Like most Americans, I've been glued to the news since the pro-Trump riot and takeover of the U.S. Capitol building last week. Washington D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser had warned Washingtonians days in advance of the riot to stay away from Capitol Hill. And in neighboring Arlington County, Virginia, where I live, local authorities had repeated the warning. Everybody knew that President Donald Trump was going to speak to the crowd that would fly in from all over the country before their march on the Capitol. At least locally, we all expected violence, and that's exactly what we got. Much of the rest of the country -- and apparently the FBI and the Capitol Police -- never saw it coming.
The real shock wasn't the riot itself so much as the complete takeover of the Capitol. There is video evidence that not only did members of the Capitol Police allow some of the rioters into the building, but some policemen may have supported the rioters. Indeed, there are pictures of Capitol Police taking selfies with rioters. An investigation will begin soon.
So what are foreign governments supposed to conclude from last week's events? They watched the entire episode unfold just like we did. And in the end, they thought that they were watching a coup attempt.
NATO intelligence officers from three different countries told Business Insider that "the evidence available pointed to what would only be called a coup attempt in any other nation." They added that "President Donald Trump appeared to have tacit support among US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex in Wednesday's coup attempt."
H.A. Hellyer, a senior fellow at the UK's Royal United Services Institute, the oldest independent think tank on international defense and security, wrote in Politico that he has lived through two coups and has studied dozens of others. Without a doubt, he said, what we saw last week was a coup attempt. "It may not have been a successful coup, but its failure wasn't inevitable." An essential constitutional step in a peaceful transfer of power was disrupted. Had that step -- the certification of the electoral college votes -- been left unfulfilled, Biden's inauguration on January 20 would have been uncertain. Let us keep in mind, there were not a few Republican politicians who continued to question the legitimacy of the electoral process on Wednesday."
That's exactly the point that foreign intelligence services would have been focused on. Look at the facts: The country held a democratic election as is constitutionally mandated. The challenger won that election. But the incumbent refused to accept the results, just like in a banana republic. The incumbent rallied his partisans to demand a recount, a revote, or something else that would overturn the result of the election, just like in a banana republic. When things didn't go his way, the incumbent then called on his followers to resort to violence, which they gladly did, just like in a banana republic. And now that the inauguration of the election's winner is at hand, the incumbent, using an extremist platform, is calling on his followers to take to the streets and to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Just like in a banana republic.
If you are an intelligence analyst in the UK, France, Denmark, Germany, Canada, or some other NATO intelligence service, you have to be looking at this and asking yourself how the US election is any different from the most recent "election" in Zimbabwe or Pakistan or Honduras. You have to ask whether Donald Trump really will depart peacefully. And even if he does, what will his supporters do? Last week, the Capitol Police found pipe bombs outside both the Democratic and Republican National Committee offices, and one protestor was found with a carload of Molotov cocktails. Is that the next step? What are foreign intelligence analysts supposed to make of protestors being arrested on the floor of the House of Representatives with zip ties that they intended to use to "arrest" members of Congress whose politics they didn't like?
The only conclusion is a simple one: What we saw last Wednesday was indeed a coup attempt. It was poorly planned and poorly executed. But it was a coup attempt. It likely won't be the last. We need to be ready for the next event.
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