If you woke up with a vague feeling of déjà vu, it was apt: It’s the morning of Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, which will take place almost exactly a year after the then GOP-led Senate acquitted him of the articles brought against him in his first impeachment.
This time, the articles of impeachment against Trump accuse him of attempting to overturn the 2020 election results and inciting the Capitol insurrection. Let’s review: For weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, Trump perpetuated elaborate election fraud conspiracy theories, reassuring his supporters that he would reverse Biden’s victory. On the day of the riots, Trump attended the “Stop the Steal” rally beforehand and during an hour-long speech, once again emphasized that he would never concede the election and encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol. “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol,” he said to the crowd. “We’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones…the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
After the day’s events—which resulted in five deaths—Trump told his supporters, “We love you. You’re very special.”
The question of whether Trump, with these words, and through these actions, actually incited the Capitol insurrection is at the heart of the the impeachment trial. (Though his lawyers will likely try to make it more about whether the Senate has the right to impeach a president once he leaves office instead; this argument will be met with sympathy from most Republican senators.) While the answer to this question may be relatively unambiguous to laypeople, it can be a tricky one to litigate in court, especially to an audience of unyielding Republicans.
But while it may be legally complicated to prove Trump’s motive, it’s easy to see its effect. Ahead of Trump’s second impeachment, Mother Jones has compiled a list of comments made by Capitol rioters, unambiguously declaring in interviews with authorities and on social media that they took the actions they did on Jan. 6 because of Trump.
A Kentucky resident named Robert Bauer told federal investigators that he joined the crowd marching to the Capitol after hearing Trump’s Stop the Steal speech: “President Trump said to do so,” he said. Pennsylvania resident Robert Sanford said he too had simply “followed the president’s instructions” to go to the Capitol. Christopher Ray Grider, from Texas, said storming the Capitol building was the least he could do: “The president asked people to come and show their support,” he said. Others described themselves as “awaiting orders” from Trump, and “doing what [Trump] asked us to do.”
One rioter’s lawyer plainly described Jan. 6 as “an event inspired by the President of the United States.”
If there’s any remaining uncertainty about whether Trump incited the rioters, it seems they’ve more or less cleared it up themselves.