Trump's Behavior on Jan. 6, Explained by Expert on Fascism

Donald Trump should have gone to the Capitol himself on that fateful January 6, 2021, for the "attempted coup" he's been accused of staging to be successful, historian and commentator on fascism and authoritian leaders Ruth Ben-Ghiat told CNN on Saturday.

After a year of investigation into the Capitol riot, the former president has been accused of trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election and undermine the American democratic system.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democrat who chairs the congressional committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, said at the first public hearing on Thursday that "Jan 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup, a brazen attempt, as one writer put it shortly after Jan 6, to overthrow the government"—and that the attack was "Trump's last stand."

"I was really pleased to see Chairman Thompson use that word [coup] because it's the right word for something that's the result of a process that started—in a sense it started before November 2020—because Trump had been trying to discredit elections for several years and forming his personality cult so the faithful would rally when he summoned them," Ben-Ghiat told CNN after being played a clip from the hearing.

"But coups can take months or years to plan and this was a multi-pronged attempt to overthrow our democracy. It's worth reviewing that he tried so many things simultaneously. He had General Michael Flynn trying to have martial law or military intervention and he tried the trickery that happened with the Georgia Secretary of State. And when none of that worked, he went nuclear and did what autocrats have done in the past and used violence, summoned the people there to right this monstrous wrong on his behalf," she said.

Ben-Ghiat, a professor of Italian and history at New York University, is an expert on the "strongman", a figure that's central to her latest book "Strongmen—Mussolini to the present", which explores how illiberal leaders "use corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power." Donald Trump is in it, together with Russia's Vladimir Putin, Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi.

"It's interesting, what came out recently, is Trump was trying to get to the Capitol on Jan. 6. He couldn't get there," Ben-Ghiat explained, talking to CNN's Jim Acosta.

"This is consistent, if you're having a coup and summoned everybody and you expect to be anointed as the head of a new illegitimate government, you have to be there. There's a phase in coups. They're violent, quick, and then you have the pronouncement of the new order. That's why he was trying to get there."

"Wow," replied Acosta, adding that the expert presented "a good point."

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the Secret Service was preparing a motorcade route on Jan. 6 for Trump to enter Congress with his supporters storming the Capitol to demand he stay in power.

According to two unidentified people briefed on witnesses' accounts to congressional investigators mentioned by the Post, Trump had put pressure on the Secret Service to find a way for him to reach his supporters from the park near the White House where he planned to hold a rally.

At the rally attended by thousands, Trump told the crowd: "We're going to walk down to the Capitol." After those remarks, Secret Service agents contacted D.C. police about blocking intersections, witnesses told the House Jan. 6 committee, but D.C. police declined.

Newsweek has contacted Trump for comment.

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: A tweet featuring former President Donald Trump is displayed during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 09, 2022 in Washington, DC. Fascism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat said Trump should have been in the Capitol on Jan. 6 for the "attempted coup" to be successful. Drew Angerer/Getty Images