“Our democracy is under unprecedented assault.” These were the words President Elect Joe Biden uttered Wednesday, Jan. 6, when Trump supporters besieged the US Capitol to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
It is ironic that white is the color of purity, innocence and hope. White is the color of the US Capitol building and the namesake color of the house where the chief protector of our democracy resides. What happened Jan. 6 at the Capitol – and near that same house – was anything but pure or innocent, crushing the hopes of so many for the peace they wished would come with Biden’s election. When Biden won, people in D.C. flooded the streets to dance with glee.
Phrases like “insurrection”, “coup attempt” and “violent mob” were used to describe the storming of the Capitol. Protesters from across the country flocked to the nation’s capital, climbing over the Capitol walls, breaking windows, forcing congressmen to hide in closets, threatening law enforcement with arms and inciting violence in the name of liberty, law and order and justice.
This is the first time the Capitol has been invaded since the War of 1812 when the British burned it down. The behavior exhibited by the protestors is the same behavior that many Americans would condemn as undemocratic and anarchal should it happen in another country. CNN Reporter John King said lawmakers he talked to, who served in the military overseas, likened the scenes to what they saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the halls of Congress—halls considered sacred to our democracy—people were loitering aimlessly and taking maskless selfies. Some chanted, “We want Trump,” over and over again. A man holding a Trump flag occupied the chair of the President of the Senate—where ties on votes are broken and where democracy is carried out. Another maskless looter stole a speaker’s podium from the Capitol.
As congressmen were rushed away to safe, secure locations, their staffers grabbed the documents needed to tally electors for certification so they could carry out the final stage of the democratic election process—even if that was going to be conducted in these undisclosed locations.
World leaders, like UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leader of the country we broke away from to establish our democracy, have posted social media messages calling the actions of the day “disgraceful.”
“[Trump supporters] are ruining America,” said junior Carter Darrington.
AP US Government and Politics teacher Mary Wagner said she grew increasingly scared as she watched the coverage of the siege. “I thought they would just stand outside with signs and flags and yell. It started to get really scary.”
When asked how far removed from normal the actions of the Trump administration were leading up to this event and have been for the past four years, Ms. Wagner outstretched her arms as far as they could possibly go.
“I’ve taught through both Republican and Democratic administrations,” she added. “But in all of those situations … I’ve been able to present a balanced view of what each side thinks because I do believe each side has valid ideas. As time went on, though, and things got more and more nuts [sic], it got harder to explain it in the context of, ‘We’ll agree to disagree.’”
Much of this was foreseen and preventable. Local employers were alerted several days ago to the possibility of unrest after the schemes of groups like the Proud Boys were discovered on social media channels. They were told to not send employees into work Jan. 6, and many of the buildings surrounding the Capitol remained boarded up. President Trump had been encouraging followers to storm the capital for weeks on social media (President Trump’s accounts have now been temporarily locked by Twitter and Facebook) and during live, in-person rallies. Those closest to him like son Donald Trump Jr. and attorney Rudy Giuliani had also been encouraging rioting for several days leading up to Jan. 6, telling followers to “fight” and lead a “trial by combat.”
“I’ve been teaching under the Trump administration for four years,” Ms. Wagner said. “I have to keep answering the question, ‘Can they do that?’ and the answer frequently is, ‘No, but they are.’ I shouldn’t have been surprised [by this] but I was surprised.”
As afternoon approached, the number of raiders filling the area surrounding the Capitol and the Washington Monument only slightly ebbed despite D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s infliction of a 12-hour curfew beginning at 6 PM. The entire D.C. National Guard (whose deployment Trump did not even authorize), Maryland and Virginia State Troopers and local law enforcement from nearby jurisdictions like Montgomery County were engaged to help clear out the mob, implementing tear gas and flashbangs. However, the question remains why more was not done by D.C. law enforcement to preemptively thwart the riots and attacks when they had prior knowledge of these events.
