By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Patient readers, I apologize for being late. Some things took longer to nail down than I expected. But enjoy! –lambert
It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at the events of January 6, 2021. (See “The Class Composition of the Capitol Rioters” and “The Organizational Capacity and Behavioral Characteristics of the Capitol Rioters.”) Let’s begin with a photo of the (Democrat-led) January 6th Committee (full name: The United States House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol):
(Photo credit is to AP; I’ll try to supply original sourcing throughout, but it’s not easy.) The photo is one representation of the subject of this post: The gallows of January 6. You will notice that this is a telephoto shot, and with the compression characteristic of that lens, the putative relation between gallows, noose, and Capitol dome is self-evident; this is the story the Democrats are telling themselves, and the voters. After a moment to absorb the (undeniable) impact, you will also notice that there is no context at all; you cannot tell where the gallows is located with respect to the Capitol. Nor is there any indication of scale; how big is the gallows, really? After closer inspection, you may notice that both gallows and noose look a little flimsy, very much unlike this image of an actual, working gallows:
(Pretzelpaws at WikiMedia commons). Following this train of thought might lead you to find the House Committee’s Jumbotron view, and with it, the media coverage in which such images are embedded, less self-evident than you had thought at first.
The media coverage I’ve read after searching on “January 6 gallows” — and I’ve plowed through a lot of aghastitude — falls into three buckets. The first, and most honest, is lacks agency: “A somewhat flimsy gallows on the Capitol steps (Governing. This refers to an Agence France Presse photo from Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, who, God bless him, seems to have gotten the words “flimsy” or “mock” into his caption, which many venues picked up); “A gallows and noose the Capitol” (New York Times); “The ghosts were rising up from across the American centuries. Solemn-eyed Christians with their wooden cross. The gallows its noose” (The Intercept); “An image of a mock gallows the Capitol” (Associated Press, but wrong; the gallows is not on the Capitol grounds); “A noose is seen on makeshift gallows as supporters of President Donald Trump gather” (Associated Press). The second, less honest, asserts agency without evidence: “Protestors erected a gallows outside the U.S. Capitol” (Military Times); “Capitol mob built gallows” (Associated Press); “A noose and gallows erected by Trump supporters” (National Geographic). The third asserts agency without evidence and butchers the timeline: “As rioters bludgeoned, beat and berated police inside the Capitol and out, a gallows with a bright orange noose was erected” (NBC Washington; in fact, the gallows seems to have been erected in near dawn, certainly before the riot began); “Shocking new video taken inside the Capitol during the January 6 riot shows the moment a MAGA mob rifled through paperwork in the Senate chamber as they searched for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before erecting gallows outside the building” (Daily Mail; again, the gallows was erected well before the Capitol was “breached,” as we say).
So with a wildly tendentious photo at the January 6 Committee, and ghastly error-riddled press coverage, you might hazard a guess that the origin story of the January 6 gallows is yet to be written (at least publicly). And you would be right! There are timelines for the events of January 6 at Wikipedia, NPR, CNN, CBS, and [genuflects] the New York Times. None of them mention the gallows at all, let alone when it was erected.
The focus of this post will be very, very narrow: The gallows itself. I will show where the gallows was located (not evident from the telephoto image projected before the House); what materials it was made of; how it would have worked (or, more precisely, not have worked), and then ask why it was not dismantled by law enforcement, and who assembled it. Not all these questions can be answered, unfortunately. A caveat: The “who” question has a good deal of right-wing activity around it just now, and I am not at all expert in those sources, so I’m wary of them. Most liberal and left sources I can properly discount, but not these.
Where Was the Gallows Located?
Here is a non-telephoto shot of the gallows that gives a reasonable approximation its position:
(Agence France Press). That would place the gallows roughly here:
(The gallows appears to be placed atop a freeway, but the freeway is underground.) As you can see, the gallows is, in fact, quite far away from the Capitol, making most of the aghastitudinizing photos at best tendentious, or even grossly deceptive, like this telephoto shot from WaPo:
Indeed, since the Capitol Grounds are bounded by First Street NE/SE on the east, and First Street NW/SW on the west (see yellow highlights on the map), the gallows are not within the “demonstration areas” of the Capitol Police at all, but on the National Mall, which is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS), a fact that will become relevant in a moment.
