One Year Later: “The Next Coup is Already Happening”

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Hey, it’s Brittany, happy 2022, it’s a new year and we are back and I’m back. It has been a wild holiday season and a lot of us are in circumstances that we did not predict. But listen, we’re still here, which means that we’re incredibly privileged. And I’m so glad to be back with y’all. So you know what I’m thinking about today? It’s been exactly one year since a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an effort to overturn President Biden’s victory. At least seven people died, dozens more were injured, and hundreds of workers were left shaken and traumatized. Living in D.C. that day, especially as a Black woman, was equal parts terrible and confusing. I had an appointment that day, but promptly turned my car around when I ran into several trucks with Trump signs and “don’t tread on me” flags. It was frightening not knowing where, when, or how this mob of violent white supremacists might strike next. Like most of you, I watched the rest on TV and Twitter. The scenes of people scaling the Capitol walls and running amuck in the chamber and bludgeoning those blue lives that supposedly mattered to them. Those scenes will forever live rent-free in my mind. What happened that day should be obvious to even the most casual observer. This was an attempted coup in the name of supremacy and authoritarianism. Elections be damned. They wanted Trump by any means necessary, nooses included. And still a year later, some people are trying to gaslight us into thinking that it was never really that bad. They’d love for us to just move on. But we can’t and we won’t. We are undistracted.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham On the show today, we will be revisiting my conversations with Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush from last winter. They personally lived through the January 6th insurrection and you can hear the emotion in their voices. 

Cori Bush  You know, you didn’t know at what moment rubber bullets will fly, real bullets will fly, tear gas, pepper spray. 

Ayanna Pressley The fear certainly is that without consequences, this could

happen again and that the next attack is bigger and badder. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham That’s coming up. But first, it’s your UNtrending news. Well, we have an all January 6th edition of the news today. First up, the January 6th Congressional Investigative Committee says it’s aiming to release its final report before the November midterm elections. So far, investigators have interviewed more than 300 witnesses and are sorting through more than 35,000 documents. Representative Adam Schiff, who’s a member of the panel, told “Face the Nation” on Sunday that public hearings could begin in a matter of weeks, if not a couple of months from now. Schiff said that a focal point of the panel’s investigation is what role former President Trump and his staff played in the events of the day. 

Adam Schiff Certainly, they were integrally involved in many of those lines of effort in terms of the actual violent attack on the Capitol. How much expectation of violence was there? How much was that part of the plan? That is still a matter under deep investigation, but we intend to use every effort to get out the full facts and expose them the American people and take legislative action. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Listen, y’all. These hearings are going to be some of the most important proceedings in the history of our democracy, and I hope everyone involved on all sides treats them that way and not just to score points before the midterms. This is historic and it’s precedent setting, so let’s act like it. 

Next up, in the midst of us commemorating January the 6th, let’s not forget about January 5th. Sherrilyn Ifill, who leads the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, was recently on Slate’s “Amicus” podcast, where she reminded us all that it was the day before the insurrection when things really got started last year. January 5th, of course, was the runoff election for the Senate in Georgia, an incredible win for Democrats and all of the amazing grassroots groups who helped mobilize voters. 

Sherrilyn Ifill The result of that election, when more people voted, was that Georgia elected the first black senator since Reconstruction and the first Jewish statewide officer ever. That was January 5th. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham 95 percent of eligible Georgia voters are registered now, and it was organizers who got them out to the polls believing in their own power. So as we mark this horrific anniversary, let’s also mark the powerful, joyous, important one—the anniversary of voters’ power, which we’re going to need this year now more than ever. And finally, a new book called The Steal has just come out, which completely disproves the voter fraud conspiracy that Trump supporters still cling to, a.k.a. that big old lie. Much of the book, written by journalist Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague, look at strategies used by Trump and his allies like Rudy Giuliani. Here’s Mark Bowden speaking to NPR. 

Mark Bowden In pursuing the goal of overturning the election, Rudy Giuliani and his minions seized literally upon any accusation of fraud, no matter how crackpot or disproved. And I think that the point was less to win the argument than it was to amass such a volume of complaints directed toward the election that they could convince people across the country that there was something that smelled about that election. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham The authors called that a blunderbuss strategy. Again, the book is called The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It. Now, y’all know this ain’t our first Big Lie, right? Democracy is indestructible—a lie. America is a meritocracy—most definitely a lie. White men are superior—a bold-faced lie. And guess what? All those big lies about supremacy helped fuel this big lie about the 2020 election. The only way we don’t come here again is by telling and teaching the full truth. 

