Mr. Trump’s incitement to violence started well before January 6, with a continuous stream of lies.
A year of election misinformation from Trump, visualized
Philip Bump, reporting for The Washington Post.
Before the 2016 election, Trump invested a decent amount of energy on claims that presidential elections were rife with voter fraud. It was transparently an effort to inoculate himself against what seemed to be a likely loss in that year’s presidential race. Then he won — and his claims that voter fraud were rampant were more narrowly tailored to explain why Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes than he did, or so they said.
For the next few years, he’d occasionally return to the subject, waving his hands about fraud whenever he wanted to complain about immigrants, California, Californian immigrants or whatever. But it was last April when his fraud claims took a new, more concrete form: Democrats were using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to expand the use of mail-in ballots — a tool that made casting illegal ballots trivial, or so Trump asserted.
One could (and many did) watch the plan solidify over the next few months. Mail ballots were rife with fraud, Trump claimed over and over, and therefore an election predicated on mail ballots would necessarily be suspect. By April it had become clear that Trump’s opponent in his reelection bid would be Joe Biden, who led Trump by a healthy margin in the polls. So Trump dutifully planted seeds of doubt about what seemed like a probable Biden win.
As the election neared, he repeatedly refused to say that he would accept the outcome if he lost, instead saying that he would only accept the outcome of a free and fair election — something that he assured his followers was impossible, given the circumstances. Then he performatively demanded that no votes should be counted after the night of the election itself, recognizing that mail ballots that heavily favored Biden would only be counted in the hours or days after polls closed.
It was this poisonous snowball of nonsense meant to set the stage for his declaring that Biden hadn’t actually won. And it worked very well.
In the weeks after his loss, Trump repeatedly claimed that the election had been tainted by fraud, without offering any credible evidence. As surely as he’d built up nonsensical claims of imminent wrongdoing before the Nov. 3 election, he assiduously latched on to any claim of fraud that emerged after the election was over, however obviously ridiculous or quickly debunked. Day after day of dishonesty about his loss, of which his speech at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 was only the last.
About an hour after he finished speaking, his supporters — in D.C. at his behest and motivated by Trump to try to interrupt the finalization of the election results occurring in the Capitol — had overrun the seat of legislative power in the United States.