This response from police has been compared on social media to the response to the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. African Americans and their supporters were attempting to voice their frustrations at the lack of racial justice in this country in a largely peaceful and constitutional manner, but were met with those same deterrents in addition to rubber bullets. Yes, there was violence and destruction during the Black Lives Matter protests; but largely white, male Trump supporters received a slap on the wrist, in comparison, when they broke into and vandalized the US Capitol building, threatened police officers and disrupted democratic processes. Law enforcement was not prepositioned for these attacks like they were for the Black Lives Matter protests, again despite them having advanced notice of these events.
“The contrast between that and the way the authorities reacted to the Black Lives Matter protests really, really struck me strongly,” Ms. Wagner said. “I am so highly offended by the fact that if these had been Black and Brown people, there would have been mass shootings.”
President Trump eventually told the mobsters to go home in a minute-long video, but emphasis was placed on Trump’s empathy for those who, like himself, were mourning the so-called “stolen” presidential election. He validated their actions by falsely remarking how the election was stolen from him and how he really won by a landslide—just days after he pleaded the Georgia Secretary of State to whip up 11,870 more votes for him so the election results could be overturned. He even said he loved the people storming the Capitol and called them “badly-treated patriots.”
Donie O’Sullivan, a CNN reporter, later reported that people pouring out of the Capitol said they were proud of what they were doing, that they wanted to win back the election and did not think President Elect Biden and Vice President Elect Harris would be inaugurated.
Yet, even those in President Trump’s closest circles have called him a “provocateur” as he is the one who encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol. Vice President Mike Pence broke away from President Trump by certifying Biden’s win. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), known for aligning with Trump, reprimanded his colleagues who vowed not to certify the election results and called the president’s claims about the election being stolen “mere allegations.” Another adamant pro-Trump senator, Lindsay Graham (R-SC), said “enough is enough.” Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who just lost reelection to Raphael Warnock (Warnock will be the first Black senator from Georgia), proudly announced her plan to denounce Biden as the winner with President Trump nodding approvingly behind her just days ago. She, too, ended up changing her mind.
However, many are blaming these congressmen for directly or indirectly inciting this violence by, like Trump, perpetuating claims about the election being stolen and telling voters they were patriots for wanting to fight for their country “[like it was] 1776”, in the words of Republican Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who did not end up rescinding his blocking of the confirmation later.
Senior Ben Mabie, a staunch Trump supporter who does not accept the results of the 2020 presidential election, attended the riot. “I peacefully protested and did not storm or do anything like that,” Mabie said. “I went because it was the day of the certification and I wanted to make my voice heard. I also wanted to…say I went to the biggest Trump rally.”
Mabie said he does not condone the storming or the violence, but understands where the rioters were coming from. “I think violence is never the answer. I do think people are so fed up with the election that it made them do it.”
He is frustrated with the results of the election and says that Republicans who moved to certify the election results, including Vice President Mike Pence, were “Republicans in Name Only” (RINOs) and let people like Mabie down.
Congress reconvened later that evening to finish the certification process and it was later announced that the vote for the Biden-Harris ticket was certified.
Those who trespassed on federal grounds are expected to be arrested, but law enforcement struggled to contain the rioters, move them back or make mass arrests during the night of Jan. 6 likely because they were far outnumbered.
“I think our country has a lot of work to do and I’m worried that our government, regardless of who our leader is, is not up to it,” Ms. Wagner said.
Jan. 6 was a stunning, shocking reminder that democracy is fragile, and it takes all of us to protect it. Ms. Wagner says the best thing people can do to protect democracy is to educate themselves about it.
“I think people would appreciate [our democracy] better if they understood it better,” she adds. “I think that our systems are basically good, [but] there are flaws of course. People have to get educated about how [our government] works and then upset enough about how it works to push through Constitutional amendments [to make changes]. It has been said before: ‘The state of our democracy is strong; our people are weak.’”