Coming up, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush talk about what it was like to personally experience the January 6th attack right after this short break.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham And we are back. The Atlantic magazine is one of the few publications I still get a hard copy of in my mailbox. The latest cover is stark. It’s a black background with yellow writing that reads January 6th was practice. That day wasn’t just an embarrassment to our country, and it wasn’t a failure. It was a trial run, a testing ground for QAnon conspiracy theories and disinformation and internet radicalization. The actions taken on that single day do not stand alone. They are part of a long and continuous project to reject democracy and marginalize people who depend on it and recapture a dominant way of life. What should have come next was real work. The truth of what happened and swift swift accountability to prevent it from ever happening again. So where the hell are we on that? Many would say not far enough, and sadly, I’d have to agree, though I can’t say I’m surprised. In America, we seem to love the rhetoric of false unity more than we love the real work community requires. 

Just five days after the attack on the capital, Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush introduced House Resolution 25; it’s legislation to expel the members of Congress who helped incite this riot. Because, you know, the people who run this country should be held to like the literal bare minimum standards. Fifty other House Democrats cosigned that bill, but it has since languished in the House. A few days ago, Congresswoman Bush tweeted quote, “We should commemorate the one year anniversary of January 6th by passing my House Resolution Twenty Five.” Y’all. Honestly, it is past time and my hometown congresswoman continues to be one of the few voices beating the drum with honesty here, even when it means calling out her own colleagues who put her life in danger. But that’s not new to Congresswoman Bush. I first met her on the streets of Ferguson, and she’s been speaking the truth and fighting the fight in D.C. since the very second she arrived. I spoke to her back in March about what she saw on January the 6th. Here’s part of our conversation. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Congresswoman Cori Bush, my hometown Congress, told me it is so fantastic to talk to you. 

Cori Bush  You too! Oh my God. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham  I truly cannot even imagine how frightening and traumatic it must have been for y’all being attacked in the capital. So before we start, I just want to ask how you’re doing? 

Cori Bush You know, I’m just pushing forward. I haven’t really stopped to really think about it. But I’ll say this. I feel like everything that we did starting back to Ferguson. And before Ferguson prepared me for this moment because you were in mode, you know, you didn’t know at what moment rubber bullets would fly, real bullets will fly, tear gas, pepper spray. You just didn’t know. And so that’s what it felt like, Brittany. I felt like I was in fight mode. And I was just ready. At not one point did I feel like I was about to die or my staff. But what I felt like was, if you touch these doors and if you come in this place trying to get at my staff like we banging and we banging to the end. And I didn’t even mean my staff. I was talking about me, because we did it on the streets. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Absolutely. And in the days following, we heard that very common but frustrating refrain that this is not America. This is not the America we know. And you answered that in no uncertain terms when you penned an op ed in The Washington Post titled “This is the America That Black People Know.” What were you wanting the larger public, mainstream America, white folks to really understand?

Cori Bush that that was a cop out. What America do you believe that we live in? To act like racism doesn’t happen in this country and to act like they didn’t see all that happened during Ferguson and since Ferguson. Every single time we protested all over this country, when some Black person lost their life unjustly at the hands of police every single time. If we go back to slavery, but even after slavery, Jim Crow was that our imagination?

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Right.

Cori Bush You know, with the civil rights was everything to happen with that our imaginations were lynchings, our imagination. And so to act like this is not America, that you can’t have a bunch of angry white people showing up to a place that came ready to hurt humans. And now, all of a sudden, this isn’t America. Look, it was time to call it out. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Well, I’m so glad that you did, because you called it out better than it’s been called out before. And folks needed to understand that the other thing you did in the aftermath of this Capitol insurrection of this riot was to create a bill to expel those members who helped incite this riot. Yes. Why is this so important? 

Cori Bush You know, it was important because we have to hold our colleagues accountable. In this instance, we’re talking about our Republican colleagues. You know, they attempted to overturn the 2020 election and incite this insurrection against the U.S. government. Section three of the 14th Amendment is clear that no person who works in rebellion against the United States government can hold office—the office of the representative, senator or president. And so look, I lead in more than 50 of my colleagues in this resolution, and we’re going to continue to work until we can get this done. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham That was part of my conversation with Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush from last March. Yeah, if we don’t call it out, what are we left with? A lie and an open door for it to happen again. And the latest action on House Resolution 25 took place last March, when the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for review. In the meantime, not a single member of the House or Senate has been punished, censured, fined or otherwise held accountable for encouraging the lies that fueled January the 6th or the violence that took place on that day. Not a single one. They’re still all just there, terrorizing their colleagues with their presence and writing laws like nothing ever happened. So I hope, at the very least, we see a vote on House Resolution 25 ASAP. Last winter, I also spoke to my friend, Representative Ayanna Pressley, who made history in 2018 as Massachusetts’ first Black woman elected to Congress. Known as one of the members of “The Squad,” she has been unapologetically Black and unapologetically herself and unsurprisingly, ever since she was sworn in. She’s been the target of relentless vitriol from the right and the events of January the 6th. Well, that just took things to a whole other level. Here’s part of our conversation from last February. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, thank you so, so much for joining us. 

