“So the traitors know the stakes”: the significance of the January 6 gallows

WASHINGTON — Hours after President Donald J. Trump announced a “wild” rally in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021, his supporters began discussing building a gallows outside the Capitol.

“Could be built very quickly with the right plan and the right people bringing pre-cut materials to site!” one user wrote on a pro-Trump online forum. “Anyone have a plan for a standing gallows like this? Who’s with me?!”

A few days later, a second user posted a diagram outlining the wood and rope cuts needed to erect a gallows and shape a slipknot. A lengthy planning discussion ensues. A third has published a manual on how to tie a hangman’s knot.

“We will build a gallows right outside the Capitol, so traitors know the stakes,” another user wrote.

A stark array of far-right iconography littered the Capitol as Trump supporters rioted, such as a Confederate flag, crusader crosses, an Auschwitz-themed hoodie and gestures of the hand of “white power”. But the gallows erected in front of the Capitol, where rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence” as they stormed the building in search of the vice president, is one of the most chilling images from a day of violence. and extremism.

It’s also one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the investigation into what happened that day. Seventeen months after the riot, little is known about her. No one has publicly claimed the erection of the gallows or been accused of erecting it. It appeared to be too small to be used, though its presence—along with the orange noose hanging from the bottom of the Capitol dome—clearly conveyed a threat of physical violence.

The House select committee investigating the Capitol storming is expected to refer to the gallows during its Thursday hearing, when it details the intense pressure campaign Mr. Trump has waged against Mr. Pence, the threats of violence against him, how his security team tried to protect him from the mob, and how Mr. Trump responded with approval to threats from his supporters to execute the vice president.

Yet Mr Pence was not the first public figure to face such threats. The gallows features prominently in far-right language and belief system, and has been embraced in particular by white supremacists.

The imagery, say experts who study domestic extremism, evokes the early practice of hanging traitors; the nation’s dark history of lynchings and violent attempts to terrorize black Americans; and a favorite white supremacist romance that culminates in the mass hangings of political enemies.

Above all, they said, it is about instilling fear.

“The noose represents a message that doesn’t need to be said,” said Charles L. Chavis Jr., an assistant professor at George Mason University who studies racial violence.

On January 6, 2021, Mr Chavis said he was finishing revisions to his book about the 1931 lynching of a black man in Maryland when he turned on the television and saw “the mob spirit that I I had been studying for more than five years. years.”

“It was the same type of terror that black communities have directly and consistently witnessed for years,” Mr. Chavis said in an interview. “We had individuals who thought their rights were being violated, that justice was taking too long. They therefore had to take matters into their own hands and replace the institutions that were supposed to uphold justice. In its essence, this is what racial terror represents: it is a frenzy that emerges outside the law.

A New York Times review of more than 75 threats against members of Congress showed that several people had specifically invoked nooses before January 6.

“You better get behind Donald Trump, or we’re going to hang you,” one caller told several senators in a series of voicemails.

Far-right figures have continued to embrace this message. The Arizona State Senate censured one of its legislators, Wendy Rogers, in part for calling at a white nationalist rally this year to ‘build more gallows’ to ‘make an example’ of his political enemies.

Pete Simi, an associate professor at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups and violence for more than 20 years, said the gallows erected in front of the Capitol could have been a benchmark for extremists steeped in racist writings to the novel by 1978 of a violent revolution in the United States which led to the extermination of non-whites in one day of mass hangings.

In far-right circles, Mr. Simi said, “mass violence directed at your enemies is regularly called out. It is not something confined to the outer fringes.

It’s unclear whether the gallows erected on Jan. 6 was specifically in homage to the novel, he said. But it “signified the kind of violence the novel depicts”.

Mr Trump, who often uses violent language, reportedly embraced the footage that day. At the committee’s first January 6 hearing last week, Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and vice president, cited testimony that Mr. Trump identified himself with members of the crowd as they chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”

“Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” Mr. Trump said. Mr Pence, he added, “deserves it”.

By choosing a symbol as public and visceral as a noose, dominating the Capitol, Mr. Trump’s supporters intended to send a message to a wider audience of Republicans, said Kurt Braddock, a professor at American University who studies the ‘extremism.

“It also serves to try to dissuade other people from doing what Mike Pence did: go against the lie that the election was stolen,” Mr Braddock said. “It’s really meant to communicate to others that this is the fate that awaits people we consider traitors.”

Luke Broadwater and Alain Fire contributed report.

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