What follows is a detailed timeline of President Donald Trump’s statements and actions relevant to the case that he incited the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Of course many of Trump’s actions fomenting violence and white supremacy predate the year covered in this timeline. We focus on the year preceding the attack on the Capitol and how Trump mobilized his supporters to try overturn the election.
The timeline includes statements as well as acts of commission and omission over the past year. In our view, the evidence shows how the president inspired violent groups, despite warnings from Republican and Democratic officials of the dangerous consequences. In earlier statements, Trump gave support and legitimacy to armed insurrectionists in states that had imposed pandemic restrictions. During the election season, Trump refused to say he would ensure a peaceful transfer of power, refused to condemn white supremacists and instead affirmatively bolstered the Proud Boys and QAnon. After losing the election, Trump and associated leaders of the “Stop the Steal” effort built toward the events that unfolded on January 6.
If we have missed any key information, please notify us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 20, 2020: President Trump enthusiastically expresses support for heavily armed 2nd Amendment protesters in Richmond, Virginia.
President Trump tweets: “The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights.”
April 17, 2020: Following armed anti-pandemic lockdown protests at several state capitals, Trump tweets: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
The tweets come in response to armed protests in several states, including Michigan, where protesters chanted “lock her up,” referring to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The tweets prompt a leading legal expert on militias Mary McCord to write that Trump has “incited insurrection” against state governments.
April 30, 2020: Armed protestors storm the Michigan state capitol building. Two of the protestors are eventually charged in the attempted kidnapping of Governor Gretchen Whitmer (see entry for Oct. 7, 2020).
The New York Times reports that one of the protestors carried a sign that read, “Tyrants Get the Rope,” and another carried an American flag that had a doll made to look like Ms. Whitmer hanging from it.
May 1, 2020: Trump tweets in favor of the Michigan protestors.
The president tweets: “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”
May 28, 2020: Trump retweets, with praise, a video of a supporter saying, “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”
May 29, 2020: Trump tweets, in reference to riots in Minneapolis, saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
June 4, 2020: The Trump campaign sends out a fundraising email asking supporters to enlist in the “Trump Army.”
July 9, 2020: President Trump refuses to say whether he will accept the election results.
In an interview with President Trump, Fox News reporter Chris Wallace asks him whether he will accept the election results. Trump responds, “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
August 17, 2020: President Trump condemns Antifa as the Proud Boys descend on Portland, Oregon.
The Proud Boys lead an “End Domestic Terrorism Rally” in Portland, Oregon, in self-proclaimed opposition to Antifa; the rally is met by counterprotestors and a heavy police presence. Trump tweets, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!”
August 17, 2020: Trump claims the only way he will lose the election is if it is rigged.
In a speech in Wisconsin, Trump says, “The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged, remember that.” It is a statement he will repeat in a speech on Aug. 24 at the Republican National Convention (“The only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election”).
August 19, 2020: President Trump acknowledges and appears to tacitly endorse QAnon for the first time.
When asked at a White House press conference what he thinks about QAnon and what he has to say to the movement’s followers, the President says:
“Well I don’t know much about the movement, but from what I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. I have heard that it is gaining in popularity, and from what I hear these are people that… They watch the streets of Portland, when they watch what happened in New York City in just the last six or seven months . . . these are people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland and places like Chicago and New York City and other cities and states and I’ve heard these are people that love our country and they just don’t like seeing it.”
When asked about their belief that he is fighting a secret global battle against a cult of pedophile cannibals, he says, “Well I hadn’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, and we are actually, we are saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will save this country.”
August 31, 2020: After the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, President Trump declines to condemn white nationalist-led violent protests.
Trump expresses sympathy to 17-year old Kyle Rittenhouse, charged with shooting and killing two people, and the president suggests he may have been acting in self defense. In response to the violence in Kenosha and Portland, Oregan, Trump also says: “Well, I understand that had large numbers of people that were supporters, but that was a peaceful protest…And paint is not — and paint as a defensive mechanism, paint is not bullets. … These people, they protested peacefully. They went in very peacefully.”
