Whiteness is at the Core of the InsurrectionHistorians in the News
tags: White Supremacy, Capitol Riot
A white man, a smug grin on his face, hauls off a congressional lectern. Another sports a gun at his waist and carries zip ties, as if prepared to take hostages. Yet another places his foot on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk before stealing a piece of her mail and leaving a handwritten note: “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN.”
Feces smeared throughout a federal building. Blood on the marble bust of a former president. Nooses on Capitol Hill. These are the images captured on January 6 when an enraged pro-Trump mob of hundreds flooded the gates of the US Capitol, America’s fortress of democracy.
And what they show is a brazenness, a fearlessness, an entitlement to conquer and destroy. These Trump fanatics could do whatever they wanted, take whatever they wanted, and no one would dare to stop them.
An immediate concern from observers was how these insurrectionists successfully breached a federal building that has its own police force of more than 2,000. The pro-Trump mob was in control on the outside and inside. Despite public announcements of a plan to “take America back” on January 6 in DC, even from the president himself, Capitol Police had not initially requested assistance from the DC National Guard or DC police, according to the Washington Post — and they were outnumbered.
A mere 69 people were arrested in DC on Wednesday night after the riot that temporarily halted the counting of Electoral College votes to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Just 69 were arrested on site despite widespread photos and footage of rioters bashing windows and scaling the walls of the Capitol grounds. In fact, in some video, officers can be seen holding the hands of the extremists, escorting them down steps, holding the doors of the Capitol open for them to leave, and taking selfies with them.
In comparison, police in DC arrested 427 people between May 30 and June 2 last year, the peak of the uprising that came in response to the police killings of Black people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The highest number of arrests, 289, came on June 1 when curfew was set at 7 pm. (This was the same day Trump authorized the use of tear gas on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to take a photo with a Bible outside of St. John’s Church.) But when curfew came at 6 pm on January 6, extremists were still roaming around downtown, and police didn’t make widespread arrests.
What’s evident is that the organizers of Wednesday’s rallies were not taken seriously, as white extremists are often infantilized and given room to work out their feelings and blow off steam. We are told we need to listen to them, to try to understand their plight and psychology.
Meanwhile, for centuries, Black people have stated that this white entitlement — to take government, property, lives — is the very core of American identity. From the time colonizers brought enslaved people to America’s shores to Trump encouraging his supporters to walk down to the Capitol and be strong, this has been the case.
“I have a hard time believing anyone who says they are shocked by what took place in the Capitol on January 6,” University of Pittsburgh professor of history Keisha N. Blain told Vox. “We saw how whiteness works in the United States in 2015 when a white supremacist walked into Emanuel AME Church, gunned down nine Black people, and then was peacefully arrested and even taken for a bite to eat before being booked. Some people seemed to be shocked then, and every time another incident takes place, the same people express shock yet again.”
“I have no idea what it will take for people to stop being shocked by how whiteness works in American society,” Blain said. “My sense is that too many people choose to be shocked because that response is easier than actually denouncing white supremacy and actively working to dismantle it.”
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