From What Materials Was the Gallows Constructed?
Here is a photo of a gentleman drilling the crossbeam, presumably nail or screw it in place. This shows the scale of the gallows and its construction:
Here I quote from a long thread on Democratic Underground, of all places. All of the features desribed here can be seen in the various photos: The lumber, the bolts, the construction:
I am guessing it was mostly pre-assembled with the braces loosely attached on single posts, and there were pre-drilled holes on the other posts so that the braces could swing in place and be secured with bolts using the pre-drilled holes. The main beams look like 4×8 fence posts that were cut to size.
The two main posts are treated 4x4s.
Agreed that it looks like it was mostly pre-assembled then the parts put together quickly on site. Braces and platform frame appear to be 2×4. Stairs may be 2×6.
Agreed that it looks like it was mostly pre-assembled then the parts put together quickly on site. Braces and platform frame appear to be 2×4. Stairs may be 2×6.
I don’t see any evidence of nails. It looks like it was precut, drilled and then just bolted together.
And of course the $64,000 question:
If Someone Erected It On The Spot Or Carried It In…. a journalist with a camera – I think – would have deemed that newsworthy and take a picture of the construction or set-up.
I’m not a journalist or a news cameraman – but if I saw such a thing happening – I would have thought it was newsworthy and taken a picture of the happening.
With all the footage we have of the J6 insurrection. With just about everyone carrying a phone with a camera now – I just can’t understand why we’ve never seen a picture of it being set-up or erected with the people that brought it to the so-called party.
One obvious answer is that the gallows was erected very early in the morning (and the need for speed would indicate maximum pre-assembly; leaving open the question why drill the crossbeam later?).
Perhaps carpenters and builders in the readership will wish to comment here.
How Would the Gallows Have Worked?
Shorter: It would not have. Here is how a gallows works. From the Brittanica:
In the traditional usage of the gallows, the condemned stands on a platform or drop (introduced in England in 1760), the rope hangs from the crossbeam, and the noose at its end is placed around the neck. Hanging is achieved when the body drops several feet, the knot in the noose being so adjusted that the spinal cord is broken by the fall and death is instantaneous.
Here is a photo of the gallows from another angle:
(Via Twitter.) As to the drop, as you can see that the gallows is, in fact, shorter than a short-ish human (being, as AFP captioned it, a “mock”) gallows). It’s difficult to see how a drop of “several feet” could be achieved. (I don’t see a trap door, but given the “flimsy” construction, I doubt there is one.) As to the knot in the noose, Democratic Underground once more:
Being a former Boy Scout, I know a thing or two about knots. That is not a hangman’s noose. It’s a loop of red rope. Then, someone wound some more red rope around a beer can to attempt to simulate the coils of a real knot. The shiny beer can is visible in other photo angles.
(You can see a white object, possibly a beer or soda can, in other images in the post.) A Redditor comments:
It looks like they literally stopped at a home depot on the way in and bought the tiny remainder of rope off of the cheapest spool available on the shelf.
So, as you can see, the “mock,” “flimsy” gallows is too small to be functional, and the hangman’s knot wouldn’t have worked anyhow. The gallows was purely performative and symbolic. Mike Pence need not have concentrated his mind.
Why Was the Gallows Not Dismantled by Law Enforcement?
Above, we saw that the gallows was located on the National Mall, and hence under the jurisdiction of the NPS (not the Capitol Police). Here is another photo of the gallows:
(Via Twitter.) There are two salient features: One is that the gallows is placed directly on the turf; the second is the sign on the left side of the frame, which says “THIS IS ART” (by R. Mutt, presumably). Let us take each in turn.
