No, the Capitol Riot Was Not a Dress Rehearsal for a Coup d’Etat

So many articles have been published asking whether the January 6 assault on the Capitol was “a dress rehearsal for a coup d’etat” that the question has become a cliché even in mainstream media. However, such speculation is misplaced. The Capitol riot, whatever it was, was not a dress rehearsal for a coup d’etat. The reason, as every military and political strategist knows, is:

People who plot coups don’t hold “dress rehearsals,” and certainly not in public.

Real coup plotters take pains to keep their plots secret. They do not foolishly advertise them in advance, so that their targets, forewarned, can prepare a defense.

If there really is a cabal plotting to take down the U.S. Government (and I believe there is, perhaps even several), its leaders must surely be cursing the buffoonish Trump — and his even more buffoonish court jester Rudy Giuliani — for urging those thousands of clueless clowns to besiege and befoul the Capitol on January 6.

For by doing so, they exposed how easy a thing it was to accomplish, and how pitifully inadequate the government’s defenses would be against a “real” coup – thereby provoking the government to immediately beef up its defenses and (worse for the hypothetical plotters) initiate an investigation into the actual possibility of a coup, as well as into who might be organizing it.

As has been made clear by post-attack interviews, most of the thousands who had come to Washington to attend Trump’s White House rally had no pre-existing plan to illegally penetrate, let alone vandalize the Capitol, much less kill Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence. They were shouters and poster-wavers, not vandals and murderers — until Trump and Giuliani incited them to riot.

Which is not to deny that a tiny number did indeed have violent intentions when they arrived in Washington. But this mini-cohort of pot-bellied braggarts and preposterously costumed saviors of America would not have been able to overcome the Capitol police and perpetrate so much damage and destruction upon the iconic seat of our democracy by themselves. They needed Trump and Giuliani to transform 10,000 unfocused individuals into an angry mob with a mission.

I use the word “mob” here as it used in psychology textbooks, to describe the cognitive and behavioral changes that take place when large crowds flock together and are then ignited by an emotional spark. Modern mob psychology posits that when individuals become part of a group, they are

“prone to acting in ways that they would deem immoral or unjust if in control of their behavior … [and] are likely to commit acts they would never commit alone. Being in a group allows individuals to defer blame, responsibility, accountability, and/or judgement upon the group.”

Or, to describe it more dramatically:

“[B]y becoming a crowd member, an individual literally descends the ladder of civilized behavior and allows his primitive, emotional state to take over.”

So although the January 6 event was certainly a riot, it was definitely not a coup attempt, or even a “dress rehearsal” for a coup attempt. We know this because riots are spontaneous and chaotic, whereas real coups are not, although they are often deceitfully described that way – allegedly starting “in the streets” by “the people.” But they are eventually exposed as having been carefully orchestrated “special ops,” planned and paid for in advance (usually by the CIA). Examples of such faux spontaneous “people’s coups” would include the CIA’s 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran; its overthrow, a year later, of the Armas government in Guatemala; followed by coups or attempted coups in South Vietnam, Iraq, Chile, Syria, Honduras, Libya, Venezuela, Bolivia and too many more to list.

Of one thing we can be sure: When a real coup is attempted, we won’t have to wonder what it is. We will know, because it will not be conducted by bare-chested Rambo wannabes strutting about in Viking helmets and goofily mugging for selfies. It will be executed by serious, unsmiling, highly trained ex-Special-Ops professionals — the kind recruited by Erik Prince for his private mercenary armies, and likely funded by the quiet-but-deadly confraternity of nearly 100 ultra-conservative right-wing billionaires like David Koch, John Menard, Robert Mercer, Rebekah Mercer, and others.

If and when a cabal does decide it is time to act and seize control of both the real and symbolic power centers needed to ensure the success of a coup, they won’t have to rely – as was the case on January 6 — on a few Trump-loving Capitol police to remove barriers, open gates, or simply look the other way. Nor will they yearn for congratulatory fist-pumps from dim-witted Congressmen like Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Instead, they will be able to rely on experts in overthrowing governments such as Erik Prince, who enjoys privileged access to the highest levels of the Pentagon and CIA, and where he has been working with top officials for years on covert action projects that, coincidentally, look very much like dress-rehearsals for a coup, except that, unlike the events of January 6, they were conducted in absolute secrecy.

For example, according to a Rolling Stone investigative report,

Prince describes how, in addition to training CIA operatives and maintaining the agency’s drone fleet, he helped set up a program to train a terrorist hit squad at the behest of the spy agency…. [O]ver three years, beginning in 2004, he spent a “few million” recruiting and organizing a team of about a dozen foreign mercenaries. The CIA [even] gave him a codename: “Hans.” Prince says [in a chapter the CIA blocked from being published-SB] this off-the-books program had support at the West Wing of the White House and with then-Vice President Dick Cheney. “The program was so secret, I was told that Cheney instructed the agency not to even brief Congress about it,” Prince wrote in the unpublished chapter.

If that weren’t ominous enough, consider the letter signed by 127 retired generals and admiralswho have denounced the 2020 election as fraudulent and are challenging the legitimacy of Biden as President. Or the recent suggestion, by ex-National Security Advisor and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, that “a military coup was needed in the United States”.

But while there is plenty of verbal support for a coup among the military, you won’t see them tipping their hand by doing anything actionable (or stupid) like staging a “dress rehearsal” in full public view that relies on bikers, braggarts and buffoons like the ones who showed up on January 6.

The huge irony is that – instead of being a dress rehearsal for a future coup — the January 6 Capitol riot may have actually forestalled a coup – a real coup — which, for all we know, might have been only days from happening, until its plotters got cold feet after the Trump-incited riot frightened the government into strengthening its defenses and scrutinizing the loyalty of its supposed protectors.

The thing to remember is that, if a coup against this government ever was set in motion (which to me is not a far-fetched fantasy), its target won’t be our pathetically impotent and totally irrelevant Congress, full of poseurs and puppets. Instead the plotters will seek out and seize the real power centers, such as the White House Communications Agency (WHCA); the radio, TV and cable news networks; and the internet “kill switch,” which can shut down the servers of Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, Twitter, and all the other platforms that resisters might use to organize a counter-coup.

Most countries, including the U.S. and U.K., already have laws enabling such internet shutdowns in cases of emergency, and many of them — China, Turkey, Myanmar, Iran, Egypt and others — have already used such shutdowns to disempower dissenters or hide human rights violations. Of course, internet shutdowns are illegal without a court order. But when the corporate headquarters of an internet provider are invaded by a squad of very serious-looking men, brandishing very serious looking assault weapons, it is doubtful whether anyone will ask to see a court order.

Steve Brown is a member of the editorial board of CovertAction Magazine and director of the Society for Independent Investigative Journalism (SIIJ). He is co-founder of the Progressive Radio Network (PRN), former director of the Pacifica Radio Foundation and WBAI-FM in New York, and President of the Alliance for Community Elections (ACE). He has run political campaigns for the U.S. Senate, Governor of New York, and Mayor of New York City.