January 6th, 2021, was a day that would go down in infamy.
For weeks before Congress gathered to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, the news was dominated by the GOP’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.
Former President Donald J. Trump had argued for months that Biden’s historic victory was impossible. There was no way that 80 million Americans voted for “Sleepy Joe” over the best president in American history, Donald Trump himself. He filled his Twitter feed with claims that American democracy was at risk and that Democrats had stolen the election out from under him. They would stop at nothing to prevent him from serving a second term as president of the United States.
And his most loyal supporters didn’t question his lies for a second.
On January 6th, Trump’s campaign organized a rally for his loyalists on the Eclipse in Washington, D.C. Trump took to the stage to rally his supporters and preached about the widespread voter fraud he believed robbed him of his rightful place as president. After the former president called for VP Mike Pence to overturn the election results — which Pence refused to do —- Trump urged his supporters to march on the capital building and “fight like hell” to stop the official certification¹.
Several thousand emotionally-charged Republican supporters began marching through Washington, DC. Just a mile away on the steps of the Capitol Building, another organized group of protestors had already started clashing with police. As numbers grew, the crowd quickly turned violent¹.
The most deadly insurrection on U.S. soil followed. For 187 minutes, rioters terrified congressional members — who had to be evacuated from the premises — ransacked and looted offices and documented their attack on social media.
But most reports of the January 6th riot got one crucial fact wrong. This was not the first time a violent insurrection was planned in the United States. It was not even the first attempt to overthrow a newly elected democratic president¹.
In 1933, wealthy business tycoons and Wall Street bankers planned the 1st American insurrection to remove Franklin Delano Roosevelt, FDR, from office.
The Business Plot of 1933
For most of the 1920s, life had been good for the average American. The age was marked by widespread prosperity and a new, morally ambiguous, carefree culture. Jazz music dominated the airwaves for the first time, and prohibition was still the law of the land².
But the Stock Market Crash of 1929 quickly changed everything.
By 1933, just four short years later, the country was deep in the trenches of the Great Depression. Nearly 15 million people across the country were out of work. Half of all banks had failed. Millions of families were left starving when community soup kitchens and bread lines couldn’t keep up with the massive number of hungry mouths to feed².
There were no social safety nets set in place by the federal government, and Americans were desperate to find a way to end their collective suffering.
So, they turned toward the steadfast leadership and economic optimism of Democratic presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt². He spoke widely about how society had a duty to “abolish poverty, reduce unemployment, and redistribute wealth.” He even pledged on the campaign trail to end the Great Depression and promised that the government would provide jobs to all the starving, unemployed workers across the country³.
Though his New Deal legislation was popular with most voters, America’s elite did not approve of the increased government regulation and broad financial reforms that came with the package. They believed FDR was moving the country away from the gold standard to subsidize life for the poor³.
To stop FDR from passing more socialist and ‘communist’ policies at the expense of big business, The American Liberty League — a conservative lobbying group including J.P. Morgan Jr., Irénée du Pont, and the CEOs of General Motors, Birds Eye, General Foods, among others, with nearly $40 billion in assets (equivalent to $778 billion today) — devised a plan³.
With Gerald P. MacGuire at the helm, they aimed to build an army capable of overthrowing the U.S. government. Once their soldiers deposed FDR, they wanted to install a fascist dictatorship that favored big business interests above all else.
To lead their proposed army of 500,000 disgruntled veterans, MacGuire sought to recruit decorated war hero General Smedley Butler. He believed Butler’s activism for veteran rights made him the perfect candidate to mobilize ex-soldiers and lead the future insurrection at the capital³. After all, he had more than enough experience leading troops³.
The veterans they recruited had been ravaged by the Great Depression. They were unemployed, starving, and at risk of losing everything. The offer of a steady paycheck would convince them to join the cause.
To guarantee Butler’s cooperation, The American Liberty League made Butler a life-changing offer. If he led their army, they would pay off his mortgage and finance his children’s college educations. It was an offer most would not be able to turn down.
The only flaw in these wealthy elites’ plan was that they didn’t account for Butler’s exemplary loyalty to his country. After multiple meetings with MacGuire, the General finally learned the full extent of the proposed coup. He couldn’t stand to see the democracy he fought to protect reduced to rubble so a fascist regime could take power³.
By the fall of 1934, Butler disclosed every detail of the alleged plot to the former head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and released a statement to the American public.
Though the media painted Butler as a blatant liar and claimed his story was an unconvincing hoax, Congress believed that the two-time medal of honor recipient had no reason to lie. He had nothing to gain by implicating these Wall Street moguls³.
Legislators moved to investigate Butler’s claims by assigning the matter to a special Congressional committee devoted to exposing Un-American activities. In February of 1935, the committee released its report. They uncovered “evidence showing that … persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country”. And concluded that there was “no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when … the financial backers deemed it expedient.”
What was most concerning about the entire plot was that despite these Congressional findings, not one of the wealthy businessmen involved was called to testify in front of Congress or faced any consequences for their actions.
U.S. Sanctioned Fascism
Following the Business Plot of 1933, none of the major players — despite being found guilty of plotting a violent insurrection by a special congressional committee — faced justice³. The Business Plot was simply wiped from history books as decades passed and slowly faded from public consciousness.
If history is doomed to repeat itself, after the special congressional committee ends its public hearings regarding the Capitol Riot on October 13th, we can assume that the events of January 6th will suffer a similar fate.
However, we must learn from the mistakes made in 1933. We can not allow another blatant display of fascism on American soil to be forgotten.
We must fight to see each Capitol rioter prosecuted under the full extent of the law for their crimes. And we must hold the GOP legislators and the former president accountable for sowing distrust in our electoral process for personal and political gain.
And most importantly, we must cast our ballots for trustworthy and authentic legislators who value upholding American democracy above all else.