On the morning of the 6th of January, democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Reverend Warnock were elected to the United States Senate. These victories were made possible through the tireless work of Black organizers in the south, including Stacy Abrahms, who has spent the past decade working against voter suppression.
Storming of the US Capitol by Trump Supporters
The same morning in DC, President Trump held a rally wherein he reiterated baseless claims of election fraud, urging his supporters not to accept the results. By the afternoon, a group of Trump supporters stormed the capitol building, overpowering police before making their way to the Senate Chamber. There, they were photographed carrying away pedestals, breaking into staff offices, and photographing documents with their phones. One man stopped to light a joint.
The events prompted a wave of social media outrage, most pointedly at the police’s hypocritical inaction in preventing a predominantly white and mask-less mob from breaching the capitol building. Commentators pointed out the striking difference in police response to largely peaceful protests for Black Lives over the summer, in which hundreds of instances of undue police violence were documented and posted online.
In one instance, a large group of police are seen tear-gassing a violin-vigil for Elijah McClain at which children were present. While that was deemed an acceptable use of taxpayer resources, police proved ineffective and even sympathetic to the pro-Trump crowd. In one video, law enforcement officials are seen removing barricades between the protesters and the building, and waving the crowd forward.
The Relationship Between White Supremacy and Law Enforcement
Privilege and power have a complex relationship. Rioters knew that the police wouldn’t shoot them, and why would they? In the minds of the rioters, they were on the side of the police. “Blue Lives Matter” paraphernalia was common among the group.
When police met protesters with next to nothing, white privilege slid into white power.
As a recently unreacted FBI document reported on by The Intercept revealed, white supremacists have been allied with law enforcement for decades.
The document and subsequent report detail the ways in which members of National Alliance, a white supremacist group, infiltrated prisons, police, and even the FBI. Some retired law enforcement personnel went on to join the National Alliance and hold regional leadership positions. Rioters trusted police to acquiesce to their demands, if not outright join them in their conspiracy-theory fueled outrage regarding a stolen election.
Notably, the riot was an event that people flew in for, potentially missed work for. Merchandise was made, protesters can be seen wearing sweatshirts with “MAGA Civil War January 6, 2021” emblazoned on the front. Rioters stayed in hotels nearby, as a video posted to Twitter and viewed over 5 million times by William Burton, a reporter for Bloomberg, shows.
Most of the hotel guests, donned in “Keep America Great” Hats or other Trump paraphernalia, were unmasked in direct violation of local mask rules. After police escorted the protesters out of the capitol building (one video shows an officer lending a hand to help a protester down the stairs) they retired to their hotel rooms, formed lines in liquor stores to celebrate.
Those who attended the President’s rally and stormed the capitol building in the afternoon had the wealth to travel to DC, the time to take off work, and the brazenness to party afterward.
White privilege, as outlined in Peggy McIntosh’s 1987 essay on the subject, is described as “an invisible weightless knapsack of assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.”
In the early 2010s, particularly after the murder of Trayvon Martin by civilian George Zimmerman, the concept was used to illustrate the disparities in the criminal justice system.
Generally, the term refers to the seemingly invisible but systemic ways racism helps white people while punishing black people in this country. Whiteness is associated with competency, innocence, and goodness. while Black people are denied jobs, incarcerated, and murdered at the hands of police.
Racism, Trump’s Base, and Maintaining the Status Quo
White privilege in America is based on a deliberate history of slavery, exploitation, disenfranchisement, violence, and theft of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color.) These histories exist and continue to have ramifications.
When considering this history, we might question: might past disenfranchisement have something to do with the wealth in this country being unevenly distributed along racial lines?
Might the disproportionate access to education, quality housing, bank loans, any accumulation of cultural and fiscal capital be a byproduct of centuries of oppression? Might enacting policies that attempt to alter the course of that history be a worthwhile endeavor?
For Trump and his supporters, the answer to that question is a resounding “No.” This is because they are not the working class or manifestations of “economic anxiety”, despite what the 2016-17 New York Times op-ed department would like you to believe.
First and foremost, they are white people engaging in a public and volatile tantrum over the changing status quo. As one rioter reminded a police officer blocking the entrance to BLM plaza, “We’re business owners! We’re veterans! We had your back but we ain’t got your back no more.”
These were people who were emboldened and protected by their president, their alliances with the police, and their status as citizens, business owners, and veterans. Their antics are distasteful to many GOP members and moderate democrats, but what they advocate for (crackdowns on immigration, a reversion to law and order, gun rights, increased military spending and intervention) is ripped straight from the Nixon/Reagan playbook.
This is part of the reason why the “both sides” narrative. an attempt by journalists covering Trump and his followers to appear unbiased, fails.
Polarization and Partisanship
In politics, in a democracy, one assumes that partisanship occurs when two groups have the same goals but disagree on the methods and solutions. The right and the left no longer want the same things. The right wants to enshrine a white status quo.
For all their hammering on about coastal elites and fake news, Trump’s base and the broader GOP are politically aligned. It’s no surprise that one of the biggest targets of their rage is AOC, former waitress, woman of color, and the most visible progressive in congress next to Bernie Sanders.
Sanders’ populist campaign appealed to Trump voters’ economic interests. Medicare for all is an attractive policy proposal in states that have refused to expand medicare and medicaid. To counter this, some republican elected officials resorted to McCarthyism’s tactics to tie Sanders and socialism together.
These fear campaigns work, because socialism is a threat to systemic white supremacy that emboldens Trump’s base.
Sanders, inevitably, is tied to a progressive coalition that knows the status quo is kept in place by capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, and that has a vested commitment to seeing those systems dismantled. When the status quo is threatened the right seeks to harass and antagonize good faith efforts at pointing out its deficiencies.
It’s why “cancel culture” and “identity politics” are debated on CNN, both viewed even in liberal circles as progressive politics run amok. Trump supporters, when put to the test, choose racial alliances over economic interest.
The Aftermath of the Capitol Hill Riot
After the riot, capitol hill staff members were called in to clean up the mess that the rioters made. Janitors in masks swept up debris, vacuumed, and sanitized surfaces so that the chambers were once again safe for elected officials to govern in. The same occurred in state-houses across the country, sites of similar pro-Trump protests.
Law enforcement’s meek response to the protesters is more than a reminder of white privilege and a source of outrage to the left, it’s also an affirmation of Trump’s base. Yesterday was not a public demonstration of rage and grief over systemic inequality and violence, it was a celebration of their continual grip on the status quo, which, even without a president like Trump, —this writer fears is only the beginning.