It’s the morning of January 6. In Washington D.C., the sky is cloudy. Smoky and bleak, like the scene that will soon follow. Atop a quickly assembled stage stands a haggard man. His hair, formerly a fiery mustard yellow, is now pale. His skin is lighter than people are used to seeing it, and his voice – like that of a coach insisting the refs made a bad call – is loud and whiny. This man goes by many names by many people: hero, idiot, patriot, loser. But there’s one name that everyone knows him by, whether they refer to him by it or not. President. Or soon to be former-President.
You know his name. Almost everyone does, whether they like it or not. Donald Trump.
Today, Trump is taking his last stand. One of the many last stands he has tried and failed at in the past two months since the Presidential election. As he talks, gestures, and yells from the podium, slinging accusations this way and that, the crowd below him grows anxious. Their bodies – pressed so close together that from afar they look like one red, white, and blue blob – begin to rustle in anticipation. Anticipation for what? Well, they don’t quite know yet. They’ll wait and see where Trump leads them. They follow him, after all.
But wait. Why him? From an outsider’s perspective, their idolization of such a hated, divisive, and downright ignorant man seems like lunacy. Trump, a former businessman and reality show host, has flipped the Presidency upside down and inside out the past four years. He’s insulted and derided leaders foreign and domestic. He’s turned against his own allies and staff. He stoked the flames of hate and violence during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, and he downplayed COVID-19 in its earliest stages.
But Trump’s supporters don’t care about any of that. Even after all he’s done, and all he’s yet to do, they will continue to see him as an outsider “standing up” to the establishment elites. To be fair, Trump is technically an outsider, but he is also as elite and establishment as it gets. He sides with people like Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz – both high-profile figures within the Republican Party – nearly 100 percent of the time. Not to mention, he is rich. Very rich. According to Forbes, as of 2019, Trump’s net worth was $3 billion.
According to Business Insider, as of 2020, “the typical American has a net worth of $52,700.”
So who has kept up the image of Trump as a rebel who can relate with the working class? Who is responsible for making Trump’s supporters so fervently loyal that they would follow the president to the Capitol over two months after he decisively lost the election? Well, we can thank certain news outlets for that.
Soaking In Every Word
Usually when someone says the words “Fox News,” news — namely, factual reporting done by qualified journalists — is not the first thing that comes to mind. Rather, people like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham are the first to materialize. During their segments, each at different times of the day, they blatantly pander to Trump and his audience.
Their rhetoric, often racist, offensive, or a combination of both, is gobbled up by millions around the country. Every. Single. Day.
Outlets like Fox News, and more recently NewsMax and OAN (One America News), have completely swallowed up Trump’s base, especially the older, retired faction with more time on their hands. These networks, in which the word “news” is barely applicable, have slowly but surely radicalized the sweet old couple next door, the nice old ladies at church, and the funny white-haired men playing golf. Funded by the richest in America, and with deep roots to the president himself, these networks have pushed regular people so far down the rabbit hole — so deeply into racism, homophobia, and literal Nazism — that they are at Trump’s feet today, soaking in every word he says.
And now, as thousands swarm, restless and angry — encouraged by the words of their leader and his allies — something shifts. It’s now early afternoon outside the Capitol. The counting of the electoral college votes — the final step in certifying the victory of President-elect Joseph R. Biden over Trump — is beginning. It is supposed to be a formality, but for a majority of the Republicans in the House of Representatives and a small number in the Senate, it is something else.
In the weeks since the election, Trump and his lawyers, in a last-ditch effort to keep him in power, have spun an elaborate web of election fraud conspiracies. According to Trump, voting machines were faulty, or controlled by the mysterious “deep state.” Ballots cast for him were thrown away, changed, or burned to ashes. Election officials, like Georgia’s own Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has publicly acknowledged voting for the president, were paid by communist countries to keep him out of the Oval Office.
Between tweets, emails, and public speeches, Trump has convinced millions of his supporters that the election was stolen from him, and more importantly, from them. He is the only thing keeping America from falling into Communism, after all. And in the process, despite loss after loss, court rejection after court rejection, Trump has raised over $200 million for his “Legal Defense Fund.”
“We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. . .”
“All Vice-President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president. . .”
“If you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands
Then, their leader is gone – down from his podium and out of sight. Trump’s supporters are unsure of what to do next. As their giant American flags whip around in the wind and their Confederate banners fly from the poles clutched tightly in their hands, the crowd of blue, white, and most noticeably red have an idea.
They’ll take matters into their own hands.
Soon, hundreds of people are storming through the barricades at the Capitol’s steps.
Then, they are climbing up the walls of the northwest side.
Not long after, the rioters are atop the balconies of the second floor, screaming and banging on windows.
Finally, the last set of barricades are overcome. The mob floods onto the Capitol floors through the east side.
But wait. How is the Capitol, one of the most recognizable government buildings in America, where some of the most important people in the world walk the floors, so easily penetrated? Where are the police who were so heavily armed and forcefully violent during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests?
Well, to answer those questions, we first have to look at the nation that these cops are ordered to protect. Our nation. America.
A Riot Hundreds of Years in the Making
From the earliest days of this country, Black people were treated abhorrently. For almost four hundred years, African Americans were enslaved – brought over by the millions to do white peoples’ work. They were unpaid, beaten, tortured, and worse.
