On January 6, as the two houses of Congress met to count the electoral college votes and officially certify Joe Biden as President-elect of the United States, a violent mob stormed the United States Capitol in support of President Donald Trump and his false claim that the presidential contest was “stolen” by electoral fraud.
Wearing Confederate flags and red “Make America Great Again” hats, hundreds of rioters broke through barricades, smashed windows and entered offices and chambers of Congress. After wreaking havoc in the very heart of American democracy and live streaming their illegal actions on social media for several hours, the rioters left the Capitol with ease, with only a few dozen detained. Some even took “souvenirs” with them when they went out.
So where were the powerful US security forces during this unprecedented domestic terrorist attack? How did a group of violent white supremacists manage to break through a high-security federal building, defile the “seat of American democracy”, threaten the lives of some of America’s top elected officials, and leave without facing to real resistance from the police? ?
Authorities attempted to explain their inability to quickly secure the Capitol and detain those responsible for the attack by claiming that they were not “ill-prepared” and did not have the resources necessary for their service to keep the attack. angry crowd under control. They said their officers were just “overwhelmed”.
The apology was not suitable for anyone who watched US security forces crack down on last year’s racial justice protests, which were extremely peaceful, using not only excessive force, but also seemingly limitless resources.
On June 1, when Black Lives Matter protesters gathered peacefully near the White House to demand an end to impunity for the police killing of black Americans, for example, US security forces were neither “under-prepared” nor “overwhelmed”.
They charged into the mostly black crowd, located almost a block from the White House, with a large force consisting of Washington Police, US Park Police, National Guard troops and members of others. federal agencies. Army helicopters plunged over the heads of the protesters, forcing them to disperse. And when Trump tried to hold a photoshoot outside a church across the street, officers used tear gas, batons and horses to quickly clear the president’s path.
That day, 289 Black Lives Matter protesters were arrested. The protesters never even came close to breaching the White House and did nothing but exercise their First Amendment right to protest, but they still faced the full force of US law enforcement.
In the days that followed, as Black Lives Matter protests grew across the country, the National Guard from several states was deployed to Washington, DC to guard federal buildings and public monuments. They stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in full military dress in an ironic show of force against thousands of peaceful protesters calling for an end to racial police brutality. Meanwhile, federal police patrolled the streets of the capital without a nameplate or badge. Some 14,000 arrests were made in 49 American cities during protests against racism last summer, according to the Washington Post.
The same security forces that cracked down on the extremely peaceful racial justice protests with such “efficiency” just a few months ago, however, were unable (or wanted) to defend the United States Capitol against a relatively large crowd. small on January 6.
Moreover, last week’s riot came as no surprise to anyone, let alone the security agencies which warned months ago that “white supremacists pose the gravest terrorist threat to the United States.” White supremacist groups and the individuals who carried out the attack on Capitol Hill announced their plans for violence on social media so that everyone could see them long before they traveled to Washington, DC.
The day before the riot, the FBI released a report warning of a violent “war” on the United States Capitol, which authorities did not listen to or take seriously. Meanwhile, President Trump himself has proclaimed January 6 a reckoning day and urged his supporters to come to Capitol Hill that day to help him overturn the election. “Big demonstration in Washington on January 6,” he tweeted on December 19, “Be there, it will be wild!”
Nonetheless, as the footage of a handful of officers unsuccessfully trying to keep the crowds angry behind a few light barriers outside the Capitol building clearly demonstrated, the US security apparatus was neither prepared nor too eager to bring this riot under control.
Why have security forces treated Black Lives Matter protesters and pro-Trump rioters so differently?
Because the storming of Capitol Hill wasn’t just about overthrowing the election, but also about maintaining white supremacy in an increasingly diverse America. This was evident in most rioters wearing not only pro-Trump badges, but Confederate flags and neo-Nazi emblems as they ransacked offices and chambers of Congress.
Since law enforcement itself has long acted as a tool to maintain white power in America, security forces are not inclined to view predominantly white nationalist groups as threats. So while they are always ready to crush even the most peaceful protests led by Americans of color, they are often reluctant to intervene forcefully when white Americans, whom they see as their main supporters and benefactors, resort to illegality and violence to preserve their privilege. .
Indeed, social media images of the Capitol Riot show not only that authorities did not take seriously the threat posed by the pro-Trump white nationalist rally, but also that some of the officers on the ground considered the rioters as allies. Several police officers were filmed joking, shaking hands or taking selfies with the rioters inside the Capitol building. An officer allegedly donned a MAGA hat and led the pro-Trump crowd around the Capitol building. According to the New York Times, another officer attempted to lead the rioters to the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Many police officers, military veterans and other security personnel who were not on duty also actively participated in the riots in their personal capacity. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr, for example, was pictured wearing combat gear and zippered handcuffs in the Senate Chamber. Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot as she attempted to walk through a barricaded door in Congress, was also an Air Force veteran.
Two Seattle police officers who reportedly traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the Trump’s Stop the Steal “rally” have been placed on administrative leave to determine whether they took part in the riots that followed. In the days to come, as we learn more about the rioters, we will certainly hear many more stories of officers and other security personnel actively participating in this attack on American democracy, or at least expressing their support.
The moderate and ineffective police response to the Capitol Riot and their tacit support was not an isolated incident. US police have long treated white vigilantes who use violence to maintain white supremacy and suppress racial justice movements with children’s gloves. This is why far-right vigilantes have felt emboldened enough to threaten and viciously attack Black Lives Matter protesters hundreds of times over the past year. And that’s why Kyle Rittenhouse was not immediately arrested after he opened fire on anti-racist protesters in Kenosha.
Police support for white crowds angry with Americans of color also did not begin under Trump’s presidency. Throughout the history of the United States, police have often either tacitly endorsed or actively participated in racist mob violence against black Americans.
During the deadly race riots in New Orleans of 1900, for example, as journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett explains, “the police and legally constituted authorities made it clear where their sympathies lay, because in no way the arrest, trial and conviction of a member of the crowd for any of the brutalities that have occurred. The mafia leaders were never in disguise.
In 1898, when a mob of 400 white supremacists staged a coup against the local government in Wilmington, North Carolina, police again did nothing to stop the attack that claimed dozens of dead or bring the perpetrators to justice.
In 1921, a white mob decimated the thriving black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, slaughtering hundreds, destroying homes and businesses, and leaving thousands homeless. Bombs were dropped from planes on what was known as Black Wall Street in what is now considered the first aerial bombardment of an American city. Despite all this, the local police and the National Guard did nothing to protect the victims or hold those responsible to account.
Decades later, in 1985, the second aerial bombardment of an American city took place, and the target was again black Americans. Philadelphia police bombed a house occupied by black radical group MOVE, killing 11 people, including five children, and torching a block of 61 houses, leaving more than 250 homeless. Despite two grand jury investigations, a civil lawsuit, and a commission report defining the attack as “reckless, ill-conceived and hastily approved,” no one has ever been criminally charged for the attack.
So there is no reason to wonder why the police failed to secure the Capitol on January 6. American police are efficient and ready to crush dissent with excessive force – but only when the perpetrators are black. In the land of the free, the police give more respect to white terrorists than to peaceful black protesters, and it’s a scandal.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.