Here is what the National Park Service Event Planning Guide has to say about turf. I’m putting myself in the shoes of an NPS officer trying to find the right bucket to throw a gallows into. He might consider it a stage. If so, section 4.1.3 would apply:
The stage must be arranged so that as much turf can be protected as possible, this is accomplished by utilizing hardscape areas. Plywood, because of its ability to be modified to the proper size, is allowable for protection of turf from screw jacks or ballasts. Event planners should plan on some turf replacement with thick cut sod where the plywood is used.
All structures must minimize all points that come in contact with the turf, structures on the turf should be on a riser with as few points as possible touching the turf, if not on the protective decking, these points should have Enkamat and plywood pads underneath…
Or our perplexed officer might have applied section 4.1.4, considering the gallows a temporary structure. If so:
Protective decking (guidelines above) will be installed slightly larger than the footprint of the structure and pedestrian pathways to the tent entrance(s).
In other words, what the gallows builders should have done was put a couple of sheets of plywood under the gallows, so the legs didn’t dig into the turf. Entirely reasonable, if you ask me, but more centrally: If the NPS wanted — or had been told — to get rid of the gallows, there was ample justification in the regulations. They did not. (The word “gallows” does not appear in the Inspector General’s Report on January 6 for the Interior Department.)
As far as the “This Is Art” sign, I would speculate that it was a hasty attempt to regularize the display of the gallow given this language from the NPS permit:
As part of a permitted event, ethnic arts and crafts may be displayed but may not be sold.
But, says the NPS officer, “I don’t care if it’s art. Its legs are digging into my turf. Get it outta here!”
Who Assembled the Gallows?
We now enter the longed-for speculative phase of this post. Questions have been percolating about the gallows for some time. From a Medium post in 2021:
Forget for a moment whether it is properly constructed, and hefty and stable enough to hang someone from. To me it looks to be about 10 feet tall, and unless someone really faked us out by making balsa wood look like substantial 4 by 4s (at least), the lumber used to make this thing was pretty heavy; and based on sheer size were just not carried around in some guy’s pocket or backpack.
How did whoever brought the wood and tools, and the rope, know to bring them?… The corollary: someone was in touch with someone else, likely well before the Stop the Steal Rally got underway.
Eminently sensible question and corollary!
From Daily Kos in May, 2022:
Who exactly built the gallows? That is one question that I hope the Jan. 6 committee is investigating. Because I have spent my life in theater and know that it is not an easy spur of the moment thing to erect a gallows complete with hanging noose in front of the US Capitol building.
So someone had a plan to do that. And they had specifications at the ready. They went to Home Depot and purchased the supplies they needed to erect a platform, hang a noose from it, not easy to make a noose, have you ever tried it?
Jan. 6 committee, get the Home Depot receipts while you are at it.
Well, it’s easy to make a noose if you have a beercan. But should you really leave the beercan inside the hangman’s knot?
From the Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, December 2022:
Other posts on TheDonald.win included specific plans to build gallows outside the U.S. Capitol. “Gallows are simpler and more cost effective, plus they’re an American old west tradition too,” one user wrote on December 22, 2020. A week later, another wrote: “Let’s construct a Gallows outside the Capitol building next Wednesday so the Congressmen watching from their office windows shit their pants.” Another said that “building a hanging platform in front of Congress on the 6 should send a strong message.” The site hosted a diagram showing how to tie a hangman’s knot, with one site member writing that they should build gallows “so the traitors know the stakes.” On January 5, 2021, hours before the attack began, a user posted an image of gallows and titled it, “Election Fraud Repair Kit.”
Text messages between Trump Campaign Senior Advisor Jason Miller and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows show that these kinds of posts reached deep into the President’s inner circle. Miller sent Meadows a text on December 30th, declaring, “I got the base FIRED UP.” The thread contained a link to a TheDonald.win comment thread filled with reactions to a post by Miller promoting January 6th. Users in the thread made comments such as “gallows don’t require electricity,” and that millions will “bust in through the doors if they try to stop Pence from declaring Trump the winner,” all in response to Miller.
