As thousands of President Donald Trump’s most fanatical supporters smashed windows and stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to overturn the election he lost by 7 million votes, at least one historian was not surprised in the least.
“I hate it when I’m right,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a New York University professor and fascism expert who has been warning that Trump would resort to force rather than leave office peacefully.
She said that typically those outside a governing regime gin up violence as a way to justify martial law and a military coup, such as what happened in Chile in 1973 when Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende. In this case, she suggested it was the man soon to be ousted from the halls of power.
“Trump planned this. He encouraged them to come to the Capitol,” she said. “He’s delusional. He thought violence was the answer because this is how he works.”
White House officials did not respond to HuffPost’s queries.
Since the wee hours of election night, Trump has repeatedly lied about Democrats having “stolen” the election from him, citing normal vote counting processes as proof of a giant conspiracy against him.
In recent weeks, those lies have been mixed with calls for his cult-like base of followers to make their displeasure known to state and federal lawmakers and, in recent days, to come to Washington, D.C., to attend his protest against the certification of the election.
At a rally on Wednesday, Trump literally told the thousands in attendance to march on the Capitol building as a way to force Vice President Mike Pence and Republican members of Congress to block certification.
“Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore,” he said.
Ben-Ghiat ― who wrote about Trump in “Strongmen,” her book about authoritarian leaders of the past century ― argued that he would have used the U.S. military if he could have, but that top Pentagon officials made it clear they would not participate in any of his schemes following their involvement in a June photo op that cleared Lafayette Square with tear gas and beatings.
“So he had to fall back on these other people, these militia types,” she said. “These people are very gun-happy. They’ve been waiting for this for years.”
One close Trump adviser said that while many Republicans believe Wednesday’s events will finally force Trump to tone down his behavior, it could have the exact opposite effect. Watching his exhortations translate into crowds following his commands could actually encourage him to do it again.
“Trump believes that in his heart: If he can get people to cheer for him, he thinks the people in the whole country are behind him,” the adviser said on condition of anonymity.
And, indeed, when Trump issued a video telling the mob to go home, he began by repeating the lies that had riled up his supporters in the first place. “We had an election that was stolen from us,” he said. “It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it.”
In fact, Trump lost the national popular vote by 7 million ballots and the Electoral College by 306 to 232. He is only the fourth president to lose a reelection bid in a century.