Editorial: The January 6 Insurrection: Extremists, White Supremacists, But Not Patriots

As rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, they claimed to be motivated by “patriotism.” Perhaps these self-proclaimed patriots’ “patriotism” would have been more credible if they hadn’t plundered one of the ultimate seats and symbols of American patriotism, the United States Capitol building. Perhaps they would have been more convincing “patriots” if they hadn’t been bearing symbols of hate and white supremacy that have nothing to do with patriotism.

The rioters repeatedly said they were there to “take back their country.”  Just before they marched to the Capitol building, Donald Trump himself told them, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.” 

Take back our country from whom, exactly? Who were they saving it from?

The mainly white, male mob that stormed and desecrated the Capitol building was not there to save the republic from one of our foreign adversaries, or from some fringe mob who was, well… storming and desecrating a hallowed building of American government. They were there because for years, Donald Trump had stoked and carefully cultivated their anger and fear that they are losing the America that they know. That anger and fear reached a culmination when Congress moved forward with certifying the results of the 2020 election, which they believed was stolen from Donald Trump.

Though many showed up on that day with American flags, many others showed up with not only weapons, but Nazi flags, Confederate flags, and other symbols of violence and white supremacist dogma. Their emblems were clear indicators that they weren’t there to affirm a nation indivisible. They were there in a desperate, angry effort to clutch hold of an America they saw as being overtaken by “others” — people of color, “gays,” immigrants, non-Christians, women— who they saw as a threat to their perceived position as America’s dominant economic, cultural, and social force. 

Donald Trump has tried to characterize the insurrectionists, incited by Trump himself, as just a bunch of peaceful protesters whose zeal got out of hand. Others have characterized the angry mob as uneducated, unemployed, and generally down on their luck, implying that on some level, perhaps their anger was understandable. The economy, after all, has been one reason people claim for continuing to support Donald Trump. 

We can be sure that these insurrectionists weren’t simply a group of underserved Americans. It’s clear that this mob wasn’t simply upset that their man would no longer be in office to “save the economy.” 

Though many would likely say that they were there because they are tired of being “kicked around” or because they felt marginalized, the majority of them, though not all, were white males. Among the mob were college-educated professionals, along with business owners and blue-collar workers. At least some of them had flown in from across the country (at least a handful on a private jet), and could somehow afford to stay in Washington, D.C., hotels. They were not all destitute, homeless people to whom America had been unkind. 

A protester has the right to peacefully demonstrate, and to be angry. When a protester, or a mob of protesters, carry or wear Confederate flags or flags emblazoned with swastikas, however, the source of their anger is clear, and it’s not “the economy.” It’s not a “stolen election.” When a rioter wears a t-shirt such as the “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt one rioter wore, we can be sure of the kind of “America he is interested in “taking back.” 

When extremist far-right hate groups such as the Proud Boys; the white nationalist Groyper Army; the pro-Trump, far-right, anti-government Oath Keepers; the white supremacist New Jersey European Heritage Assn.; and other such groups converge, as they did at the Capitol on January 6, we know that the America they profess to save is one where white people, mainly male, are in the majority, make the rules, and govern the country. 

As the nation prepares for a new president with the most diverse administration in its history, including the first female Vice President who is also of Black and South Asian descent, these Trump-supporting rioters appear desperate to hold on to what they think is rightfully theirs, and only theirs: America. When Joe Biden says he will have a cabinet that looks like America, they see that as a threat to their existence: America doesn’t look all white, or all male, or all Christian. They believe Trump’s false claim, too, that the Democrats, and those “others,” stole the election from them, thus stealing the country. 

“This is a response, and it’s not a new response,” says Lecia Brooks, chief of staff of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Every time there is progress in asserting civil rights, there’s a backlash. Confederate iconography is a means to reassert white supremacy when it is thought to be threatened.”  

We can see further evidence that this is the America the rioters are afraid of losing, in the “America First” language at Trump supporter rallies. At a recent rally in December, for example, Holocaust denier and America First organizer Nicholas Fuentes, who once posted on Facebook that  “a tidal wave of white identity is coming,” told the crowd, “It is us and our ancestors that created everything good that you see in this country,” Fuentes said. “All these people that have taken over our country—we do not need them.”

The crowd cheered.

“It’s time for us to start saying another word again. A very important word that describes the situation we’re in, yelled Fuentes. “That word is ‘parasite.’ What is happening in this country is parasitism.” 

Fuentes continued that Trump alone represented “our interests”—an end to all legal and illegal immigration, abortion, free trade, LGBTQ rights, and secularism. America Firstism, said Fuentes, “…is the American people, and our leader, Donald Trump, against everybody else in this country and this world.”

“Everybody else” includes the Democrats; Vice President Mike Pence, now that he has refused to go against his Constitutional duty of proclaiming Joe Biden as the lawful president-elect; and Republicans who acknowledge that Donald Trump lost the election, and/or who don’t give absolute fealty to Donald Trump. 

America First, a phrase adopted by Donald Trump, and a movement started by Fuentes, is a phrase that was first used in 1940 by American Nazi sympathizers who wanted to keep the U.S. out of World War II. Trump uses it to characterize his isolationist policies. Fuentes uses it to describe “a brand of white Christian nationalism that views politics as a means of preserving demographic supremacy,” according to The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson. 

Incidentally, Fuentes’ YouTube channel was permanently suspended in early 2020 for violating YouTube’s hate speech policy. 