Ayanna Pressley Good to be with you, always. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham It’s been more than a month and a half since the violent mob attacked the capital and since you were attacked during that. So before we start, I just want to ask how you’re doing? Are you OK? 

Ayanna Pressley I appreciate that question so much because I think, you know, so often we fail to see the humanity in people and certainly those who are in positions of elected office. And so I thank you for centering that. I’m doing fine. You know, I don’t want to give short shrift to the events that occurred at all. It is a stain on our nation’s history that a violent white supremacist mob siezed the capital. It was an attempted coup to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. However, I am struggling with the fact that it took a violent white supremacist mob literally coming to the steps of the Capitol, causing trauma, injury, loss of life, brandishing a Confederate flag and erecting a noose on the West Lawn of the Capitol for many to appreciate for the first time the threat that white supremacy is to every American and to our democracy. And I think the image that has haunted me the most is that of the all Black custodial staff cleaning up the mess left behind by this violent white supremacist mob. Of course, they and all of the Capitol staff, from custodians to food service workers to our aides to United States Capitol Police, all experienced their own fair share of trauma that day. But this was both a literal representation and a metaphor for what Black folks and the most marginalized have been doing for generations. And that is cleaning up the mess left by a violent white supremacist mob. 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham That is quite the metaphor, and I want to keep talking about the work that Black people, Black women you included are often left to do to clean up the mess left by white supremacy. We saw your colleague, Delegate Stacey Plaskett, wearing a literal cape on the floor of Congress, helping the House managers and the Democrats put up a very strong case. And yet Trump was acquitted of inciting this insurrection during his second impeachment trial. Beyond, you know, the moral importance of holding him accountable, what do you worry might be the real concrete consequences of this acquittal? 

Ayanna Pressley Well, you know, I will evoke the words of a wise sage, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, who said that this is as much about accountability as it is prevention because Donald J. Trump needed to be not only held accountable but barred from running for public office ever again. And so we also know that Donald J. Trump is not the only culpable person. That he had many accomplices who aided and abetted in the perpetuating of this big lie of voter fraud, which became the foundation for this violent mob that seized the capital. And so investigations are underway. By relevant Congressional House committees, I called for these investigations within hours of these violent attacks in my role as a member of the Oversight Committee because I wanted to know what individuals, and we deserve to know, what individuals and agencies aided and abetted this. So what should have happened is impeach then expulsion for all those members. And we thank Representative Cori Bush for her leadership in those early calls, and I’ve signed on to her resolution and now investigate. But I think it begs a larger question here. The fear certainly is that without consequences, this could happen again. And Brittany, we’ve seen that throughout history. Yeah. So what is the fear that this white supremacy is emboldened? That Donald J. Trump is a martyr, and that the next attack is bigger and better? 

Brittany Packnett Cuningham That was part of my conversation with Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley from last February. And once again, this is as much about accountability as it is about prevention. And like always, Black women are the fiercest protectors of the democracy we helped birth with little to no protection or recognition of either. So last year, on January the 6th, Brian Williams asked me to join his broadcast. I had to process an event that just happened close to my house, live on air.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham You know, Brian, I think we use words a lot, and we don’t always make sure that we’re clear about precisely what they mean. This is the literal example of white supremacy. It means that white people  believe that they have dominion over everybody and dominion over everything. But they do not own this country. They do not own democracy and we will not be intimidated despite the fact that the police did not hold the line today.

Brittany Packnett Cuningham It’s a full year later and I remain just as resolute. We cannot allow this day, nor the things that led to it to go unaccounted for. But that requires tangible action and some unrelenting courage from more than the small handful of Democrats who have signed Cori Bush’s bill. The administration, the courts, and all of Congress have to do everything in their power to ensure the investigative committee is not just political theater, but that its findings actually have real teeth and that the consequences are felt. Social media platforms have to take responsibility for the amount of radicalization that happens on their watch. It is killing democracy and it’s killing us. Because guess what? The next coup is already happening. It’s called voter suppression, and it’s been happening in the over 30 state legislatures and governors’ offices that have been restricting voting rights for years and ramped up their efforts, especially after Trump lost. The GOP knows they lose when we all vote, so very simply, they want to ensure we can’t. President Biden is going to have to at least allow the filibuster exception to protect the vote at the federal level because the states have wrecked it. Real accountability begins with the truth. Without it, the consequences will be bigger and badder than January 6th, 2021. So President Biden, have your prayer vigils. Congress, make your speeches. Lawmakers, have your moment of silence. But whatever you do, just make sure we don’t end up here again. It’s the least we elected you to do. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. 


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Matlow. 

Our associate producer is Alexis Moore. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen, and Hannis Brown. 

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Brittany Packnett Cunningham and Cindi Leive, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being, and thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.