President Trump solicited the march to the Capitol. He would be with them, he said. Instead, he abandoned his cult within minutes: The presidential motorcade arrived at the White House just as his supporters rushed police lines separating them from the joint session of Congress that had just begun the process of accepting each state’s electors. Once these “patriots” advanced on them, Capitol Police officers launched volleys of pepper spray at the crowd, who carried red MAGA flags and black-and-blue Back the Blue flags. Some turned metal barricades vertically, while others clung to the walls surrounding the Capitol, trying to make it over. By then, people had fully swarmed into the building, and Congress suspended its session. A man with a Confederate flag marched through the halls, while another, known as the QAnon Shaman, stood outside the Senate chamber. Others stayed neatly corralled by two red velvet barriers while CNN broadcast their procession. The CNN host announced an “armed standoff” at the door of the House floor. At 2:47 p.m. a HuffPost reporter posted a photo with the caption, “They’re in the chamber. One is up on the dais yelling ‘Trump won that election!’ This is insane.”
What looked like an easily overwhelmed police presence met the Trump mob in Washington, as they streamed through open doors and broken windows, an armed insurrection fueled by the conspiratorial fantasies of the president, who all throughout his administration has claimed law enforcement as his own personal security force. Again, we were reminded that the designation of a peaceful protest is one made by law enforcement and the state. There’s no question of keeping the peace, really, when there’s only one side. What we’ve witnessed at the Capitol isn’t an insurrection; it’s an alliance.
Anyone who has been in the streets—against police murder, against the Muslim ban, against the war on women, against the Iraq War, against the World Trade Organization—has likely developed the instinct to brace when they encounter police lines. Even if they have no respect for them. Even if they want to be peaceful. They know anything that looks like force will be met with force—because the force of the protest is meant to be in conflict with the force of the state.
That is, obviously, not what we saw around and in the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday.
When Black Lives Matter protesters have come within a sidewalk’s distance of a federal building, they have been met with aggressive force, while far-right militia members are left free to go. Trump’s allies are not going to arrest themselves. We have not built—and we cannot build—a jail for white supremacy.
Trump has embraced a violent subculture, only more so since losing the election, that happens to be inside the mainstream of the American story thus far. A group of people have defined their freedom as whatever the forces of law and order will let them get away with, including what the police can get away with themselves. Law and order has always been on the side of what is now called Trumpism but has been with us for a long time. This uprising is a return to something even worse than the status quo. As Harel Shapiro, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas Austin, wrote recently on the fundamentally linked fates of right-wing and state violence, what we are witnessing is not exceptional. It is endemic to the American project. “These elements—militarism, whiteness, masculinity, and racism—form the bedrock of not only the militia movement but its intimate connections with American democracy.”
The president was absent for hours, as he largely has been for weeks, popping up only to lie about an election that he has lost. He has launched a second Lost Cause. He and his throng could easily assume they would be able to carry this out with impunity, because that is exactly what they have seen for his entire administration.
A man in a QAnon shirt on Wednesday rushed what appeared to be a Capitol Police officer outside the House chamber. The QAnon Shaman was photographed standing at the head of the Senate. What was treated by the political press as an aberration seems to have read differently inside the chamber. When asked about the lack of response, one officer said, “We’ve just got to let them do their thing now.” Others posed for selfies.