On Wednesday, hordes of Trump supporters, led by the white supremacist far right militia group the Proud Boys, took their demands for President Donald Trump to remain in office directly to the United States Capitol. In a coordinated, if chaotic siege of the building, thousands of Trump supporters disrupted the joint Senate and House of Representatives session to ratify the Electoral College votes.
Lawmakers and their staff were evacuated from the building Wednesday afternoon as armed Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, entering its halls, breaking into offices, and causing mayhem. One of the most commonly expressed sentiments was that of surprise: How could this happen here? But the real question just might be: Why did it take so long?
The chaos erupted after President Trump, his son, Eric, and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, among others, offered words of encouragement to a crowd of thousands attending the “Stop The Steal” rally on the Ellipse near the White House. The president repeated his lies that the election was stolen, and told his supporters they would have to "fight much harder." During his own speech, Giuliani said, “Let’s have trial by combat.” Is it any wonder then, that Trump supporters broke into the Capitol with guns, Confederate and Trump flags, and with alleged hopes to attack members of Congress.
While no members of the government, nor anyone working in the Capitol building are reported to have been physically injured, it could have gone another way entirely. Many people speculated that one man who showed up armed and in tactical gear with zip ties came with the intention of taking hostages. And, people were hurt: Trump supporters attacked media crews with flagpoles, and stole and destroyed their equipment; Capitol Police killed a Trump-supporting woman, and three others died of medical emergencies Wednesday night. It wasn't all contentious between police and protestors, though: Capitol Police were also filmed taking selfies with Trump supporters.
Rather than doing anything effective to stop his followers, President Trump offered them a video message of support. Though he told his supporters to go home, the president also offered words of encouragement, saying, “We love you; you’re very special.”
The chaos across Capitol Hill prompted D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to issue a citywide curfew. Bowser declared a state of emergency, that will be extended until 3 P.M. on January 21, the day after Biden’s inauguration, as the city prepares for further unrest. “Some persons can be expected to continue their violent protests through the inauguration,” said Bowser.
People across the country expressed shock and horror at the violent, white supremacist show of force against the democratic process, and they were joined in their vocal dismay by many members of Congress — including otherwise steadfast Trump supporters, like Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Once lawmakers made their way back into the Capitol on Wednesday night to certify President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory, they had the chance to disavow the events of the day, as well as the president's role in them. Yet, even as it was interesting to see that some of the president’s allies finally broke from his rhetoric, it was too little, too late after spending the last four years fanning Trumpism's flames.
Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell, and Graham were among those who spoke out against the mob violence and claimed to be shocked at the events. But not only should they never be off the hook for encouraging the far right groups who spent years under Trump organizing and planning for this very moment, they should also be held to task for expressing any surprise that this happened at all. Researchers and reporters of the far right have long documented the ways the GOP and white supremacist groups have merged in recent years. No one should be surprised by the violence that took place on Wednesday. The far right has stated clearly their intentions for a violent and racist insurrection for at least the last decade, and were emboldened by this president and his Congressional allies to take concrete action.
Fascists were honest about their goals when they attempted to take over the city of Charlottesville, VA in 2017 in the so-called Unite the Right rally, where they killed Heather Heyer and physically and emotionally traumatized many others. They were clear in their intentions when they spoke repeatedly of a desired white ethno-state, and carried out acts of deadly violence against Black people, Jewish communities, and immigrants. Fascists have repeatedly stated their goals, as the media gave them a platform to spew their hateful rhetoric, and encouraged people to debate their ideas rather than directly confronting them in the streets and online.
Many people — including antifascists who have been demonized by liberals and conservatives, Black people, Indigenous people, queer and trans people, disabled people, immigrants, and Muslims — have warned of what would happen if we allowed fascists to take an inch. And still, people are surprised that the fascists did exactly what they said they would do.
Rather than reckon with the root of this racist violence, by saying that yesterday's events were an anomaly or a surprise, political leaders are consciously choosing to distance all of us, and specifically those of us benefiting from whiteness, from the reality of what led to this insurrection. What happened on Wednesday isn’t just the product of a Trump administration, but is rooted in over 200 years of white supremacist violence on which this country was founded.
And yet on both sides of the aisle, politicians were saying things like Republican South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace, who claimed, “This is not who we are.” Incoming President Biden responded to Trump’s mob by saying: “America is so much better than what we’re seeing today.”
The problem is — and the problem has always been — that this is exactly who we are — America is not better than this. That doesn't mean we can't change, but it's not possible to change unless we confront what the problem actually is. Until then, this will be who we remain, and we will never be any better than we were on Wednesday night.