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If the people who broke into the Capitol Wednesday thought they were helping Trump or supporting his legacy or were going to “stop the steal,” they were wrong. The images of men climbing the Capitol walls, breaking windows to get in, storming the House chamber in the face of drawn guns, and lounging at Nancy Pelosi’s desk have circled the globe and will be, for many people, all they need to know about Donald Trump’s presidency.
The demonstration could have been a ringing call for a review of an election that millions of voters think was stolen. Instead, a crowd broke up a joint session of Congress that was supposed to do just that. After the Capitol was cleared and the session resumed, a number of congressmen and senators who had promised to object to election results backed down, and at 3:40 a.m. Thursday morning, Vice President Mike Pence declared Joe Biden the winner.
Of course, the question of whether there was vote fraud is completely unrelated to a takeover of the Capitol, and it was irrational and cowardly to back down because of it. But the red hats didn’t understand when violence works and when it doesn’t.
“Violence never wins,” said Mike Pence to much applause, when he reconvened the session. If he believes that, he has been asleep since May. Riots in the name of Black Lives Matter were so serious they led to curfews in 200 cities and prompted 31 states to call out the National Guard. And they were the most politically successful civil violence in American history.
Corporations have pledged billions for black uplift. Over 100 Confederate monuments, 36 statues of Columbus, and scores of other monuments — to Kit Carson, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, George Washington — have come down to appease “persons of color.” “Anti-racism” gurus are making millions, and you can be fired for saying “all lives matter.” Every company now must have a Chief Diversity Officer, and every school from kindergarten on up seems to want an “anti-racism curriculum.” None of this would have happened without riots.
But violence works only when institutions — especially the media — promote its goals. What if the Capitol break-in had had the institutional and media cheerleading BLM enjoyed? I can almost imagine a fawning Congress decertifying the election. That would be the equivalent of what BLM gained through violence.
Instead, National Public Radio is denouncing what it calls “armed insurrection” at the Capitol (armed with what? Trump flags?), as if a spontaneous occupation was attempted regime change. Politicians blame Donald Trump and are calling for impeachment. The media will forever tie this “insurrection” to everything the President stood for, including secure borders, a firm deportation policy, the ban on “critical race theory,” opposition to amnesty, and many other useful changes.
The only case of lethal violence was the killing by a black police officer of a young, unarmed, blonde Trump supporter named Ashli Babbitt. She was already surrounded by armed officers and does not appear to have been a threat to anyone, but make no mistake: There won’t be vigils or marches in her name.
I deeply sympathize with people who love a certain conception of America, and who see that their country has fallen into the hands of people who hate that America. I understand the desire to believe that “patriots” have been roused to action, and that this could mark the end of dispossession and capitulation. It will instead be an excuse for more oppression and dispossession.
In 2016, Vox published an article with the following headline and subhead: “Riots are destructive, dangerous, and scary — but can lead to serious social reforms. To prevent more violent uprisings and protests, we need to take their causes seriously.” Yesterday, Vox wrote that “officials should make all efforts possible to arrest and prosecute every single person involved” in the Capitol takeover. Their cause doesn’t matter. This is the environment in which we work.
Time after time, we have seen the headline, “Trump Rally Turns Violent.” Until yesterday, that meant people had attacked peaceful Trump supporters. The very day before the January 6 rally, I was telling a woman who lives close to DC not to worry. “This isn’t BLM,” I said. “Trump supporters don’t riot.” That’s hard to say now.
This is certainly the time to flout the will of our rulers, for bold action, for new ways to act and protest. But dissidents must choose their battles carefully. We don’t have many cards. We need to play them wisely.
Credit Image: © Miguel Juarez Lugo/ZUMA Wire.