In June of 2020, Black Lives Matter protesters – overwhelmingly Black Americans and their allies – condemned the use of deadly police force against African Americans. They marched in cities and towns across the United States while chanting slogans against police brutality and carrying signs with the names of Black people who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
Their mostly peaceful protests were met with unnecessary police action. Phalanxes of police officers garbed in riot gear utilized chemical dispersants, rubber bullets and hand-to-hand combat to deter the demonstrators. According to the Associated Press, there were over 14,000 arrests in these protests.
On Jan. 6, a rabid mob – overwhelmingly white American supporters of President Donald Trump – stormed the United States Capitol building in the midst of the certification of the election by Congress, all in the name of supporting Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. Their break-in came right after Trump held his “Save America” rally, where he explicitly incited his supporters by calling on them to “fight like hell” as “we will never concede” and directing them to “march over to the Capitol building.”
For weeks, Trump had been spouting lies about winning the election in a landslide and that the election had been stolen from him. Many of his followers took him literally, with posts on social media such as, “If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism,” according to The New York Times. In response to this Facebook post, dozens of people posted photos of the weapons – including assault rifles – that they said they planned to bring to the rally.
Soon, those at the rally traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue chanting “stop the steal,” where they overwhelmed, and in some instances brutally beat, Capitol police officers, killing one. They smashed windows, breached the congressional chamber and looted lawmakers’ offices. These rioters sported “Make America Great Again” T-shirts while bearing ‘blue lives matter’ flags, Trump flags and Confederate flags.
They shouted about lynching government leaders like Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and erected a gallows and a noose. However, these domestic terrorists were met with flimsy barricades and few, unarmed police officers. Most of the insurrectionists eventually walked home safely, except for one woman who was killed by a police gunshot wound and three others who died during the rampage. At the Capitol, there were few arrests.
These two scenes clearly depict the race double standard that has plagued both modern and recent history. When Black people fight to defend their lives, they are met by the National Guard and the full might of military-equipped police forces. But when white Trump supporters storm arguably the most important building in the U.S. to obstruct Congress from performing its Constitutional duty to certify the election results, they are carefully walked to safety, hand-in-hand with police officers.
To many, the insurrection on Jan. 6 drew widespread bewilderment and disbelief. People questioned how America, the beacon of light, could harbor such an anti-democratic attack against those who were elected to govern our country. But this attack was nothing new and should come as no surprise at all. It was a culmination of the rise in overt right-wing extremism over the past four years and Trump’s amplification of the baseless trope that the 2020 election was stolen.
It was the fault of Trump, who incited violence with his speech, and his administration, which neglected the increasing threat of white extremism and domestic terrorism. Beyond Trump’s presidency, it is how our nation has always run. Since 1776, American society has nursed racism, prioritizing white people’s resentments and fears over fair treatment and justice for Black and brown people.
Many Black Americans were especially unsurprised, as they have witnessed the privilege of being white in a country that fundamentally conflates white people’s dangerous and destructive conduct as patriotism. “I keep hearing people say ‘we’re better than this,’ but in my mind, I think about how we aren’t better than this, we just aspire to be,” said Director of Student Life Troy Baker. “This has been our past four years presidentially speaking, and in the history of our country, this is the way that things have unfolded, so I don’t think we are better than this.”
Historically and presently, far-right demonstrators face far less law enforcement than those of minority groups and the left-wing. The 2017 Unite the Right rally, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, showed how far white Americans would go, even killing three citizens, to uphold the racist past of the Confederacy. Recently, in October 2020, six anti-government, right-wing extremists were charged with conspiring to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), another instance in which white Americans violently resisted policies that did not align with their own views.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the attacks by far-right perpetrators more than quadrupled between 2016 and 2017, all of which was of little interest to Trump. But when New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice investigated the Trump administration’s “countering violent extremism,” 85% percent of these grants targeted marginalized and oppressed minority groups, disregarding the threat of increasing white supremacy. In April 2019, the FBI even eliminated the specific category for white supremacists when it comes to cataloging racially motivated violence, replacing it with the euphemistic one, “racially motivated extremism.”
For the most part, the Jan. 6 mob at the Capitol drew widespread denunciation. President-elect Joe Biden even related, “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday… they would have been treated very, very differently than a mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol.” Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also made damning comments in regards to the attack.
However, the fact that President Trump referred to Black Lives Matter protestors as “thugs,” “terrorists” and “anarchists,” in racist tweets from last summer, while calling his white, Capitol-attacking supporters “great patriots” who are “very special” has not been ignored. On Jan. 13, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, charging him with “incitement of insurrection.” This charge makes Trump the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. Along with Trump, other U.S. leaders, like Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), only substantiated the idea of the race double standard through their augmentation of the claims of election fraud and their lack of censure in regards to the Capitol attack.
The insurrectionists, comprised of an assortment of armed and dangerous white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups such as the Proud Boys and the boogaloo boys among others, don’t plan on stopping with the invasion of the U.S. Capitol building. Investigations are ongoing, and various officials insist that they will be better prepared for violence going forward.
As of late January, over 100 arrests have been made, and the FBI has identified 300 suspects. But the fact remains that these groups will continue to exist, perpetuating false narratives, fomenting hate and performing military exercises for the day they can reclaim their twisted vision of an America where white Christian people reign supreme. This IS America, and our elected officials and others who work to protect us need to wake up to the reality that the police treated white domestic terrorists, not to be considered protestors, with kid gloves while Black people who dare to protest are met with a disproportionate show of force and violence.