That siege was just one battle in a decades-long assault on democracy, funded by billionaire donors and corporate interests
While law enforcement officials in Washington ought to be held accountable for their alleged culpability in the deadly violence at the US Capitol earlier this month, and the off-duty cops and members of the military who participated in it ought to be disciplined, the attempted auto-coup cannot solely be understood through the lens of policing and security. At least as much responsibility lies with the billionaire donors and corporate interests – in other words, the capitalists – who made this moment possible.
Already a picture of the individuals, organizations, and institutions who lent their weight to the movement that stormed Congress has begun to emerge. Last year, the secretive and influential Council for National Policy (CNP), which author Anne Nelson describes as “connecting the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives,” called for state legislators in six swing states to reject Joe Biden’s election victory. CNP leaders were scheduled to speak at the rally on the morning of 6 January, where Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol.
Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, which has contributed millions to the Republican Attorneys General Association (Raga), listed as one of the participating organizations in the rally. Raga’s fundraising arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, sent robocalls encouraging Trump supporters to march on the Capitol ahead of the 6 January rally, at which the former chairman of Raga, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, spoke. But major donors to Raga include not only rightwing bogeymen like Koch Industries, Walmart, or the Adelson family but also household corporate names like Comcast, Amazon and TikTok.
Likewise, although Koch Industries is the single largest corporate donor to Republican representatives who pledged to try to overturn the election results, the next biggest contributors included defense companies like Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon, as well as tech (Amazon) and finance (Goldman Sachs) and insurance (Aflac), according to the Center for Media and Democracy. And while Charles Koch has maintained a posture of personal ambivalence, verging on distaste, for Donald Trump, super Pacs heavily funded by the donor network he and his late brother founded have spent millions supporting congressional Republicans who rejected the outcome of the 2020 election.
Dick Uihlein, the chief executive of the Uline shipping company and a contributor to the Koch donor network, spent at least $2m getting Josh Hawley elected to the US Senate and has contributed more than $4m to the Tea Party Patriots, another one of the 11 groups listed as participating in the Stop the Steal coalition. In 2019, more than $20m was funneled through DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund that disguises the source of major giving to nonprofits, to a dozen organizations that would ultimately contest the integrity of the 2020 presidential election, including $103,000 to Tea Party Patriots. In a statement provided to the Intercept, Tea Party Patriots cofounder Jenny Beth Martin denied spending any money on the Stop the Steal rally and condemned the violence that occurred.
Investigative journalists will continue to trace and disentangle the funding networks that facilitated 6 January. The list of names will grow longer; the sum of individual and corporate contributions greater. But already it is clear that what happened at the Capitol was not just the unintended consequence of specific capitalists’ ill-advised campaign donations; it was an expression of a deeper, ongoing crisis of capitalism, and the ruling class’s (sometimes contradictory) attempts to manage that crisis.
According to a report released late last year by the Institute for Policy Studies and Americans for Tax Fairness, the 651 billionaires in the United States added more than $1tn to their collective wealth since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, bringing the total to slightly more than $4tn. Meanwhile, the racialized distribution of labor in the United States – the concentration of workers of color in both essential industries, where they are more likely to be exposed to the pandemic, and service and hospitality industries, where layoffs have been rampant – means that Black, Latino, and Native Americans are significantly more likely to be hospitalized and die of Covid-19 than non-Hispanic white Americans. This serves as a stark reminder of the white supremacist character of the decades-long effort to defang and declaw the American labor movement – an effort funded and organized by the same far-right capitalists who laid the groundwork for 6 January.
The Capitol siege was just one battle in an ongoing, decades-long assault on democracy. Racist ideologues have served as the vanguard, but they have long been supported (sometimes openly, often tacitly) by a wide swathe of capitalists. The ultranationalist Maga diehards, Qanon cultists, and various fascists that stormed the Capitol are shock troops searching for a leader. Trump will likely prove too self-absorbed, too cowardly, and too lazy for the job. But no matter how many arrests are made or officials fired, the tide of history has returned us to the rocky shores of political violence and mass upheaval.
- Brendan O’Connor is a freelance journalist and the author of Blood Red Lines: How Nativism Fuels the Right
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