Then, as the Civil War came to a close and the 13th Amendment was ratified, they were free. But not long after, the Black Codes and Jim Crow — a set of laws that enforced segregation and made African Americans akin to indentured servants — came along.
And from that time of Reconstruction, the legal system has been stacked against these Black Americans. Confederate soldiers became judges and police, handing out harsh sentences to Black people and sending them to prison. Once incarcerated, they were forced to work for free yet again.
Later, in the early 20th century, the Ku Klux Klan arose. This group of white nationalists, with deep ties to law enforcement and the former Confederacy, tortured and lynched Blacks across the South.
And even after the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act were signed a few decades afterwards, discrimination — along with governmental tactics used to suppress Black areas — persisted.
The Impact of Race on the Riot
Now, well into the 20th century, not much has changed. The KKK still exists, now alongside new far-right groups like the Proud Boys. This extreme disparity and imbalance of power is what police officers are there to protect and uphold, as they have since the Civil War ended. The police’s success in oppressing Black communities is apparent when the facts are observed.
Despite making up only 12 percent of America’s population, Black Americans make up 33 percent of the 2.3 million adult prisoners in the US. 1 in 5 of these prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, and even though there are five times more white drug users than Black, Black men are sentenced to prison on drug charges 13.4 times more often than white men.
Further, Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men, and fatal shootings toward unarmed Black civilians occurs twice as often as fatal shootings toward white civilians.
But we don’t even need statistics to see the difference. Just compare the treatment of the Black Lives Matter protestors last summer to the treatment of the rioters now storming the Capitol. More than 14,000 thousand arrests of people demanding equal treatment under the law — pleading for a stop to the beating and murdering of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, versus only a few dozen arrests of people desecrating the Halls of the People in the name of a disgraced lame-duck president.
Confederate Flags Fly at the Capitol
Now as Confederate flags wave — so long kept out of America’s halls — and shouts ring through the walkways, the police are complacent. Some try to deter the protesters, others just stand — taking pictures with the rioters, showing them to specific Congressional offices, or just watching. Silent.
The alarming police presence over the summer — when officers were equipped with batons, shields, tear gas, and rubber bullets — is now gone. In its place stands the worst of America. Hateful people screaming hateful words holding hateful flags, running wild and unopposed through a building in which every American’s voice is supposed to be heard.
As the afternoon wears on, offices are broken into. Furniture is stolen, and trash and garbage is strewn across the floor. Hateful messages are scrawled on the walls, and statues are donned with Make America Great Again hats and Confederate flags.
Later, after millions have seen in terror the destruction wrought on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters, the floors are cleared out, and the mob is gone, with their words and flags and hats and hate still lingering in the air.
Night comes, and the representatives and senators pour back into their chambers. Blood dries on the carpet. A woman, part of the mob, was shot and killed by the Capitol police after entering through a window. A Capitol policeman will die the next day from his injuries.
There were no rubber bullets shot, tear gas deployed, or batons smashed to bones. There were no bruises, broken ribs, and bodies forced to the ground. There were only a handful of arrests. Most of the protestors will go back home to have dinner with their families.
President Trump is mostly silent that afternoon, releasing a short written statement. Later, he will release a video about how much he loves his brave, patriotic supporters, and how he wants no more violence even though the election was obviously stolen.
The Votes Are Finalized
The electoral college count proceeds and continues well into the night. The representatives and senators who stand up to speak are obviously shaken. They are reeling from the threat Trump’s mob posed, ashamed at what happened within their sacred halls, and fearful that their lives will be so carelessly put into danger in the future.
But even after all that had transpired, a majority of the Republican representatives and a handful of Republican senators continue to object to the Presidential results. Mere hours after a group of tyrants — at the President’s command — ravaged the Capitol’s halls and broke into politician’s offices, these Republicans insisted that his victory was stolen.
Here’s the thing: they know it wasn’t. They know that Joe Biden beat their candidate, and by no small amount – over 7 million votes, in fact. They know that the voice of the people has been heard, and the people — 81 million in total — chose Biden to be their President. Yet even though they know, even after they are thrown out of courts dozens of times — they persist.
A Growing Monster
They see the monster that President Trump has created. The monster that stretched — red, white, and blue — throughout halls and chambers earlier that day. The monster that has grown, from the echoes of a past America, into the disheartening and frightening reality of today.
Trump’s monster has always been here, as much as people like Joe Biden – who later that night would say “This is not who we are” – would not like to believe. But it wasn’t always this big. This reckless and violent. It has grown so quickly due to the people who have fed it: politicians like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, who value power and control over the lives of the people they serve; police, who choose to act as more than law enforcement, but as both the judge and executioner; and of course, Trump himself.
So what the hell happened on January 6?
It was an amalgamation of the hate, conspiracy, and bigotry that has stewed for the past four years.
It was proof of how a nation without consequences – a nation built on the backs of the people it oppresses – can embolden a monster to rear its ugly head.
But it was also proof of something else.
After all the performative objections ended and the final vote was counted, Joseph R. Biden was declared victorious. Trump and his mob did not have their way. In less than a week, a new President will enter office – one with a promise of hope and unity.
Democracy was not destroyed.
But it could have been.
That day, We the People had our voices heard. But the possibility that we could have been silenced by a group of rioters and a handful of politicians – the possibility that our Democracy could so easily crumble under one man – should forever stay in the back of our minds.