“Though America Firsters revile most mainstream Republicans for lacking sufficient commitment to this priority,” writes Mogelson, “—especially neoconservatives, whom they accuse of being subservient to Satan and Jews—the group’s loyalty to Trump is, according to Fuentes, ‘unconditional.’” 

Not surprisingly, then, in addition to the Nazi and Confederate flags and apparel, numerous AF (America First) flags were flying at the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. 

We have all been angry; many of us have lost livelihoods, loved ones, and even homes. Anger can be justified, but it is never justifiable to blame those who don’t look, act, worship, or speak like we do, work our anger into a destructive frenzy, and hide it under the guise of “patriotism.” That is the “patriotism” that, if left unchecked, will destroy America.

New Footage Shows What It Was Like Inside The Trump Mob At The Capitol | On The Ground | Insider News [2021-01-08]

The January 6 Insurrection Was A Last Gasp For White Supremacy | The Last Word | MSNBC [2021-01-16]

Editorial: Was Wednesday’s Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Really Surprising?

What may be the ultimate failure for a democratic country— an attack on its government by its people, instigated by its leader— Donald Trump saw only as a huge tribute to himself. President Trump, the leader of the free world, incited a MAGA insurgence at the United States Capitol on Wednesday, in efforts to stop the lawful certification of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. 

Going far beyond peacefully and legally protesting, the large mob broke windows, breached security boundaries, and got inside the building, invading the Senate and House chambers, and other private spaces, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Lawmakers, along with Vice President Mike Pence, hid under furniture, or were evacuated from the chambers, fearing for their safety. A pair of rioters tore down the American flag hanging on the Capitol building and replaced it with a blue Trump flag.

One would expect the president of the United States to put down anything resembling a coup, let alone the trespassing and vandalism of the U.S. Capitol, the threatening and endangering of lawmakers and staff members, and the violence that resulted in five deaths and numerous injuries. But Donald Trump was nowhere to be found. 

Americans, as well as people around the world, found Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol building by Trump loyalists shocking and horrifying, as they should. 

But why should any of us be particularly surprised? Why were the U.S. Capitol Police so unprepared for this? We all knew it was coming. 

Donald Trump has been pushing lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election since long before the election. He has insisted, over and over, that Joe Biden won the election only because of voter fraud. Congressional Trump loyalists have gone along with Trump, either out of self-preservation or delusion, even though Trump’s claims have been shown to be entirely baseless.

Trump has programmed his MAGAs to view non-support of Trump, especially among Republicans, as treason. He has convinced them that it’s not only ok, but in fact a mark of patriotism, to employ violence and harassment against those who choose to follow the rule of law instead of the cult of Trump. In Trumpworld, there is no acceptable reality other than fealty to Donald Trump, the rightful president for (at least) four more years, no matter what the democratic process says. 

On the day when Congress was to meet in a joint session to formally certify the electoral votes from presidential election that had already been certified by all 50 states, Trump knew what his supporters had in mind as they gathered on the White House Ellipse. He told the crowd of MAGAs that he would go with them to the Capitol. 

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “Let the weak ones get out. This is a time for strength.” 

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s later, told them, “Let’s have trial by combat.”

Trump did not go with his supporters to the Capitol. He left them on their own to do what they would— what he must have known they would. 

It wasn’t until President-elect Joe Biden addressed the nation, denouncing the spectacle as “insurrection,” and calling on President Trump to deliver a message to calm the chaos, that Trump created a short video message. Though the video told the MAGAs to “go home,” the real message was clear: “Ya’ done good here today.” 

“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt,” said Trump in the video. “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order, we have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened…”

“This was a fraudulent election,” Trump continued, baselessly. “But we can’t play into the hands of these people. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

People who subscribe to conspiracy theories like being told that they’re “very special.” In fact, scientists and psychologists have found a correlation between “a need for uniqueness” and belief in conspiracy theories (“I know things they don’t know”). The crowd of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol had varying backgrounds; many were supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory. A common thread among all of those present, however, was that they all believed the conspiracy theory that the election was stolen from Donald Trump. 

Instead of putting down the insurrection, Trump was thanking those who participated. Telling them that they were “very special” was a pat on the head he surely must have known they’d latch onto. 

As the FBI and other law enforcement agencies work to identify and prosecute those involved in Wednesday’s uprising at the Capitol, and as lawmakers denounce it and say it must never happen again, we shouldn’t be so confident that it won’t happen again.

Many who were involved in Wednesday’s rioting have already declared their willingness to go to jail or even to die for what Donald Trump has deluded them into thinking is a “cause” for freedom and democracy. They won’t be deterred by the threat of legal consequences, but will instead continue to be spurred on by the promise of being “special” to Donald Trump; of being “true patriots.”

The day after the riot at the Capitol, perhaps fearing that his last days in office might be marked by an act of censure, Donald Trump turned on his “patriots,” delivering a message that was clearly scripted.

“I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem,” he said. “Those who broke the law, you will pay.” 

The MAGAs have shown that they will do anything, forsake everything, for their leader, Donald Trump. One could almost feel pity that Donald Trump is then willing to throw them under the bus when he needs to, for self-preservation. The MAGAs will continue to explain away Trump’s betrayal, and will be standing at the ready for Trump’s next dog whistle. How tragic that this delusion of patriotism is really only in the service of nourishing Donald Trump’s cavernous ego.

Pro-Trump mob launches insurrection at US Capitol amid Biden certification | Nightline [2021-01-07]

President Donald Trump absent as supporters storm Capitol Hill
CNBC [2021-01-06]