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Trump's desire for 'wild' protest sparks fear among US officials

One observer noted that Trump will fail in Congress, but the greater danger "is on the streets, where pro-Trump forces are already threatening chaos."
Image: President Trump Departs The White House En Route To Army v Navy Football Game
President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he departs the White House on Dec. 12, 2020.Al Drago / Getty Images file

It was nine days ago when Donald Trump announced via Twitter that there would be a "wild" protest in the nation's capital on Jan. 6, the day Congress will formally certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The Republican has referenced the gathering while insisting he won the election he lost, and Trump has returned to the subject several times since, including in a weekend tweet in which the outgoing president declared, "Never give up. See everyone in D.C. on January 6th."

And what, pray tell, does Trump expect to happen on Jan. 6, as lawmakers certify his successor's victory? He hasn't said, but the Washington Post's David Ignatius' latest column noted that even some Republican officials are concerned the outgoing president may try to "overstep the constitutional limits on his power."

Trump's last-ditch campaign will almost certainly fail in Congress. The greater danger is on the streets, where pro-Trump forces are already threatening chaos.... Government officials fear that if violence spreads, Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military. Then Trump might use "military capabilities" to rerun the Nov. 3 election in swing states, as suggested by Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser. Trump "could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election," Flynn told Newsmax in a Dec. 17 interview.

If I'd seen this on a random person's blog or Twitter feed, I'd be inclined to dismiss it as an alarmist and unrealistic nightmare. But David Ignatius isn't some obscure observer or a columnist with a reputation for hysterics. On the contrary, he's an accomplished and award-winning journalist with sources at the highest levels of government.

And right now, evidently, those sources are afraid of how far Trump might go to claim power he did not earn.

Looking ahead to the Jan. 6 gathering, the Washington Post also reported last week, "The Proud Boys, members of armed right-wing groups, conspiracy theorists and white supremacists all have pledged to attend." The article added that conversations about the protests have "taken off on chat forums used by far-right groups," and several online posts "appear to show far-right demonstrators workshopping ways to smuggle guns into the District [of Columbia], where carrying without a permit is prohibited and guns are banned at all protests."

There have been related alarm bells ringing elsewhere. CNN recently reported, for example, on an insider who "described an escalating sense of concern among Trump's aides, even those who have weathered his previous controversies, about what steps he might take next as his term comes to an end." Axios reported the same day, "Senior Trump administration officials are increasingly alarmed that President Trump might unleash — and abuse — the power of government in an effort to overturn the clear result of the election."

A day later, the Washington Post added, "[O]fficials say privately they are worried about what might transpire in coming weeks, as the president becomes increasingly desperate."

CNN had a related report last week about "growing anxiety" at the Pentagon about what Trump might try in the closing weeks of his term. One officer was quoted saying, "We don't know what he might do." Another added, "We are in strange times."

It's against this backdrop that Trump has launched a pressure campaign -- unlike anything ever seen in the American tradition -- to pressure officials to overturn the election result for him, up to and including direct lobbying of dozens of Republican policymakers. He also continues to push GOP officials on Capitol Hill to join his crusade and reject their own country's election results.

Meanwhile, at the White House, Trump has turned to a group of radical "misfits" and fringe conspiracy theories, who recently held a meeting at which the president reportedly broached the subject of imposing martial law on the United States.

In my heart of hearts, I'm tempted to believe the Trump era will end with a pitiful whimper. He's already backed down on the economic relief package, and it's possible turnout at his "wild" Jan. 6 gathering will be trivial. Perhaps those most concerned about the president's autocratic fantasies have exaggerated what the hapless Republican is capable of.

Or perhaps I'm being naïve and overly optimistic.

For those keeping track, Jan. 6 is nine days away. Biden's Inauguration Day, meanwhile, is 23 days away.