Peaceful Sightseers at the Capitol!

W.J. Astore

The Fight Over the January 6th Riots

Yoda, the Jedi Master, once told Luke Skywalker that the future is difficult to see because it’s always in motion.

So too is the past. Always in motion it is. Its meaning. We can’t and don’t remember everything even as we construct narratives of meaning out of those things we can or choose to remember.

William Faulkner famously said the past isn’t dead — it’s not even past. That’s most certainly true of the now-infamous Capitol riot in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s defeat in November 2020.

America is yet again fighting for control over the past with respect to the January 6th riot in 2021. This week at Fox News, Tucker Carlson suggested the rioters were mostly peaceful respectful sightseers. They revered the Capitol! They took cheerful selfies! They even queued in neat little lines! 

Insurrectionist goons, or peaceful protesters who revere the Capitol?

Even Republicans like Mitch McConnell have gone on record to denounce Carlson’s cherrypicking of the video evidence. Here’s what McConnell had to say: “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.” McConnell cited a letter by the US Capitol Police that described Carlson’s program as being “filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6th attack.”

To state the obvious: On controversial and politicized issues like this, the past doesn’t speak with one voice. Opportunists seek to polarize the past. To exploit it for their own purposes. This is true of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump. It’s also true of many Democrats.

The January 6th riots were not an insurrection. They were not a coup. They were akin to mob violence. They most definitely were a collective temper tantrum incited by Trump that led to considerable chaos and violence. The person most responsible for them should be punished. That person, Donald Trump, walked away scot-free. 

My immediate reaction to the Capitol riots (written on January 7th) still holds true, I think:

Once again, America will likely take the wrong lessons from these riots. The Capitol police will likely call for more money, more resources, more officers, more guns, more security cameras, more barricades, etc. There are already calls for more Internet censorship. Homeland Security funding will surely get a boost. And certain people will dismiss too easily the alienation and indignation of Trump supporters.

What I mean is this: Americans are upset. Angry. Alienated. Confused. And rightly so. And until our government serves the people instead of corporate, financial, and similar lobbyists and special interests, the potential for future mobs will remain. Donald Trump is a total buffoon, a shell of a man, a narcissist with ambitions centered always on himself and his self-image. But imagine a more skilled manipulator, one less narrowly focused on himself, one with a stronger work ethic, one with boundless ambition for power. Such a person could truly lead an insurrection or coup, and yesterday’s scenes suggest such a takeover would be easier than we think.

Predictably, in the aftermath of the riots, the Capitol police did indeed get more money and resources, with House Democrats approving $1.9 billion for added security. Democrats under Joe Biden now sell themselves as the party of law and order, of expanded police forces (along with exploding Pentagon budgets and unanimous support of war-related aid to Ukraine in excess of $100 billion). They paint Republicans as dangerous, as undemocratic, even as an enemy within. Trump, most recently at CPAC, gleefully returns the favor, using similar inflammatory rhetoric.

Meanwhile, as Trump angles and preens for another presidential run, supporters of his who bought the big lie of a stolen election and protested at the Capitol on January 6th are being hounded by prosecutors. Yes, some of the rioters were violent, broke laws, and merit prosecution and punishment. But in many cases the federal pursuit and prosecution of these “deplorables” has been over-the-top, notes Chris Hedges. Their punishment has been grossly disproportionate to their crimes.

This may help the Democrats politically, but it is unhealthy for our democracy, notes Hedges:

The cheerleading, or at best indifference, by Democratic Party supporters and much of the left to these show trials will come back to haunt them. We are exacerbating the growing tribalism and political antagonisms that will increasingly express themselves through violence. We are complicit, once again, of using the courts to carry out vendettas. We are corroding democratic institutions. We are hardening the ideology and rage of the far-right. We are turning those being hounded to prison into political prisoners and martyrs. We are moving ever closer towards tyranny.

Hedges is right here. The Democrats and Republicans have been twisting, manipulating, and polarizing the past for their own purposes. Two diametrically opposed versions of the January 6th riots have been presented to the American people, and they are both self-serving and dishonest.

