Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A mob of Trump supporters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election on January 6, 2021.

January 6, 2021 rioters clash with police trying to enter the US Capitol building through the front doors. Rioters broke windows and breached the Capitol building in a coup attempt. Police used batons and tear gas grenades to eventually disperse the crowd. Rioters used metal bars and tear gas as well against the police. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Call Jan. 6 What It Was: An Explicit Attempt to Stage a Coup

'Kudos to Chairman Thompson for calling it a coup'

Rep. Mark Pocan recognized the significance of the language employed during last week’s extraordinary prime-time hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. And he embraced it.

“This was not a spontaneous mob attack on the U.S. Capitol,” said the Democratic representative from south-central Wisconsin’s 2nd District. “It was an explicit attempt to stage a coup and override a free and fair election.”


For too long, pundits and political leaders adopted cautious language in describing the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump. That was a mistake that Jan. 6 Committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, rectified Thursday night.

What happened on and around Jan. 6 was a conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and to keep Trump in office as an illegitimate pretender to power. “Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy,” explained Thompson, who then said what every member of Congress should have said on the day that Trump called upon his supporters to “fight like hell” to position him not as an elected president but as an authoritarian strongman who had seized power:

“Any legal jargon you hear about seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States boils down to this: Jan. 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup. A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after Jan. 6, 'to overthrow the government.' The violence was no accident. It represented Trump’s last stand, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.”

With those words, Thompson brought clarity to a conversation.

What happened on Jan. 6 was always an attempted coup.

Now, finally, the chairman of the congressional committee that has been charged with getting to the bottom of a conspiracy has labeled it as such. This matters because, until the investigators get the language right, America cannot have an honest discussion of what happened on the day that supporters of a man who had lost the 2020 election by 7 million votes stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent effort to prevent the certification of the Electoral College votes that were to confirm that defeat.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the scholar of fascism and authoritarian leaders who teaches history at New York University, immediately recognized the significance of the committee chair’s statement. “Kudos to Chairman Thompson for calling it a coup,” she said. “Some still call it a riot, which does not capture the larger political design of overturning our democracy.”

Trump’s defenders mocked the turn of phrase, and the hearings in general. But there was no denying the accuracy of the term that Thompson employed.

PolitiFact, the independent fact-checking operation run by the Poynter Institute, noted Thompson’s coup reference and pointed out that the Coup D’etat Project at the University of Illinois’ Cline Center for Advanced Social Research, which monitors coups around the world, had determined that the storming of the Capitol “was an attempted coup d’état: an organized, illegal attempt to intervene in the presidential transition by displacing the power of the Congress to certify the election.”

It was a coup attempt. Referring to it as such opens a new chapter in our discussion of the high crimes that Donald Trump and his allies committed on Jan. 6, 2021.

© 2021 The Capital Times

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Pentagon Contractors in Afghanistan Pocketed $108 Billion Over 20 Years

Military contracting "obscures where and how taxpayer money flows," and "makes it difficult to know how many people are employed, injured, and killed," said the Costs of War Project report's author.

Jessica Corbett ·

'Enough Is Enough' Campaign Launched in UK to Fight Cost of Living Crisis

"Fair pay, affordable bills, enough to eat, and a decent place to live. These aren't luxuries—they are your rights!"

Kenny Stancil ·

Fetterman Demands Dr. Oz Answer for $50,000 Tax Break Intended for Pa. Farmers

"Dr. Oz does not want to live in Pennsylvania, and he doesn't want to pay taxes here; he just wants our Senate seat."

Julia Conley ·

With Antitrust Bills Stalled, Watchdogs Demand Schumer Disclose Big Tech Donations

"His close association with tech execs is worrying," said the progressive advocacy group that led the call.

Jake Johnson ·

Over 800,000 Brazilians Sign Pro-Democracy Manifesto Amid Bolsonaro Coup Threat

"We face the risk of having to live through a dictatorship once again—and this is inconceivable," one of the proclamation's authors warned.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo