“This isn’t a protest anymore,” a man could be heard saying in a video taken from the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building as Wednesday’s rally march turned to siege.
Across the country and around the world, people watched in horror as news outlets split screens between coverage of a tumultuous but historic election ratification inside and the outside view of a mob shattering windows and beating down doors.
Millions of people witnessed that breach of security in the halls of democracy and thought, ‘This isn’t America anymore.’
Outgoing President Donald Trump and others set off a crowd of thousands in a series of fiery speeches at an earlier “Save America” rally near the White House, timed to coincide with the counting of the 2020 electoral votes.
Trump, who overwhelmingly lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden but refuses to accept the results as legitimate, told the crowd he’d “never concede” and the country “will be destroyed” if Biden is seated. In his more than hour-long meandering speech, he regurgitated a litany of debunked election fraud conspiracy theories and laid the burden of the day at the feet of Vice President Mike Pence, publicly disparaging his second in command and other Republicans as “weak.”
He encouraged the group to march to Capitol Hill, telling them he’d march and protest with them — he didn’t — and near the end of his tirade, he said:
“We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Earlier, his eldest son Donald Trump Jr and disgraced lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giulliani spewed out incendiary phrases, including “we’re coming for you” and “let’s have trial by combat.”
Words have consequences.
They’d thrown a match on a flammable pile of rage and then watched in amusement from behind protected lines as it burned. What they unleashed Wednesday was a monster of their own making, one they have no interest in taming.
They set loose nothing short of violent insurrection. Domestic terrorists ascended on one the nation’s most sacred institutions in a bloody day that will forever scar the story of this “Great Experiment.” As a result of Wednesday’s insurgency, five people died, including a Capitol police officer, and many more were injured. While some of those physical wounds will quickly heal, our country will not.
The images coming out of Washington D.C. were both surreal and disturbing.
Police were beaten, offices invaded and pillaged, Confederate flags were carried through a sacred space built to symbolize strength in the Union, staffers and congressional members were hunkered down in locked rooms behind barricades of furniture, tear gas was deployed on the structure erected for the presidential inauguration, explosive devices were found, a noose was photographed on the lawn near the crowd outside, two Trump supporters reenacted George Floyd’s death on the steps of the nearby National City Christian Church, a woman was shot and her blood was spilled on the floor of the Capitol.
It was a moment in history that will never be forgotten, but more pressing is how we deal with the new reality we face now that those lines have been crossed.
There’s been an understandably loud call on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and have Trump removed from office immediately. Despite support from around 250 legislators and urging by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority House Leader Chuck Schumer, it’s been reported that Pence has no appetite for participating in that process, inducing palpable frustration. However, Pence has a legitimate reason to fear for his and family’s safety — many in Wednesday’s mob were screaming his name and actively hunting him down.
Prompted by growing threats, he was frantically rushed out of the Senate chamber Wednesday. Without excusing the vice president’s enabling and complacency through Trump’s term, it’d be foolish not to acknowledge his current fear level and why he’d be hesitant to spearhead an effort ousting the leader of a mob that’s proven that violence is a tool they’re willing to use.
It’s frustrating to hear people question how we got here. For those who’ve paid attention, none of this comes as a surprise — the writing was on the wall with Trump’s 2015 inflammatory campaign rhetoric and the 2017 bloody battles that broke out at pro-Trump rallies in Berkeley and several other cities around the country.
It is cold comfort that with such ample forewarning Capitol police Wednesday were unprepared and overrun at best, sympathetic and abetting at worst. It is unsettling, though unfortunately somewhat expected, that the hand of law and justice so often seen forcefully employed on protesters of color and on those who take up progressive causes was so disproportionately reserved on the crowd of Trump-supporting insurrectionists.
The crux of the matter is that in many ways, the mob succeeded in its mission. Unlike Trump, it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
Yes, Congress defied the siege and returned to their business. Yes, the U.S. will soon be under new and calmer rule. Yes, Trump may face a 25th Amendment removal, a second impeachment or be pressured to resign.
But the lasting damage is a genuine concern that the armed mob may rise again at any time. That, by definition, is terrorism.
Note from editor: The location of the George Floyd reenactment has been identified as the National City Christian Church in Washington D.C. The above article has been updated to reflect that information.