In response to Trump’s failure to denounce the violence, then-candidate Biden states: “He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.”
Later reports suggest that DHS officials were directed to make sympathetic statements toward Rittenhouse. It is unclear whether these directions originated at the White House or within the DHS press office, NBC reports.
September 8, 2020: Brian Murphy, a whistleblower in the Department of Homeland Security submits a complaint that claims that the two most senior DHS officials tried to suppress threat assessments of white supremacy because it would reflect poorly on President Trump.
The complaint alleges that acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli wanted Murphy to “ specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.” The complaint also alleges that DHS leadership asked Murphy to “modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups.”
The complaint garners wide media attention.
September 23, 2020: In response to a direct question, President Trump refuses to say he will ensure a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.
In a White House press conference, a reporter asks the president if he will “commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferal of power after the election?” President Trump answers, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.” He further raises alarms about a potential transition of power: “Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.”
September 29, 2020: First Presidential Debate.
When asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace, if the president will urge his supporters to “stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest,” President Trump answers vaguely that “bad things happen in Philadelphia. Bad things. And I am urging my people. I hope it’s going to be a fair election.” His answers heighten concern of “election day chaos.”
Later in the debate, when asked to condemn white supremacist militias like the Proud Boys, Trump tells them to “Stand back and stand by,” and that “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”
The President’s comments are widely interpreted as a boost for the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups. In response to the statement and lack of denouncement of white supremecists, a known social media account associated with the Proud Boys makes “stand back and stand by” its new slogan. A user on the Proud Boys’ Telegram account also writes, “Standing down and standing by sir.” Proud Boys organizer Joe Biggs likewise posts that he is “standing by,” and that Trump “basically said to go f— them [antifa] up.”
October 07, 2020: The Justice Department indicts ring for attempting to kidnap Michigan Governor.
The Justice Department announces indictments of 13 men charged with attempting to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan. Whitmer cites Trump statements failing to condemn white supremacists and other rhetoric is seen as a “rallying cry” for such violent groups.
Trump responds to the plot at a rally in Lansing, MI: “It was our people — my people, our people that helped her out. And then she blamed me for it. She blamed me and it was our people that helped her. I don’t get it. How did you put her there?” (The crowd chants “lock her up” at the rally in response).
Trump tweets, “I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer—open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!”
October 15, 2020: President Trump claims to know nothing about QAnon, and refuses to denounce it.
When asked at a televised town hall whether he disavows QAnon, Trump responds, “I know nothing about QAnon … What I do hear about it, they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that.” When pressed on whether he believes a satanic pedophile ring exists, he retorts, “No, I don’t know that and neither do you know that.”
November 1, 2020: President Trump praises supporters who, with their cars, swarm a Biden campaign bus traveling between San Antonio and Texas.
A Biden campaign spokesperson says the vehicles “attempted to slow the bus down and run it off the road,” and that following the incident an event at the Texas AFL-CIO was canceled out of an “abundance of caution.”
“Did you see the way our people were protecting his bus?” Trump boasts at a frigid rally in Washington, Mich., hours after tweeting a video of the caravan with the message: “I LOVE TEXAS.” “They had hundreds of cars. Trump. Trump. Trump, and the American flag.”
November 13, 2020: In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, President Trump’s allies spearhead a media campaign and a call to action of the President’s supporters.
“This is as serious a constitutional crisis as our nation has ever faced. We will only be the beacon of hope for the world if we are willing to stand with courage and integrity & defend our republic,” General Mike Flynn, former National Security Advisor, tweets. Sidney Powell echos the statements, saying in an interview that “This is essentially a new American revolution. And anyone who wants this country to remain free needs to step up right now.”
December 1, 2020: While the President’s supporters continue to ratchet up calls of martial law and use of force, Republicans beg the President to tamp down his rhetoric, concerned that it will lead to violence.
Lin Wood proclaims on Parler: “Our country is headed to Civil War…President Trump must follow the precedent of Abraham Lincoln and declare martial law.”
Meanwhile, as media attention focuses on battleground states, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican election official in Georgia, implores Trump in a passionate viral speech:
“Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed. And it’s not right.”
'Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone's gonna get hurt. Someone's gonna get shot. Someone's gonna get killed.' — Gabriel Sterling issued this prescient warning to President Trump on December 1 pic.twitter.com/i3YUomRfly
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) January 7, 2021
December 2, 2020: Violent rhetoric by President Trump’s allies continues as the Georgia Senate runoff race nears.
“We’re going to slay Goliath, the communists, the liberals, the phonies. Joe Biden will never set foot in the Oval Office of this country. It will not happen on our watch. Never gonna happen,” Lin Wood claims at the Stop the Steal Rally in Alpharetta, Georgia.
December 6, 2020: Armed protestors arrive at the home of Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, threatening violence after the results of the election.
December 8, 2020: The official Twitter account of the Arizona GOP asks supporters whether they are willing to die for President Trump.
In response to a Stop the Steal tweet saying “I am willing to give my life for this fight,” the Arizona GOP tweets, “He is. Are you?” The GOP account also tweets a clip of the 2008 movie “Rambo,” as the character proclaims, “This is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something.” After public criticism, both tweets are deleted.
December 9, 2020:“I believe there will be violence in our streets soon.” Lin Wood predicts during an interview on the pro-Trump TV station, New Tang Dynasty Television.
December 12, 2020: On the day of “Stop the Steal” rallies, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio posts photos of himself taken at the White House, although the White House later denies he was invited.
Tarrio posts photos on Parler of himself on the White House portico, claiming that he had received a “last minute invite to an undisclosed location” while attending a protest in Washington D.C. The White House refutes the invitation and states that Tarrio did not meet with Trump, but does not explain how he passed screening for a public tour.
December 12, 2020: “Stop the Steal” rallies occur across the country and turn violent; President Trump expresses his support for his supporters’ participation in the rallies.
Trump tweets his encouragement: “Wow! Thousands of people forming in Washington (D.C.) for Stop the Steal. Didn’t know about this, but I’ll be seeing them! #MAGA”
While Trump supporters also gather in Olympia, Washington, St. Paul, Minnesota, Trump allies Mike Flynn and Sebastian Gorka speak at the Washington D.C. rally. Flynn compares the protestors and Trump supporters to the story of Jericho, a Biblical story where the people peacefully conquer a city after marching around it.
December 14, 2020: As the Electoral College plans to meet in statehouses across the country to certify the 2020 election, credible threats of violence force building shutdowns in Michigan.
Arizona’s state capitol building receives increased security in advance of the vote as well.
December 17, 2020: Michael Flynn publicly floats the idea that President Trump could use the United States military in response to what the President falsely claims to be a rigged election.
“If he wanted to, [President Trump] could take military capabilities and he could place them in those states and basically rerun an election in each of those states.” “Martial law has been instituted 64 times. I’m not calling for that,” Flynn backtracks. “We have a constitutional process. … That has to be followed. But I will tell you I’m a little concerned about Chief Justice John Roberts at the Supreme Court. We can’t fool around with the fabric of the Constitution of the United States.”
Flynn’s interview sparks concerns that President Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act. North Carolina state senator Bob Steinburg (R) calls on Facebook (in a now deleted post) for President Trump to “declare a national emergency” and “invoke the Insurrection Act” in response to false claims that the election had been stolen from President Trump.
December 18, 2020: Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell meet with Trump and top administration officials in a heated meeting at the White House. Trump reportedly asks Flynn to inform him about the martial law idea; other advisors talk Trump out of this notion.
December 19, 2020: Trump begins to rally support around a large gathering of his supporters in Washington D.C. on January 6th, immediately following the Senate elections in Georgia and coinciding with Congress’ certification of President-elect Biden’s victory.
Trump tweets: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election” and “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
December 20: General Flynn retweets a call for President Trump to “cross the Rubicon” made by Kelli Ward, Chair of the Arizona Republican Party.
Ward tweets, “Mr. President @realDonaldTrump – we are with you in #Arizona. We are working every avenue to stop this coup & to stop our Republic from crumbing. Patriots are united. Those who are against us are exposing themselves. #Liberty & #freedom are on the line. #CrossTheRubicon @GenFlynn.”
