During the afternoon of January 6th, like most students in the UK, I was putting the finishing touches on an essay and looking forward to sending it off in time for the deadline, but unlike the similar evenings I have had during this lockdown, it was this night that sticks in my mind, and the minds of many. I remember clearly how my dad opened the door to my room and looked at me with a worried expression and simply said “you might want to come and take a look at this”. For the next few hours, I saw a live news feed of hundreds of American men and women storming the capitol building in Washington, from windows being smashed, to confederate flags being waved, to police women and men being punched and pushed for simply doing their job. Now, instinctively you would expect there to be a clear and definite driving force for such violence, after all, the BLM riots of recent memory were founded upon the notion that racism is still prevalent in society, demonstrated by the horrific death of George Floyd; a cause that can be sympathised with, and supported. These riots, however, were founded upon the words of Donald Trump, now former president of the United States, and were encouraged by said president based on a false accusation and an inability to accept an election that did not go in his favour.
Throughout the democratic election process in the US over the last few months, Donald Trump has continually claimed that the presidency had been ‘stolen’ from him, denying the possibility that his campaign could do anything but win. Trump himself sent out a tweet stating that “Of course there is large-scale voter fraud happening on and before election day”, however, The Times newspaper published an article on November 10th 2020 detailing how they contacted officials in every state to fact check the former president’s claims, and they unanimously found no irregularities in the process. Another common argument is a surge in votes for Biden close to the end of the counting process, with supporters of Trump citing this as clear evidence of the opposition influencing the vote. However, there is a clear and decisive answer to such an accusation, namely that Trump himself has voiced his opposition to mail-in voting, believing that it is somehow compromised, even though he himself uses the system. As a result of this, of course his own supporters are less likely to use that method of voting and would therefore naturally lead to a democratic majority in these votes.
On the morning of January 6, at a “Save America” rally on the Ellipse, Trump stood in front of a crowd of supporters and repeated these claims of election irregularities, urging the crowd to “fight like hell”, stating that “you have to show strength” and “demand that Congress do the right thing”. Although it is not overtly inciting violence, the encouragement is clear, and this was always going to have a driving effect on a crowd of like minded people, especially people that have been led to believe that their president has been wronged; and even if these claims aren’t supported by any evidence or fact, Trump’s word, for his supporters, is law. By making these unfounded claims, Trump pushed the first domino over that caused a cascade of violence, but the most terrifying aspect of the event as a whole, is how easily people accepted the word of one man, and were willing to fight and break into one of the most important buildings in America, to fight their own democratic process, rather than accept even the possibility that Trump may be wrong, or not telling the truth himself. And even though people on both sides were presenting evidence to the contrary, all of that was simply labelled as ‘fake news’ and pushed aside.
The riots that followed led to the Capitol building being practically besieged, with windows being smashed, property damaged, and over 50 police officers being injured (according to US Capitol Police) with five people dying in addition to this. Instead of stopping the mob he had incited, Tump simply tweeted: “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!”. He tweeted this statement at 2:38 pm, and by that point, the mob had already shattered windows as they pushed inside the building. This tweet does not tell the crowd to back down, or leave, just to “be peaceful” but by this point, a peaceful resolution was already a distant memory.
In a speech, Joe Biden called these events “one of the darkest days in the history of our nation”, and it is certainly the case that these events captured the attention of, and shocked, the whole world. We can only hope that lessons can be learnt from this unprecedented attack on democratic process, and that nothing akin to this ever occurs in the future.
Written by Joseph Waterfield