On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Democrat and Republican lawmakers gathered at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. to count the Electoral College votes and officially declare Joseph R. Biden the 46th President of the United States of America. The certification process was interrupted as hundreds of Trump supporters, emboldened by President Trump’s claims that the election was ‘stolen,’ breached police barricades and entered the Capitol Building, forcing the building into lockdown. Protestors, some of whom were armed, broke windows, climbed security fences, and entered and vandalized the offices of prominent politicians such as Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The mob erected a noose on Capitol grounds, waved confederate flags, and held signs saying, “stop the steal,” referencing unsubstantiated claims that the election was fraudulent. Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right neo-fascist group, attended the riots wearing all black, and an unidentified man was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt. At least two pipe bombs were reported to be detonated safely by law enforcement officials. Legislators, staffers, and media personnel were required to shelter in place while security used furniture to barricade doors. Additional pro-Trump rallies took place around the country, with supporters gathering in state capitals in New Mexico, Georgia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, and South Carolina, as well as some Canadian cities.
The Code of Federal Regulations defines domestic terrorism as “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Despite the riots clearly meeting the criteria to qualify as a terrorist act, the response of Capitol Police was subdued – few arrests were made, rioters were asked to leave the property, and video footage was released of an officer taking selfies with the insurrectionists. Video footage is also circulating of police removing a barricade, allowing the mob to continue towards the Capitol steps. This is in stark contrast to the violent response of police forces to last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, which were found to be largely peaceful. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a 12-hour curfew to be imposed on the city, starting at six o’clock Wednesday evening.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were quick to denounce the protests, calling them “un-American” and demanding an end to the violence. However, Trump and other Republican senators were implicated in inciting the violence, due to continuous assertions of election fraud and refusals to accept Biden as president-elect, despite him winning both the Electoral College and the popular vote. The protests originated at Trump’s “Save America” rally on Wednesday morning, where he reiterated that “we will never concede.” To date, Trump’s team has filed – and lost – over 60 lawsuits alleging election fraud, and evidence of widespread voter fraud has not emerged. Despite this, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Representative Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), along with five senators and 121 House Republicans, objected to Arizona’s election results. The lockdown, which interrupted debates on whether to accept the results, caused a number of lawmakers to change their minds and accept the count. In response to Senator Cruz condemning the attacks, Democrat Beto O’Rourke tweeted “it is your self-serving attempt at sedition that has helped to inspire these terrorists and their attempted coup.”
President-elect Joe Biden released a statement that “the scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are. What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.” He also said the demonstrations serves as a reminder that “democracy is fragile.” In contrast, President Trump released a video statement encouraging protesters to “return home peacefully” but spent much of the message reiterating false claims and sympathizing with his supporters. Trump ended the video by saying “we love you. You’re very special.” The video was removed from Facebook and YouTube, and Twitter temporarily locked Trump’s account due to “severe violations of [Twitter’s] Civic Integrity policy.”
Many activists and organizers raised concerns that these individuals, who were largely permitted to engage in domestic terrorism with impunity, will return to their communities and enact violence on marginalized populations, particularly people of color. MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid articulated this, stating “white Americans aren’t afraid of the cops. White Americans are never afraid of the cops, even when they’re committing an insurrection.” She goes on to contrast the experiences of these protestors, many of whom are openly white supremacists, with police responses to BLM demonstrations – “[I] guarantee you if that was a Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., there would already be people shackled, arrested, or dead.”
Capitol Police were finally able to secure the building around 5:40 p.m ET, just before the city’s curfew went into effect. A total of 52 arrests were made, and five deaths were reported, including a woman who was fatally shot by Capitol police, a woman and two men who experienced “separate medical emergencies,” and U.S. Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick. Multiple officers were also reportedly injured in the chaos.
The attack on the Capitol Building – the seat of Legislative power – on the day that the next president was to be confirmed, represents both a literal and figurative attack on democracy. Both participants and lawmakers must be held accountable for their parts in participating in or inciting violence. The 128 Republican lawmakers who refused to uphold the election results should also be held accountable by their colleagues and constituents. Many Texas Democrats have called for Ted Cruz to resign, and Democrat Representative Ilhan Omar drew up articles to impeach President Trump a second time. Further, a number of Trump’s cabinet members, all of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, and several business groups are calling for the 25th Amendment to be invoked and for Trump to be removed from office. The 25th Amendment would allow the vice-president to become acting president if the president is deemed “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Only two weeks remain before Joseph Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. The Organization for World Peace continues to follow this story closely.
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