Five people died and many others injured following a Jan. 6, 2021 terrorist attack on the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.. The insurrection was led by President Donald Trump who has convinced many of his devout followers that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, leading President-elect Joseph Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris to victory. This death toll from Jan. 6 is greater than the number of people who died during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Headlines from many news outlets failed to accurately describe the activity that took place at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. Many initially used words such as “protestors” and “activists” to describe the mob of furious Trump supporters who assembled in Washington, D.C., to attend a rally with the president. During his address, Trump encouraged his followers to “take back our country” and informed them that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
These adherents of Trump dogma followed these instructions, descending upon the Capitol as Congress met to confirm the Nov. 3 election results that produced the win for Biden and Harris. They compromised barricades, engaged in violence against police, broke into the Capitol aiming to terrorize representatives, and—eventually—entering offices of congress people, some stealing items during their rampage.
Among supporters of the president, many will say that there exists no difference between actions they see as challenging a corrupt government and the protests that followed the May 25 murder of George Floyd at the hands of police. Initially, the media painted a picture of the insurrection by avoiding negative terminology often attributed to members of civil-rights movements when looting of property erupts due to fringe groups outside of the peaceful protests.
As days passed, a growing number of outlets began using more-accurate terminology to describe the insurrectionists who incited life-threatening violence on Jan. 6. Terms such as “terrorists,” “insurrectionists,” and “thugs” were used more frequently, but there were also many differences regarding how this group, comprising mostly white lawbreakers, was treated by authorities when compared with protestors who demonstrated during the summer to combat the police brutality experienced by Black people.
While many differences exist between these two groups, one large issue is the origin of these two missions. Police-brutality protests that took place in cities across the country and around the world have been fighting to support the saving of Black lives. The Jan. 6 terror attack on Congress supports an ideology of a megalomaniacal figurehead who is driving the United States closer to fascism by rallying a base rooted in white supremacy that feels it has lost—but what have they lost?
Members of the civil-rights movements that were organized in opposition to police brutality have never engaged in the large-scale horrific actions that were seen on Jan. 6. Not once in 2020 did any protestor in Washington, D.C., decide to storm the Capitol while marching to promote the message that Black lives do matter. In state capitols across the country, throughout the summertime civil-rights protests, not one representative was forced by an anarchist group to fear for his or her life during the demonstrations that were organized to protect the lives of Black Americans.
No, this type of violence started on the right wing of the political spectrum, notably with protests that were organized during March in Michigan to protest stay-at-home orders and mask-wearing mandates. Protestors appeared at the Michigan Capitol with nooses and Confederate flags in hand—symbols of their emboldened white privilege and awful legacy of white power. Eventually, this dissatisfaction grew into an advanced plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat. The kidnapping was thwarted when the conspirators were arrested in October.
On Jan. 6, many of the Trump supporters who marched on the Capitol held flags, signs, and—eventually—some of the pieces they had looted. Outside of the Capitol, a platform was erected with a noose affixed to a beam, a chilling image reminiscent of the lynching of Black Americans. Today, it’s also become a signifier of white supremacists who are hunting to find those who oppose a societal status they feel is threatened. Some of the terrorists were armed with zip-tie handcuffs, a clear indication that the intent of the mob was to at the very least detain and kidnap politicians or at the very worst—march them toward the noose that was erected outside.
Another noticeable picture taken during the Jan. 6 melee was that of a man carrying the Confederate flag through the second floor of the Capitol near the entrance to the Senate. This explicit sign of treason against this country—was carried by a thug marching through the rotunda of the Capitol building of the United States. Not only did these attendees—the self-anointed “patriots”—of Trump’s rally engage in acts of terrorism, they are also traitors to the very republic that they say inspires their actions.
Discussing the surface of their fury, the terrorists claim that their anger stems from a stolen election, a conspiracy theory that was born of Trump’s unfounded accusations against the system in 2016—when he was victorious under the electoral college, but lost the popular vote. The argument continued through the 2020 election with false accusations flying, inquiries into claims of fraud, and another conclusion by electoral officials and justices throughout the country that there existed no tampering with the process in 2020.
The very act of these terrorists storming the United States Capitol is a sign of how their privilege is still very much intact. They have not lost anything. While some members of the group of Trump supporters who gathered to listen to their leader speak, blamed the violence on a “few bad apples,” the truth is that this type of accepted mob violence has not happened with any other group. Authorities failed to act and law enforcement was mysteriously ill prepared for the violence of this incident, but not during the protests of any other group that organizes in Washington, D.C. This alone is an extraordinary nod to the privilege of the group that Trump deemed “special” in a Jan. 6 address. The country is now at a point where security is increasing at all the state capitols in anticipation of additional violence from Trump’s supporters leading up to and on January 20, Inauguration Day. No terrorism mastermind, foreign or domestic, was ever successful in orchestrating such an assault—except Donald Trump.