DISCLAIMER: This article contains potentially triggering imagery and description relating to anti-semitism and violence.
On Wednesday, January 6, the world watched in disgust as a cultish mob of Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol building in an effort to “Save America.” Members of the mob brandished weapons, flew Confederate flags, and wore T-shirts with antisemitic slogans. The fatal riots resulted in five deaths, including one police officer. This begs the question: who is it that America needs saving from?
Why these events occurred is no secret. President Trump has been giving his supporters the same message for months: the election was stolen from him (and them). Cries of fraud have exacerbated existing frustration and enabled a victim mentality among Trump’s base. Just hours before the storming of the Capitol, President Trump spoke to the group at a rally, saying “we will never give up, we will never concede.” In a statement full of references to fighting harder and showing strength, he explicitly encouraged a march to the Capitol building. This clear incitement of violent insurrection was beyond disgraceful — it bordered on sedition.
Even some of his closest allies called him out to the press during the attack. Former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie directly blamed the president for the violence and told ABC News reporters that he had tried to personally call Trump and ask him to send the rioters home. Christie is now advocating for impeachment
The White House did eventually release a video of President Trump asking the mob to disband and go home. However, this video was about 10% actually requesting that they leave and 90% justifying their actions and validating their anger. Throughout the majority of the video, Trump repeated the false claim that the election was rightfully his. In fact, he called it a “landslide election.”
His words were not only objectively false and deceitful — they were problematic on another level. “You’re special and we love you” was his message to a group of people who had just threatened the safety of United States Senators and Representatives, not to mention his own Vice President. “You’re special and we love you” was his message to a group of people carrying hate symbols. “You’re special and we love you” was his message to a group of people wearing shirts that said “6MWE” (“six million wasn’t enough,” in reference to the Jewish people killed in the Holocaust). The inability to condemn outright bigotry shows Trump’s incapacity for leading the nation. While this behavior is horrific, it is not new. Trump refused to denounce white supremacist groups when asked to during his 2020 presidential campaign, in part because doing so would alienate his base: racist, homophobic, xenophobic, privileged white people. Among his base and the roughly 70 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 are white evangelicals, who seem to prefer sticking with an anti-abortion abortion candidate rather than adhering to other, authentic Christian values.
However, Trump is not the only villain in this story. Other GOP government officials, some members of law enforcement, and the attackers themselves have done their own damage. After witnessing the violence at the Capitol themselves, Senator Ted Cruz from Texas and Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri followed through on their objections to the Arizona and Pennsylvania vote counts, echoing the very claims of election fraud that caused the attack in the first place. Sen. Hawley, Sen. Cruz, and everyone else who objected to the vote counts should be ashamed of themselves. Many of their colleagues have called for these two disgraceful GOP senators to resign, though both seem adamant about not backing down. Their influence and support in the Senate going forward is certainly in question.
The police response to the recent attack on the Capitol was a stark contrast to May’s Black Lives Matter protests in the D.C area. Despite lack of intelligence indicating that BLM protestors would even come near government buildings, rows upon rows of officers stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, fully armed (see Picture 1). On Friday, May 29, around 1,000 people marched through D.C. in solidarity with the protests erupting over the death of George Floyd, and to object to the police brutality occurring throughout the country towards people of color, especially Black men and women. While the White House temporarily went on lockdown due to the proximity of the protests, no breach or even attempted breach of the White House occurred. Trump tweeted out the next day that protestors would be met with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” if the White House had become a target. He also seemingly invited his supporters to clash with protestors.
In the next few days, 5,800 troops descended on the city, a mix of officers from the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Helicopters intimidated protestors, hovering low over the streets, and armored cars patrolled day and night. Police used tear gas, horse-mounted charges, pepper spray, batons, shields and rubber bullets against both protestors and journalists charged to cover the demonstrations.
Flash-forward to January 6, 2021. White supremacist, pro-Trump groups such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, QAnon conspiracy theorists and the Oath Keepers, among others, swarmed the Capitol. This was, plain and simple, an attack, a takeover of a building central to American democracy. But, unlike the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Wednesday’s insurrection was allowed to proceed with little to no police intervention. There were even cases of police support to these hate groups: a video surfaced of an officer opening the barricades to the mob, and another officer was recorded taking a selfie with one of the assailants.
The discrepancy in treatment of these groups blatantly reveals America’s deep-rooted white supremacy. A symbol vital to our country’s democratic tradition was taken over, and the approach by police was one of inaction and restraint. Both the attack itself and law enforcement’s response indicate to the world that vile demonstrations of antisemitic hate and violence can go nearly unpunished. On January 6, white supremacists chanted “hang Mike Pence,” and erected a noose and makeshift gallows. They proudly wore slogans that said “Camp Auschwitz” and toted Confederate flags (classified as hate symbols by the Anti-Defamation League) throughout the building.
The presence of antisemitism in this country is often discredited or swept under the rug by non-Jewish people, even those on the political left. Let this event be a reminder that antisemitism is alive and well in the United States; we cannot afford to ignore it.
President-elect Joe Biden, in his speech on the 6, repeated the notion that the rioters did not represent Americans, that what transpired did not stand for who we are as a country. Who, then, are we? And what do we stand for? Moving forward from this display seems a daunting task, and will likely force this country to grapple with uncomfortable truths about our identity as a nation. Calls for Trump’s removal have proliferated in the attack’s aftermath, and the House has already begun to prepare a proposed article of impeachment regarding incitement of insurrection. This is a necessary step, as we cannot allow the President’s actions to go unpunished. But, after Wednesday, one thing is glaringly clear: America is in need of deep, systemic change. And that goes beyond Trump himself. From the disgraceful behavior of government officials to the inequities in law enforcement, and, last but certainly not least, the hateful ideologies that get the green light, we have dirt to dig up before we can even begin the healing process.