All very well, and these are not very nice people at all, but on a message board, nobody knows you’re a gumshoe, and in any case nobody’s been charged or even interviewed. Further, I looked at note . Here is the diagram:
As you can see yet again, a proper hangman’s knot is nothing like the knot on the gallows; if anything, this is proof that this particular site member wasn’t involved at all; perhaps the whole thing was just a bull session?
Finally, there is this slick effort from Open.Ink, whose About Page is extremely uninformative, but whose videos get immediate play with Steve Bannon’s War Room. From “Open.Ink Continues to Receive Credible Tips from Gallows Video: Questions Remain“:
The Gallows Is Built Early Morning Jan. 6
Five individuals, three of whom arrive in a white van and two others who appear to arrive by taxi, emerge to assemble the gallows around 6:30 a.m. Three of them take out “wooden pieces [on wheels no less] of what would later be assembled into the gallows.” The gallows do not appear to be an afterthought but, rather, a well-thought-out prop. After all, it is later strategically placed, perfectly framed by the Capitol in the background. Dutch journalist Michael Persson, who picked it up, giving it to the FBI after protesters departed, said, “The gallows was too small and weak to be used. It was erected as a symbol.”
One of the involved individuals is referred to in the video as “Mr. Coffee” because of his multiple trips to get coffee as the gallows are being built. Many questions remain: What are the identities of Mr. Coffee and the other four individuals?
Here’s the video; good idea, since there’s CCTV everywhere in Washington, DC; hard to see how the brain geniuses on the January Six committee missed that part. That said, all I see is a blur of black-and-white; I don’t have a microscope, so I don’t see any gallows at all. In any case, digital evidence is not evidence, especially not in the days of Project Veritas and deepfakes. And Mr. Coffee…. The idea is that Mr. Coffee went to get his stimulant of choice very early in the morning, so not much was open, and where did he go? To [drumroll] a coffee shop opposite FBI headquarters. Which proves either that Mr. Coffee was from the FBI or — follow me closely, here — wanted to appear to be from the FBI. The whole gallows story is extremely odd, but I’m not sure that Open.Ink’s video, excellent though its production values are, makes those oddities go away.
The New York Times commented in 2022:
No one has publicly claimed responsibility for erecting the gallows or been charged with setting it up.
Also from the New York Times:
Prosecutors have called the riot inquiry the largest in the history of the Justice Department, and there is no doubt it is vast by any measure…. Every week, a few more people are arrested…. As of December, about 1,240 people had been arrested in connection with the attack, accused of crimes ranging from trespassing, a misdemeanor, to seditious conspiracy, a felony.
So, the Justice Department and alert citizens having hunted down so many, why not those who built the gallows? Surely we can charge them with something?
This gap in our knowledge is very, very curious; perhaps even dangerous. For example, the petition from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in Anderson v. Griswold (the case where the Colorado Supreme Court disqualified Trump from the Presidential ballot) asserts:
The mob assembled gallows on the Capitol grounds as an intimidatory display.
But there’s no evidence the mob assembled the gallows, assembled them on the Capitol grounds, and the gallows was on the National Mall in any case. So CREW’s brief has a gaping hole.
Recall also that both the Colorado Supreme Court and Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows treated House testimony as the functional equivalent of evidence. So when there’s testimony like this…
Mr. Raskin. That they used terrorism to stop a specific piece of democratic business, fellow Americans beat and bloodied their own police, they stormed the Senate floor, they tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House, and chanted about murdering the Vice President. They did this because they have been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he had lost an election. Do you disagree with any of that?
Mr. Miller. I agree that it was an act of terrorism.
… falsehoods can get grandfathered into the record.
I don’t especially like that the gallows question is being inserted into the discourse either by Bannon or by Representative Loudermilk (R-GA). That said, there’s too much about the story that doesn’t add up (especially since the NPS could have ordered the gallows taken down at any point during the day, perhaps sparing Mike Pence’s nerves). Horrid media coverage, oddles of aghastitude, unanswered questions, but no prosecutions, and not even a hint of an investigation. Why?
Not only do we not know who erected the gallows, we don’t know who dismantled it, either.