The Times of India seemed to capture last week’s U.S. Capitol riot with the headline “Coup Klux Klan: Don Triggers Mob & Rob Bid.”
The riots were apparently the result of deep-seated grievances. People with a grievance don’t go away quickly, and these people have two. First, they see themselves as losing what consider their country. And second, they are upset because they are convinced the election was stolen from their candidate, who represented their hopes of taking their country back to an imagined glorious past.
The history of the 20th century shows that fascist dictators like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Franco have come to power on the backs of such grievances. So, if these grievances are not dealt with once and for all they will revisit us, and the next time the consequences will be much more fatal for Black folks and other People of Color.
This is not new. During the Wilmington Massacre of 1898 in a real “coup d’etat,” a mob overthrew the elected Wilmington officials. In Colfax, Louisiana, a White mob in what is known as the Colfax Massacre, in 1873, sought to overthrow the elected government.
Violence has always been a feature of White supremacy. A century ago, White mobs attacked Black people after World War I, purportedly because Black people had become too uppity and had forgotten their place. The war had seemed to bring Black folks a bit more breathing space as a result of their participation in it.
Dan Welch from PressTV noted that news commentary in the U.S. was overplaying and over-glorifying the supposed seat of U.S. democracy. “’These sacred halls,’ they keep saying, ‘this Temple of Democracy.’
“It is from these Sacred Halls that troops are dispatched to destroy country after country. It is in this Temple of Democracy that they vote constantly to strip people of their dignity, both abroad and at home, of food, of housing, of medical care—of their very lives,” he said.
Recently Rev. William Barber gave a speech about the original American values, and he listed a set of values that in effect have never been U.S. values. The premier U.S. value has been and continues to be the maintenance of the White “settler” rule, White supremacy, and the White power structure to maintain its system of racialized capitalism. The American flag was displayed prominently by most of the protesters while a few waved Confederate flags.
Much has been made by Black people about the apparent double standard in the response by law enforcement to the protest. Others insist that this was nothing new and a double standard has always been the standard. Only months before the National Guard was called on those peacefully protesting police violence and racial injustice. Police were seen provoking and arresting without cause many of those protesting.
If indeed the government has a set of rules of engagement for those who protest racism and injustice and against police violence and another for those who advocate White Supremacy, then it would appear that both the government and law enforcement can be viewed as rendered illegitimate by their hypocrisy. A democracy can only thrive as long as those who adhere to it see those in power as fair, moral and principled.
While the FBI and authorities are making a show after the fact, the question remains why all of the rioters who illegally invaded the Capitol were not surrounded and arrested as they should have been. They surely would have been had this been a crowd calling for racial justice and/or an end to police violence.
Indicating what many have suspected, some Capitol police were seen helping the protestors. It was reported that members of law enforcement from around the country participated in the riot, reinforcing the idea of law enforcement as a right-wing force dedicated to preserving White supremacy. The head of Chicago’s police federation publicly voiced his support of the riots. This would explain why police kill so many Black folks under questionable circumstances.
Pictures from the riot show a lone Black policeman who faced down a hostile crowd and possibly diverted their attention away from a door leading to the Senate chamber where legislators were gathered. He has been hailed a hero by many, but many on social media are asking why he didn’t pull his gun.
Other Black folks wonder aloud if he would have been as constrained had the crowd been Black. The questions alone say something about where U.S. society is over 50 years since the passing of the Civil Rights Act.
Protesters interviewing themselves continued to excuse their behavior by saying that the Capitol was their house. Curiously, their mistreatment of the space (destroying property and papers, spilling soda, smearing feces on the walls and urinating) indicates they had little respect for their own house.
It’s important to note that these insurrectionists were not just trailer trash and hillbillies as some have characterized them. Many were professionals and middle-layer people, including a lawyer, a real estate agent, a state legislator, law enforcement, ex-military, and some well-to-do folks.
While the U.S. Congress is pondering (or dragging its feet over) the use of the 25th Amendment to push out President Trump along with impeachment, historians have pointed out that Section Three of the 14th Amendment would allow Congress to expel the president as well. It reads as follows:
“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Ultimately, the slow and measured response by the U.S. government to punish the rioters and would-be insurrectionists indicates that it does not radically disagree with the protesters. That does not bode well for those who believe in its high-minded promises of liberty and justice for all, especially Black people.
There will likely be a temptation by some to either downplay the events of January 6 or to overplay them. But the events of last Wednesday must be seen through the lens of history. Black people likely should not forget what they have seen; if nothing significant changes in this country, these violent outbursts are likely to reoccur.
In other words, if the U.S. does not mobilize its vast resources to distance itself from the idea that this is a White country reserved for White settlers, “Coup Klux Klan” uprisings will be repeated. Such distancing can only be achieved in part by revamping the U.S. educational system, which advocates subtly and not so subtly White superiority and European ingenuity.
The rest of the work would include fulfilling the unmet promises of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement and actually allowing and enforcing equal opportunity and equity in all aspects of U.S. society.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.