Wednesday 6 Jan, DC: A revealing day for American democracy

by Alex Charilaou

22 January 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It turns out living through major historical events isn’t exciting, just deeply, deeply exhausting. I, like millions, watched live as the United States Capitol was overrun by thousands of violent far-right insurrectionists. Motivated by President Trump’s rally earlier in the day, during which he told his supporters to march on the Capitol and ‘show strength’, to ‘fight like hell’, a swarm of GOP supporters shattered windows and broke down doors. I watched live as members of both houses of Congress were evacuated to safety, as Trump’s devout followers gained in the building, eventually taking control of the Senate chamber and Speaker Pelosi’s office. Pipe bombs were found across DC. They set up gallows on the grounds. Five people were killed; at least 60 people were injured.

Eventually (far too late – the US Capitol Chief of Police was forced to resign), the insurrection was put down by the National Guard and forces sent by neighbouring Virginia. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser called a 12-hour curfew. After Trump turned on Mike Pence in a tweet, insurrectionists at the Capitol began shouting ‘Judas’ and attempted to locate the Vice-President, as well as the Congresspeople and Senators who had, in their minds, betrayed the nation. It is still unclear how the Capitol police were overwhelmed so quickly, especially given the high-risk nature of the joint session of Congress and the threats that have been issued by Trump’s supporters since November. Troubling footage emerged over Wednesday evening showing officers posing for photographs with the domestic terrorists inside the Capitol building, as well as opening gates to release them onto the grounds. As President-elect Biden said in his speech on Thursday, the lacklustre performance of the police during the worst national security incident since 9/11 is shocking in comparison to the brutal force applied by the police during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Several unforgettable images have circulated since 6 January. Having kept up with the movements of the American Right since the 2016 election and especially in the wake of Charlottesville, watching the storming of the Capitol on Wednesday was a nauseating experience. White supremacist social media personalities like Baked Alaska ransacking the Speaker’s office, Proud Boys and Neo-Nazis storming the Senate, QAnon conspiracists brawling with police; it was the first time the confederate flag has ever been flown inside the US Capitol. The insurrection was a culmination of neofascist organising that has been growing steadily since the Tea Party movement, facilitated by inaction on the part of big-tech and catalysed by their totem: Donald Trump.

Social media platforms limiting or banning Trump and other far-right leaders is too little too late. If this had been done even a month or so ago, when they were brazenly lying about the election and threatening a ‘continuation of power’, this whole sorry episode could have been avoided. All the same, Twitter is a lot calmer without the former President. It’s good to know that far-right organising platforms like Parler are being hamstrung, but new platforms will pop up. The incoming Biden administration would do well to monitor the far-right’s activities, as quite clearly the Defence Department, FBI and countless other federal bodies were blind to their organising.

It’s worth considering the symbolic importance of this event. Americans treat the Capitol with almost sacred diligence, as a paragon of democracy, justice and human rights. The pictures of neo-Nazis and white supremacists treating this historic building with abject disrespect will be ingrained into the nation’s collective fabric for years. It’s true that the US government has staged insurrections in other countries for the better part of a century– from Mexico in the 1860s, Greece in the 1950s and Venezuela just to name a few. But this is not the time to be smug in the face of a fading empire. This was not some glorious revolution: these are fascists, who want to hurt people. It’s worth considering how history repeats itself and look back to those events of almost a hundred years ago. When, in 1923, Nazi forces attempted a coup on the capital, it was put down with relative ease. Ten years later, they took power. The patterns of history crest like a tidal wave.

Trump has ensured he will go down in history as a villain. Many former US presidents are now considered corrupt, but history will not look favourably upon a man whose last feeble attempt to hold on to power was to incite white supremacists and fascists to a violent insurrection. He deserved to become the first president to be impeached twice. Joe Biden’s inauguration was far from jubilant, but still, it was a moment of relief: Donald Trump no longer holds the highest seat of power in the West. But let's not kid ourselves, Biden's victory is only one part of the important work that must be carried out over the next four years to dismantle the ascendant far-right for good.

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