Clearly, Trump was the inciter-in-chief of mob violence from which he casually walked away. The Congress impeached him but otherwise refused to act. The Capitol police profited from its ineptitude even as the “deplorables,” Trump’s foot-soldiers, paid the price for his lies and tantrums. And so the past is warped and twisted, bludgeoned and misused, to serve the needs of the already powerful.

Against the Dark Side of American politics and “justice,” even Yoda might lose hope.

8 thoughts on “Peaceful Sightseers at the Capitol!

  1. Down along the left bank, minding my own
    Was knocked down by a human stampede
    Got arrested for inciting a peaceful riot, when all I wanted was a cup of tea

    R. Stewart “Every Picture Tells a Story”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent take. Appreciated. I read Hedges’ piece yesterday: a bit surprising but, upon careful reading and reflection, equally excellent. (Improbably, CH and I grew up in the same mid/upstate New York rural county, Schoharie…didn’t know him; of course, he’s about 20 years younger. As improbably, my Mom, b. 1909, was raised in Columbiana County, Ohio, site of the recent toxic “train wreck”…a real one, not the 1-06-2021 version.)



  3. Seems everyone is fully aware things are just not right in this country. As to what is wrong, how we got to where we are at, whose fault it is, and what can or should be done to fix any of it, well, there in lies a whole bunch of landmine laden territory. So minor stuff to work out.

    Tangentially, talking about (not) holding people accountable, wanted to share this article over on Tom Dispatch written by the ever insightful Juan Cole:

    “The American War from Hell, 20 Years Later

    Who remembers anymore that, in 2003, we were Vladimir Putin? Today, our cable and social-media news feeds are blanketed with denunciations of the president of the Russian Federation for his lawless and brutal invasion of Ukraine. When Secretary of State Antony Blinken met briefly with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in New Delhi on March 2nd, he told him in no uncertain terms, “End this war of aggression.”

    Putin himself, however, has a longer memory. In the speech that launched his “special operation,” he pointedly denounced the U.S. for “the invasion of Iraq without any legal grounds.” Then he added, “We witnessed lies made at the highest state level and voiced from the high U.N. rostrum. As a result, we see a tremendous loss in human life, damage, destruction, and a colossal upsurge of terrorism.”

    Yes, it’s true, on the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, that war is long forgotten here. No one in the Biden administration today cares that it ruined what credibility America had as a pillar of international order in the global south and gave Putin cover for his own atrocity. So, sit back for a moment and let me take you on a little trip into a long-lost all-American world…”

    One day we might try holding someone accountable for that orgy of chaos.

    I wonder how many veterans of the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan were in those riots.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t agree that the punishments of the Jan 6 rioters were too severe. I think most of them got off too easily. I think 5 years in prison should have been the starting point for every person involved and go up from there for those who physically assaulted federal employees. That was the most direct threat to democracy and to an election in my lifetime. I was in law enforcement for 31 years and involved in lots of crowd control at demonstrations and riots. I think the Jan 6 was the most dangerous I’ve seen. If that had been left wing or black protestors objecting to a Trump election, there would have been a lot more blood flowing and calls from the republicans would have been for martial law and life sentences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t “dislike” your comment, but hmmm: 5 years in prison for what was typically [I don’t know/can’t address percentages] a misdemeanor offense by misguided and ignorant sheople on that side of the spectrum who were “fed and led” by unprincipled, chaos-inducing and egomaniacal/narcissistic extremists?


    2. agent provocateur: noun. A person who induces others to be violent or commit an illegal act in order to incriminate them or discredit a cause.

      Perhaps those Furtive Bungling Imbeciles (FBI) who participated — as agents provocateurs — in the events of January 6 should do a little time behind bars along with those protesters whom they incited to actually break or steal something (not a large number). Also, those police officers who helpfully removed barricades and escorted the unfashionably dressed protesters through the capitol might share in their punishments — or at least get fired for not doing their jobs.

      Anyway, Jimmy Dore does a helpful segment on this topic: Video: Feds Were ALL OVER The Capitol On January 6!

      Liked by 1 person

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