Originated by Ron Watkins, who once ran the far-right message board 8kun, where “Q” posts cryptic messages to QAnon followers, the hashtag #CrossTheRubicon soon proliferates across pro-Trump social media. It refers to Julius Caesar’s fateful decision to lead his army across the Rubicon River from Gaul into Italy, a clear violation of Roman law and a de facto declaration of war on the Republic. The phrase has more generally come to refer to passing a point of no return.
December 21, 2020: Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) tells attendees at a Turning Point USA rally to “call your congressman and feel free — you can lightly threaten them.”
December 27, 2020: Trump tweets, “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it. Information to follow.”
December 28, 2020: Former Trump White House official Olivia Troye says she is “very concerned that there will be violence on January 6th because the president himself encourages it.”
Troye elaborates, “This is what [President Trump] does. He tweets. He incites it. He gets his followers and supporters to behave in this manner, and these people think that they’re being patriotic because they are supporting Donald Trump.”
December 29, 2021: The Proud Boys announce they will attend the January 6 event, saying they will do so “incognito.” The statement is widely reported including in conservative news outlets (e.g., Fox News; Washington Times).
Special note: The Timeline includes acts of commission, and it is difficult to include acts of omission. However, it is important to note that President Trump does not issue any statement that the Proud Boys are not welcome.
January 1, 2021: Momentum builds for the January 6th rally, with increased calls for violence by Trump supporters.
Trump himself tweets, “The BIG Protest Rally in Washington, D.C. will take place at 11:00 A.M. on January 6th. Locational details to follow. StopTheSteal!”
He also retweets Kylie Jane Kremer, chair of Women for America First, an organizer of the rally. “The calvary[sic] is coming, Mr. President! JANUARY 6th,” Kremer had tweeted on Dec. 19. The President responds, “A great honor!” in his retweet on New Years Day.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) says on Newsmax that as a consequence of the dismissal of his lawsuit enjoining Mike Pence to overturn the election results, “you got to go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM.” The following day, Gohmert tweets a statement saying that he does not advocate violence.
January 3, 2021: Support continues to grow for the January 6th event, as President Trump and ally Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) encourage supporters to show up.
At a rally ahead of the Georgia Senate special election, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) says, “We will not go quietly into the night. We will defend liberty. And we are going to win.”
Meanwhile, Trump retweets @CodeMonkeyZ (now suspended by Twitter): “If you are planning to attend peaceful protests in DC on the 6th, i recommend wearing a body camera. The more video angles of that day the better.”
January 4, 2021: On the eve of the two-days of events in DC, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio is arrested in Washington D.C., as President Trump and Donald Trump Jr. call for supporters to “fight like hell.”
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio is arrested in Washington D.C. for burning a Black Lives Matter banner that he had taken from a Black church during December’s Stop the Steal rallies. He is found to be in possession of two high capacity firearm magazines, which is charged for possession.
At a pre-election rally in Georgia, Donald Trump, Jr., introducing his father, tells the crowd, “We need to fight.” President Trump then takes the stage, telling supporters, “They’re not taking this White House. We’re going to fight like hell.”
January 5, 2021: General Flynn directs veiled threats to Congress while speaking at a rally. “Those of you who are feeling weak tonight, those of you who don’t have the moral fiber in your body — get some tonight because tomorrow we the people are going to be here.”
January 6, 2021: In the morning, President Trump and his allies encourage his followers to show up for the protests over Twitter.
President Trump tweets, “The States want to redo their votes. They found out they voted on a FRAUD. Legislatures never approved. Let them do it. BE STRONG!”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) tweets, “FIGHT. FOR. TRUMP.”
January 6, 2021: President Trump, members of his family and supporters speak at the rally on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Donald Trump Jr. warms up the crowd, saying of Republican lawmakers, “If you’re gonna be the zero and not the hero, we’re coming for you.”
