It’s been two years since an angry mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, looting offices and wreaking havoc at the heart of America’s democracy.
While the government survived what many called a failed coup and some hardliners defended as a legitimate protest, five people died as a direct result of the riot and 140 officers were injured.
Much has happened since that fateful day in January 2021: former President Donald Trump was impeached, banned from Twitter under the accusation of inciting violence, and later investigated by the January 6 House committee, which recently called for Trump to be criminally prosecuted in relation to the riot.
Hundreds of rioters who entered the Capitol on January 6, 2021, have been arrested and charged in the insurrection while being hailed by some ultraconservatives as “patriots.”
But there’s a lot more that remains unanswered two years after the Capitol riot.
Who’s responsible for the attack on the Capitol?
In the aftermath of January 6, authorities’ focus has been to identify and punish those responsible for the riot—the masterminds behind the storming of the Capitol, rather than simply those who physically entered and devastated the building.
On June 30, 2021, the creation of a House committee investigating the January 6 riot was narrowly approved by Congress. For more than a year, the committee interviewed hundreds of people linked to the events of January 6, issued dozens of subpoenas, sorted through thousands of documents and held 10 high-profile public hearings.
Last month, the committee concluded its investigation by calling on the Department of Justice to prosecute Trump on four charges: conspiracy to defraud the U.S.; conspiracy to make false statements; obstruction of an official proceeding; and inciting an insurrection.
The recommendation by the House committee does not legally force the Justice Department to prosecute Trump, who has not yet been legally held responsible for the insurrection.
“So, who was involved? It’s a ragbag, and you can quote me on that,” Michael Tappin, a United States expert and honorary fellow at Keele University told Newsweek.
“There was a group of people called the Oath Keepers, a second group called The Proud Boys and a third group called the Three Percenters. And some 2,000 of them met in Washington, not far from the Capitol. And they were addressed by Donald Trump, basically to go and pressure Congress not to validate Joe Biden‘s win.”
Tappin said that Trump had “no legitimate reason” to encourage his supporters to protest against the result of the election.
“The election, in any sense, was a knockdown, drag-out win for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” he said.
To this day, Trump insists that he’s the real winner of the 2020 presidential election and that Biden’s victory is a “lie,” a claim that has been repeatedly disproved.
What comes next after the Jan. 6 Committee investigation?
The recommendations made by the Jan. 6 committee aren’t legally binding for the Justice Department.
“It’s now up to the attorney general (Merrick Garland) to decide how he’s going to take this forward,” Tappin said. “Now, you will know that the attorney general is a Democratic nominee, and he will probably listen to what President Joe Biden has to say, on whether or not he is going to take this case forward. And this is where it really rests at the moment.”
But a lot might also depend on who the new House speaker in the Republican-controlled House will be, Tappin said. Congress has failed to elect a new House leader in six consecutive votes between Tuesday and Wednesday this week.
Did the attack on the Capitol forever change what it means to be Republican?
All but two of the 20 Republican hardliners who voted against Representative Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become House speaker are election deniers, political figures which are a direct product of the 2020 presidential election and who have embraced the Trump-led conspiracy theory that the election was stolen or rigged.
This is another way in which the Jan. 6 riots still linger on American politics two years later.
The insurrection led to some harsh condemnation from some Republicans who didn’t recognize their party in the violence that unfolded at the Capitol, with some local officials even deciding to leave the GOP in the days following January 6.
On the other hand, many others embraced the false claims that led to the January 6 attack on the Capitol—something that marked a strong dividing line in the GOP.
“The Republican Party internally is divided,” Tappin said. “You’ve got these 54 Freedom Caucus members who do not like the way in which the United States government is run. They are conservatives in terms of economic policy. They are conservative in terms of social policy. And many of them are libertarians.”
Though often shunned by mainstream media, election deniers and the MAGA wing of the GOP holds significant power in the party, as proven by the current paralysis within Congress.
McCarthy himself, who has received Trump’s endorsement in his bid to become House leader, backed the former president’s false election fraud claims. And yet, the party’s hardliners openly defied Trump’s calls to rally around McCarthy.
Can the Secret Service recover its reputation?
The Secret Service’s reputation took a hit after January 6, as the agency was questioned about what it knew of the Capitol riot before it took place and why it didn’t act to prevent the violent uprising.
Last summer, it was discovered that messages exchanged by Secret Service members in the lead up to the riots had been accidentally deleted in an update of employees’ phones.
Even more significantly, documents handed over to the January 6 committee last year revealed that Secret Service agents had been warned of the violence that would unfold at the Capitol that day.
Despite this, Tappin believes that the Secret Service can still recover its reputation.
“When I’m teaching, I sometimes need to give students an ‘attitude adjustment talk,’ which means that I have to tell them off in a very polite way. And I think what the senior military staff have done [with the Secret Service], and certainly, the president and the president’s advisers will ensure that within the Secret Service they learn from their mistakes,” he said.
“And if they don’t, I think that heads will roll. There will be sackings. And I think that this is something that Biden will be looking very carefully at.”
Could a similar attack happen again?
President Biden marked the two-year anniversary of January 6 with an impassioned speech that called for such an insurrection never to take place again, and held Trump accountable for the 2021 attack on the Capitol.
“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol,” Biden said. “But they failed. They failed. And on this day of remembrance, we must make sure that such an attack never, never happens again.”
Though never addressing Trump by name and always calling him “the former president,” Biden identified him as a threat to democracy.
“A former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest,” Biden said.
“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution, he can’t accept he lost,” he added.
But is the threat of a similar attack in the future real?
On Monday, the Capitol police said they were prepared for any possible future attacks on Congress in the lead-up to the anniversary.
“The current threat climate, particularly against elected officials, will require continued and heightened vigilance,” USCP Police Chief Tom Manger said in a statement. “With the polarized state of our nation, an attack like the one our department endured on January 6, 2021, could be attempted again. Should the unthinkable happen, we will be ready.”
Tappin thinks that the changes introduced by Capitol Police since the 2021 riot has made the likelihood of a similar attack much lower.
“If today there is an attempt to have a march, it will be very, very heavily policed,” Tappin said. “And Biden has learned as a chief executive not to allow this to happen again…I think that what Biden is doing is what any sensible chief executive would do. He is preparing for the worst,” he added.
“So if there is a march, he will make sure that it is held peacefully. First Amendment freedoms, freedom of speech and all that sort of stuff. I would imagine there will be the National Guard presence to make sure that the Capitol is not stormed again. And I don’t think that’s going to happen today.”
Newsweek reached out to Trump’s office for comment.
The post Five Unanswered Questions About Jan. 6 Two Years on From Deadly Riot appeared first on Newsweek.