the New York Times, “The acting secretary and the president have spoken multiple times this week about the request for National Guard personnel in D.C. During these conversations, the president conveyed to the acting secretary that he should take any necessary steps to support civilian law enforcement requests in securing the Capitol and federal buildings.”
But according to the Defense Department’s January 8 memo, the only such conversation with Trump occurred on January 3.
Jan. 7: Trump releases a video in which he lies, saying, “I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders.” Defense Department officials confirm that they did not speak to Trump on January 6.
Jan. 8: Trump tweets: “The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
Shortly thereafter, he tweets again: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”
Jan. 8: Twitter issues a statement saying that it has banned Trump because his “statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate…and encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a ‘safe’ target, as he will not be attending.”
Twitter’s statement continues, “The use of the words ‘American Patriots’ to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol. The mention of his supporters having a ‘GIANT VOICE long into the future’ and that ‘They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!’ is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an ‘orderly transition’ and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election.”
The statement concludes: “Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”
Understand what is happening. The US Department of Defense is reframing an attack on the Capitol and attempted coup as a “First Amendment Protest.” That benign label isn’t just a dog whistle. It’s a megaphone that blesses a violent insurrection, disguising it as the exercising of a constitutional right.
Another cover-up is underway. Another false narrative is in the works. And another agency of the federal government has revealed that Trump has co-opted it.
The fight to save American democracy is now down to a single defining question:
Which side are you on?
[Note: Late in the afternoon on January 11, 2021, the Defense Department changed the title of its January 8 memorandum and reissued it “to more appropriately reflect the characterization of the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.” The new title is “Planning and Execution Timeline for the National Guard’s Involvement in the January 6, 2021 Violent Attack at the U.S. Capitol”]