Lessons from an insurrection: invasion of Capitol highlights racism and failures of American democracy and bitter divisions fostered by Trump

By Sarah Cook, Editor-in-Chief

Photo courtesy of Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times

On Jun. 20, President Trump ordered peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters on Lafayette Square to be tear-gassed and fired at with rubber bullets. On Jan. 6, Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election results in the first breach of the building since the War of 1812 with little resistance from law enforcement.  

Yesterday morning, Congress was scheduled to affirm the electoral college vote, a legislative protocol typically viewed as a formality. However, around noon ET, Trump encouraged a group of his supporters gathered in D.C. for a scheduled rally not to lose faith, as the election would be overturned. 

During Congress’s proceedings—around 1 p.m. ET—after Republican senators and congress members objected to the electoral college results from numerous states, a group of Trump supporters gathered outside the Capitol stormed the building, beginning with one man taking a Capitol officer’s riot shield to crash into the first floor. Video footage even shows officers letting rioters through the gate at one point, and there are images showing officers posing for selfies with rioters, according to the Washington Post. 

Physically fighting officers and calling them “traitors,” according to CNN, this group of Trump loyalists infiltrated the Capitol, sitting in the seats that senators, congress members and Vice President Mike Pence had occupied minutes before. Inside the Capitol, one person was shot and has died. 

These rioters carried guns, climbed the walls of this historic monument, tore down the plaque adorned with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s name, took letters off of Speaker Pelosi’s desk (a federal felony), and left threatening notes such as “We will not back down” on congress members’ desks, according to Time. Additionally, a pipe bomb was found in the RNC building, along with another within the Capitol complex, according to CNN. 

In addition to being a direct attack on the fundamental ideals of American democracy, the disparity between Trump and his supporters’ reactions between this insurgence and during the BLM protests this summer is a glaring testament to the pervasive presence of racism in 21st-century America. 

On July 27, in response to BLM protests in Portland, Trump tweeted, “Anarchists, agitators, or protestors who vandalize or damage our federal courthouse in Portland, or any federal buildings in any of our cities or states, will be prosecuted under our recently re-enacted Statues and Monuments act. MINIMUM TEN YEARS IN PRISON.” 

Six months later, the rioters who entered the Capitol, a vital federal building, were mostly unscathed. Breaking windows with hammers and bullets, these extremists destroyed federal property, and they injured and attacked numerous officers. 

However, as of four and a half hours after the invasion, only thirteen people have been arrested. So far, Trump has not supported the arresting of any of these rioters, saying in his response to the invasion, “Go home. We love you. You’re very special.” which contrasts the tone of his tweet in July. 

The differences between Trump’s ordering of police-administered tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square to clear the way for his pointless photo-op in front of St. John’s Church back in June are also jarring. In that instance, police acted violently and ruthlessly with little justification. 

Here, we saw Capitol police being overrun by these extremists who were clearly and actively destroying federal property. While tear gas and percussion grenades were deployed by Capitol police according to the Chicago Tribune, rioters were able to infiltrate the Capitol, and many of them remained on the steps of the Capitol following the insurgence with little to no resistance from officers until around five p.m. when officers began clearing them out. 

While I believe the purposes of the peaceful BLM protestors in June and the violent rioters at the Capitol are incomparable, the contrast between the two groups and officers’ responses to each event highlights the embedded racism within Trump’s administration and in American society, especially since the rioters invading the Capitol were actively breaking laws and destroying federal property. 

According to NBC, these rioters used violent racial symbols within the event itself, including a noose on the West side of the Capitol and Confederate flags. The Washington Post even reports rioters outside the Capitol performing Nazi salutes. No matter the pretense cultivated by Trump and many of his supporter’s previous racist ideology and words, these images are disgusting reminders of the reality of racism in America today and should be shocking to anyone. 

More than anything, the insurgence at the Capitol represents the bitter divisions within America. Certainly spurred on by the rise of divisive social media echo chambers filled with conspiracy theories, this act of terrorism not only represents hatred towards the incoming president but the bedrock of democracy itself. 

Not only were these extremists carrying Trump and Confederate flags, but some also were fighting against Vice President Mike Pence’s inability to overturn the electoral college results. Although Trump has encouraged rioters to follow his principles of “Law and Order” and remain calm, they have even gone against his wishes, indicating a level of extremism surpassing that of President Trump. 

While Trump encouraged rioters to return home, it is obvious this insurrection was inspired by the electoral mistrust and white supremacist ideaology  Trump has embodied for the past four years. According to the Washington Post, one of the rioters, Rick Crosby, even referred to Trump’s past words, saying, “He said ‘stand back and stand by.’ That’s what we’re doing.”

As this extremism unfolds under the direction and support of President Trump, it signifies the derailing of the divisions not only within America between Republicans and Democrats or those who voted for Trump in Nov. and those who did not, but it also represents the divisions within the Republican Party. 

Numerous Republican senators have encouraged the rioters to stop, including Senator Ted Cruz, who tweeted that the rioters should “stop NOW. The Constitution protects peaceful protest, but violence from the Left or Right is always wrong. And those who engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support.” 

Senator Bill Hagerty from Tennessee tweeted similarly, “What is happening in the U.S. Capitol right now is not peaceful, this is violence. I condemn it in the strongest terms. We are a nation of laws and this must stop.” As a strong supporter of Trump, Hagerty’s words also highlight the newfound divisions within Trump’s base arising out of the insurrection. 

Claiming allegiance to Trump with their flags and banners, these rioters and their actions represent the extremism and division within the Republican Party that Trump has cultivated with his insistence that the election results are fraud. Additionally, the apparent irony of these rioters carrying the striped blue lives matter flag into the Capitol while attacking law enforcement officials highlights the hypocrisy and conflicting values within Trump’s base and the Republican party. 

As rioters inside the historical monument of the U.S. Capitol are seen in video footage shouting, “This is our America,” their America, in which lies, racism and division rule, is not the America that most Americans claim membership. 

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