Rudy Giuliani is next. “If we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. So let’s have trial by combat … I’ll be darned if they’re going to take our free and fair vote…We’re going to fight to the very end to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Finally, President Trump makes a series of incendiary statements during his speech:
“I would love to have if those tens of thousands of people would be allowed the military, the Secret Service and we want to thank you and the police and law enforcement great you’re doing a great job, but I would love it if they could be allowed to come up with us.”
He directs them to the Capitol: “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol– and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them.”
“You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
“Something is wrong here, something is really wrong, can’t have happened and we fight, we fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
“So we are going to–we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give–the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote but we are going to try–give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re try–going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.”
January 6, 2021: Senator Josh Hawley raises a fist.
As he enters the Capitol, the Missouri Republican makes a clear gesture of support for the pro-Trump crowd.
Other Republican lawmakers show support for the growing protests. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) states at the rally, “Today is a time of choosing and tomorrow is a time of fighting. Today is also a day of revelation and separation…Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
January 6, 2021: The attack on the U.S. Capitol begins.
At 1:49PM, Trump tweets a link to a video of his remarks at the Ellipse.
At 2:24PM, Trump tweets: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
Trump is reportedly “initially pleased” by events as he watches them unfold, and “disregard[s] aides pleading with him to intercede.”
According to a close adviser of the president, “rather than appearing appalled, Trump was voraciously consuming the events on television, enjoying the spectacle and encouraged to see his supporters fighting for him.”
According to Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, White House aides say that President Trump is “delighted,” while “walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team [are]n’t as excited.”
President Trump initially rebuffs and refuses requests to mobilize the D.C. National Guard. Eventually, the Guard is mobilized after an order from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller. Vice President Mike Pence approves the order and the Guard is deployed.
Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy demands that Trump make a statement denouncing the rioters. He refuses, leading to a “screaming match” between the two men.
Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter and advisor, tweets (and later deletes) a call for the violence to end, but addresses the tweet to “American Patriots,” earning swift backlash.
At 2:38 PM, President Trump tweets, “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”
A person familiar with discussions about what the president should tweet told the Washington Post that Trump had resisted adding the final sentence, “Stay peaceful.”
At 4:17 PM, President Trump releases a recorded statement on Twitter, reiterating his claims of a rigged election but telling the rioters that “You have to go home now, we have to have peace … We love you, you’re very special.”
At 6:01 PM, Trump tweets, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
January 6, 2021: Pro-Trump supporters gather across the country as events in the Capitol unfold, with some state buildings evecuating as violence errupts.
Armed supporters of the President rally in Washington state, breaching a fence of the governor’s residence, though are unsuccessful in advancing further. State buildings are closed in Denver, Colorado, Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, New Mexico as rallies occur outside.
In Oregon, protestors burn an effigy of Governor Kate Brown, while in Arizona, a guillotine with a Trump flag is set up outside the statehouse. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) Facetimes the crowds in Arizona, shortly after objecting to the certification of President-elect Biden’s victory in the state, telling protestors “I’m so proud of you for being out there, gotta love you for keeping the fight.”
January 6, 2021: The FBI counters claims that Antifa was involved.
Some conservative politicians and pundits immediately lob baseless claims that the riot was a false flag attack by Antifa. On a call with the press, an FBI spokesperson says, “We have no indication” of Antifa involvement. The arrests of 120 individuals over the next few days shows that longtime Trump supporters and right-wing militants comprised the attackers, an Associated Press report shows.
January 6, 2021: Death toll
Five people die in the assault on the Capitol, including U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Another fifteen officers are hospitalized, with 56 in total initially reported injured. [Update: As of Feb. 24, 2021, Capitol police officials state, “Around 140 officers were injured during the insurrection including officers with crushed spinal discs, broken kneecaps, and traumatic brain injuries” and that “some of these officers may never return to duty. Many more are experiencing signs of PTSD.”]
For days, the White House is criticized for not flying the mast at half mast for the death of officer Sicknick. On January 10, officer Howard Liebengood, who had helped defend the Capitol, commits suicide. That day, President Trump finally orders the White House flag lowered to half mast.
Photo: President Donald Trump speaks to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)