The recent televised insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was alarming. On Wednesday morning January 6th, Americans awoke to a raucous rally convened by President Trump near the U.S. Capitol building. Trump as well as numerous speakers, promoted a narrative to undermine the recent presidential election’s credibility. After the rally concluded, the assembled crowd proceeded two blocks to the U.S. Capitol. The mob gathered at the eastern and western entrances of the building.
Overwhelmed by the size of the crowd, Capitol police both withdrew and were overrun by the group. The mob then rioted. They breached the building, broke into the offices of many congressional members, and vandalized them. They also tried to enter the House Chambers but were prevented by barricades and armed guards. Rioters were able to access the Senate chambers. As Americans struggle to pick up the pieces, much soul searching is taking place. We might begin by looking at our beliefs about law and order. We might also look at the terminology we use to describe the participants in the recently televised events. The examinations may prove fruitful in charting a more nuanced way to reform our law enforcement agencies and legal systems and ensure social justice.
The attack on the U.S. Capitol reveals inconsistencies in the application of the law. During last summer’s peaceful protests, law enforcement and politicians repeatedly called for law and order This phrase refers to efforts by law enforcement to police Black and Brown bodies—whose mere presence at protests is perceived by authorities as a threat to the status quo. Non-Black rioters during the Capitol riots were primarily viewed as protestors with legitimate rights to air grievances and deface and destroy federal property. The double standard is glaring. So much so that President Joe Biden’s granddaughter sent him a picture juxtaposing the disproportionate show of force for BLM protestors’ at the Lincoln Memorial with that of the recent U.S. Capitol rioters.
Throughout the summer, social justice protests were overshadowed by the specter of outside agitators. Protests, mostly peaceful during the day, would quickly turn violent at night, replete with looting and property destruction. Many of these individuals were never identified or connected in any tangible way to protestors. In many instances, these unknown actors’ actions were used to suggest that protestors had sinister and disingenuous intent. It became an excuse to justify extreme tactical measures by law enforcement, including pepper spray and tear gas or a riot declaration to shut down protests. The reality is U.S. Capitol’s rioters consisted of a plethora of outside agitators who were well known to authorities for their previous associations with either white nationalist or conspiracy organizations. Not only are these individuals deserving of the title of outside agitator, but they also personify the term. Many were known to authorities as provocateurs—traveling from place to place to incite mayhem related to COVID-19 lockdowns, conspiracy, and white supremacist activity.
The insurrection was televised. The images of bedlam and mayhem are indelibly stamped on the American psyche. More importantly, this event exposes the hypocrisy and double standard in the treatment of lawful protestors and rioters. It also reveals the use of the term outside agitator to delegitimize legitimate protest. As we take stock of our democratic institutions, it becomes more urgent to address white supremacy’s role in distorting our commonly shared principles and undermining our institutions. Those of us who believe in social justice, fairness, and equity must take hold of the reins of democracy to steer it away from the shoals of destruction.
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This post was previously published on HistorianSpeaks.
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