The confrontation over Jan. 6: Conservatives seek martyrdom

Conservatives are itching for another major confrontation

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 15, 2021 10:02AM (EDT)

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Roger Stone (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and Roger Stone (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

It appears that the January 6th commission is getting ready to rumble. The bipartisan probe in the House of Representatives has been taking the testimony of various participants and observers of the events leading up to the insurrection and has issued 19 subpoenas for some who have so far refused invitations to appear.

The most recent recipient is Jeffrey Clark, the former acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Justice Department who reportedly broke agency rules by working directly with the president and outside lawyers on a plot to overturn the election. Often portrayed as a lowly background player with no profile, according to the New Republic, Clark is actually a high-level conservative movement legal activist with an Ivy League pedigree, a clerkship with a very right-wing judge, a long association with The Federalist Society as well as Kirkland and Ellis, the law firm known for housing right-wing attorneys in between service in GOP administrations. Clark served on the Romney campaign in 2012 as an "energy adviser" and along with his duties in the civil division, he worked as the assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, where Bloomberg reports he diligently worked to slash and burn existing environmental policy. In other words, he is a full-fledged creature of the Republican establishment. Attempts to portray him as some sort of eccentric gadfly are wrong. Clark is a member of the club.

It will be interesting to see if he responds to the subpoena or tries to claim attorney-client privilege. The Department of Justice told employees that it would not invoke executive privilege some time back and Trump himself has declared that he would not sue to stop them. Clark will have to do some fancy footwork to get out of it.

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Meanwhile, four of Trump's closest accomplices were due to appear this week and failed to do so.

Dan Scavino Trump's Deputy Chief of staff and social media director eluded the process for some time but was finally served and has been given more time to respond. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump loyalist/jack of all trades Kash Patel are both said to be working with the committee to come up with some agreement and have also been given a temporary reprieve. That leaves Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser and current podcaster extraordinaire.

Having escaped accountability for the fraud he was alleged to have perpetrated against Trump's followers by obtaining a pardon from the leader they revere, just 10 months later, Bannon is once again committing crimes. He has decided to defy the subpoena, setting up a criminal contempt charge which could land him in jail for one year and cost him $100,000. The January 6th Committee has said it will refer the charge to the DOJ.

Bannon is apparently claiming executive privilege based upon the fact that Trump says he doesn't want him to talk. There is no privilege for former presidents and even if he were still in office, a podcaster would not be able to claim it. Bannon has not been a member of the executive branch since 2017 when Trump fired him for shooting off his mouth to author Michael Wolff for his book "Fire and Fury" and taking too much credit for Trump's election success. Bannon has no claim to any kind of privilege but he's more than willing to push the envelope with the committee and the Department of Justice in order to foment revolutionary anger among the Trump faithful. That is his raison d'etre and has been for quite some time.

As Washington Post authors Bob Woodward and Bob Costa detail in their book "Peril," and as Bannon has since confirmed, in the days before the insurrection, Bannon told Trump "People are going to go, 'What the fuck is going on here? We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, fucking bury him. We're going to kill it in the crib, kill the Biden presidency in the crib." On January 5, Bannon told his listeners, "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Tomorrow is game day. I've met so many people through my life who said, 'Man if I was at the revolution, I would be, I would be with Washington at Trenton.' Well, this is for your time in history." On the morning of January 6th, he told his Facebook followers, "TAKE ACTION. THEY ARE TRYING TO STEAL THE ELECTION." His parting words during his podcast that day were, "Today is not just a rally. The president is going to give you his opening argument. I think Eastman's up there actually throwing down. .. at 1:00 there's going to be some pretty controversial, controversial things going on."

Apparently, Bannon was very much in the loop. One can understand why the Committee would like to talk to him.

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But what's in it for him --- or Trump, for that matter --- to defy the subpoena? Why not just go in there and admit everything and dare them to bring charges against him. There's very little chance they would. What would they be for? Sedition?

As I wrote earlier, Bannon is planning Insurrection 2.0 and people are listening. He's talking about preparing "shock troops" to take over the executive branch when Trump is restored to the presidency and his "precinct strategy" to get Trump followers to take over local administration of elections and storm school boards has been taken up by thousands of MAGA true believers. As he told his listeners last May, "It's going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don't have an option. We're going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct."

Trump, meanwhile, has turned Ashli Babbit (the woman who was shot crawling through a broken window trying to get to members of Congress on January 6th) into a martyr.

At a fundraiser for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Younkin this week, followers pledged allegiance to a flag that was supposedly present on January 6th. (No word on whether it had any policemen's bloodstains on it.) Bannon was the featured speaker.

It's impossible to know whether Trump and Bannon are strategizing together, but it's clear that they have the same goal. They are turning January 6th into a rallying cry for more insurrection. Both Bannon and Trump have spoken of the people indicted for their crimes in the insurrection as "political prisoners" and I suspect Bannon would like nothing more than to turn his criminal contempt citation into a revolutionary cause for the MAGA faithful.

I don't know if they allow prisoners to podcast from their jail cells but Bannon wouldn't be the first to spend his time behind bars working on a manifesto. And Trump can wave the bloody shirt of January 6th to keep the Big Lie alive for his run in 2024. It's going to be quite a show.  

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Jan.6 Committee Steve Bannon