If you’re surprised by the violence at the Capitol, you haven’t been paying attention
The rioters’ sentiments have been simmering since Trump got into office
There was a violent invasion of the US Capitol in Washington DC this week that left four people dead and led to officials being locked down in secure rooms in the building for their safety. There were pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails and guns.
Overwhelmingly, the response has been one of surprise. “I can’t believe what’s going on in America” repeated over and over again. Yes, people knew tensions were high between the two political parties following the election but they’re just so stunned by this. I’m here to tell you: you shouldn’t be. Underneath the obvious veneer of America’s political struggle between Republicans and Democrats lies a more specific identity dilemma, and it’s been building up for a long time.
The struggle for America is not just about the political Left or Right. Beyond the bi-partisan surface, it is a story of ownership, entitlement and power. Trump’s hold on America is tied to the stories he tells about where White people stand in relation to power.
Specifically, his rhetoric suggests that the dynamics that influence the power held by White people are threatened by modern-day liberalism. By investing in his brand, Trump supporters are implicitly searching for a White supremacist renaissance where bigotry and social oppression of non-White people will no longer be challenged or criminalised.
Trump’s campaign itself was reliant on sensationalising issues of power that have dominated American society from its birth. Specifically, the xenophobia and racism he showed for groups including Mexicans was a tool in building his brand of entitlement and fearmongering. That is, his deft ability to stir up a sense of people being threatened appeals to the emotional vulnerability and volatility of his supporters.
In 1926 the KKK, a White supremacist organisation, marched on Washington and today we are seeing white supremacists without hoods march through the same streets and into Congress!
Wednesday’s events tell us a lot about America, and why we shouldn’t be surprised even though we deserve to be deeply disappointed. Here’s some background that puts yesterday’s violence in context:
1. Trump explicitly encouraged supporters to show their ‘pride’ at the Capitol
Trump’s words directly inflamed and drove the Capitol invasion on Wednesday. According to the New Yorker, Trump made the following statements to a crowd near the White House:
“We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Ave. . .we’re going to try and give them kind of pride and boldness they need to take back our country.”
Trump repeatedly called on his supporters to travel to the Capitol. He urged them to travel to the home of the Capitol, Washington, D.C., after he failed to overturn the election through the courts.
There was talk of taking the country back, a dog whistle which promoted sentiments that directly provoked violent display that occurred on the same day he spoke to that crowd. A believer in democracy surely wouldn’t want to disrupt the legal process, would they?
2. Trump relentlessly disputed the election results
Yes, the former president tirelessly denied the election results before the violence happened at the Capitol. I wonder whether if there’s a correlation between his inflammatory language and Wednesday’s explosive events? He claimed passionately that the election was stolen by “emboldened Radical Left Democrats”. This big accusation is a trademark move of him exploiting societal divisions for his benefit.
But this is not the first time Trump has chosen anarchy and tribalism over harmony. In a presidential debate between himself and Joe Biden, he failed to condemn the behaviour of white supremacists when the moderator aimed a question at him. Very classic Trump.
3. Mike Pence was pressured by Trump to interfere with the electoral vote count
Trump published a tweet where he suggested that the election was built on a ‘corrupt process’ echoing his constant accusations. More specifically, he pressurised Pence to meddle with the electoral college vote stating:
“All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
Some Republicans felt obliged to speak out against Trump’s attempt to suggest that Pence had power beyond announcing the count of electoral votes.
4. Rudy Guiliani called for ‘trial by combat’
Speaking at a rally, Rudy Giuliani vocally disputed the election results making accusations of voter fraud. The disruptive, relentless energy of Trumpism was not born in a day. The behaviour of his supporters shows the echo chamber that bolsters his agenda.
Beyond Giuliani, pro-Trump supporters have been stirring up dubious arguments that Biden’s win was as a result of election fraud. As evident below, Twitter literally has to put warnings on Trump’s tweets and the tweets of his supporters, it’s all very telling.
5. ‘Make America Great Again’ is a political command
This statement is an instruction that relies on the premise of greatness. This statement can be read as being covered in White Supremacist ideology. That is, it is intimately invested in restoring the power of White men to its historical peak.
In this way, the message shows no empathy or acknowledgement of the violence and oppression White men’s ‘greatness’ relies on. It also fails to critically assess the exploitative control that made America itself a world superpower.
Generally, it is a historically driven search for the unchallenged domination of white male landowners who initially called the shots in the exploitative national project called America.
What’s more is that it is a signal to reinstate the pronounced racial and economic hierarchies that defined America. It is an outcry against the relative social progress that we have seen in modern times that improve the lives of non-white people.
6. The police literally let the rioters in with little resistance and force
Lawmakers have appealed for an investigation into the police staff after Congress acknowledged that the police may have had a level of complicity or at least neutrality with the actions of the invasive rioters.
These were violent rioters, they broke windows and were even found with artillery including pipe bombs. These people were intent on using harmful violence to establish their political ideologies. This was terrorism. Terrorism which the police appeared to support in their enabling by-standing.
Twitter user @deray highlighted the contrast between the treatment of the rioters and that of his treatment at the hands of police officers during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Some police officers were even spotted taking selfies with the violent rioters. The fact that some officers stopped to take pictures with the rioters holds huge symbolic relevance. It exposes the fact that these officers are willing to identify themselves with the rioters and do not directly oppose them. That is complicity, plain and simple.
It begs the question, why do some police officers appear to be at ease with people that pose a threat to public safety and democratic process?
7. Armed Militia groups have been mobilising for months
Armed groups of White Trump-supporting men have been organising for months, speaking of civil war. In fact, there was a recent militia plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan by men who had actively began organising within the state.
According to the BBC, Militia groups are defined as armed groups that do not report to governmental authority but often “organise around an explicitly anti-government sentiment”.
This is the irony of it, they think they support Trump but they are actually supporting anarchy and division rather than being attached to a specific set of values. They seem to be catalysed by Trump’s bigotry and his laments that he frames as anti-establishment. Whatever the case may be, they were intent on disrupting Congress on Wednesday, as they gathered outside the Capitol, some of them armed.
8. Pro-Trump conspiracy theorists have profited off social media misinformation
You may be wondering how and why conspiracy theories relate to Trump’s supporter base. But there is an intimate relationship between Trump’s language and profile and the language and the far-right ideologies of some conspiracy theorist movements today.
A popular QAnon conspiracy revolves around the idea that Hilary Clinton and other Democrats belong to an evil cabal which Trump is exposing. They also suggest that public figures and celebrities are a part of this elitist secret society. Their narratives are also often fascist and anti-Semitic in nature by promoting a nationalistic ‘us vs them’ mentality, with ‘us’ being White men.
There are very simple yet tragic takeaways from Wednesday’s events. Not all white supremacists wear hoods and certain politicians have chosen self-interested anarchy and division over peace.
Featured image via Shutterstock