New Year, New Attempted Coup. Just as we were celebrating the triumphant results of the Georgia runoff election, the insurrection at the Capitol began. And we looked on with anger and weariness. Not disbelief, though. Less than a month before his Twitter account was suspended, the tyrant in chief rallied a mob of low-bar Civil War cosplayers for the “big protest” on January 6. It would be foolhardy to claim we did not see this coming a mile away after four years of a president inciting violence and race-baited backlash in white nationalists and scores of his other supporters. Here’s what our authors had to say about it.
“As an American, I am heartbroken that a sitting President would incite a riotous mob to lay siege to the US Capitol, primarily in an effort to disregard the votes of people of color in key swing states. As a historian, I see the mirroring of many points in our history when white Americans used violence to retain power—during the Civil War, Jim Crow Segregation, the Tulsa Massacre, the Civil Rights Movement, and even in the over-reaction to peaceful protests by Black Lives Matter activists. The recent progress—the election of the first Black/South Asian woman as Vice President and the election of the first Black man to represent Georgia in the US Senate—unleashed violent responses to progress that are, unfortunately, very common in our history. Once again, agitators hide behind patriotism in a way that presumes only white Americans are patriotic.”
—Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh and A Black Women’s History of the United States
“Despite the contest over the election and the riot at the Capitol, American democracy has withstood enormous stress and still stands. The courts held firm, and the Congress counted the electoral votes and certified Biden’s victory. Still, those who engaged in violence, flaunting white supremacy, must be dealt with severely. Those who protested peaceably appear to have been misled and disserved into endangering our democracy. Trump got elected posing as addressing long-standing grievances, even though he had no coherent policy and not enough political understanding to succeed. This crisis tells us we need to reject white supremacy more aggressively and squelch domestic terrorism. But we also need a path to more issue competition in elections hoping to reduce sincere complaints about unfairness. After all, the party system is not in the Constitution and has become an effective vehicle for political polarization. An improved method for screening candidates, and ways to remove the lock the two parties have on elections, may improve the functioning of the system.”
—Mary Frances Berry, History Teaches Us to Resist
“Watching the invasion of the US Capitol, I alternated between tears of sadness and tears of rage. I thought, ‘Trump supporters, this is on YOU. You supported a narcissistic thug who now concludes his presidency by riling up his right-wing, white supremacist, Confederate flag-carrying followers to attempt to disrupt the certification of Biden's and Harris’s victory and overthrow our newly elected government. This is an assault on our democracy and on our elected officials. This is treason. This is domestic terrorism. This is disgusting. This is the responsibility of your candidate, who sat in the White House watching the riot unfold on TV. Shame on him and shame on you. This is his legacy and yours.’ But, of course, this act of sedition is not surprising or unexpected. It’s a product of our centuries-old system of white supremacy that remains alive and well. Trump further exposed the wounds and fanned the flames of discontent. We have a lot of work to do to acknowledge and heal the racial wounds from the past that continue to fester and, too often, erupt in violence today.”
—Thomas Norman DeWolf, author of Inheriting the Trade and Gather at the Table, Program Manager for Coming to the Table
“Chickens came home to roost on January 6 in the US imperial capital. US elected officials, especially Republicans, were disgusted, saying this is something that happens only in ‘banana republics.’ They fail to point out (what they know very well) that the US has been the architect of those ‘banana republics’ coups, most recently in Bolivia. It was only a matter of time before the snake began eating itself, Trump being the perfect vehicle. It seems that that hard reality is being suppressed, and obsession with increased law and order is the topic. Meanwhile, the stock market continues to soar.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
“‘This does not represent our democracy. This is not who we are,’ said many politicians. Others are expecting us to unify with people who engaged in these acts. They are not fanatics. They represent American democracy. American democracy has always been violent towards Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color. What happened on January 6 is a manifestation of American democracy. The violence they exhibited is as American as apple pie. They represent the violence that is essential to the function of US democracy. The insurrection is not surprising. The question I have is: Why have BIPOC seemed so shocked? This is how a settler colonial and white supremacist democracy has always functioned.”
—Kyle T. Mays, An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States
“People waving American flags tried to destroy the democratic values that stand as the foundation of our nation. People waving Jesus flags behaved in ways that the Prince of Peace would undoubtedly condemn. They are connected, and the brutal display of White Christian Supremacy on January 6 should not have come as a surprise. An article in The Atlantic asserted that ‘Donald Trump has bent elements of American Christianity to his will, and . . . many Christians have obligingly remade their faith in his image.’ Tragically, however, the religion was already weaponized to inflict this kind of deep wound in the soul of America. A legacy of conquest, exclusive claims of religious truth, centuries of justified slavery, disproportionate attachment to a spirit of punishment—Christian history is rife with examples. And yet, it has also transmitted teachings to love your neighbor and the stranger, to tend the earth, to care for the less fortunate, to respect every human being—all fashioned in the image of God. Whatever one’s faith, we are choosing in every moment whether its power will be wielded for harm or for blessing.”
—Rachel S. Mikva, Dangerous Religious Ideas
“It is hard for me to explain my feelings about the insurrection of 2021. I am SAD and ANGRY. All I can muster at this point is to try and maintain feelings of HOPE that Americans will UNIFY and WORK toward achieving the illusive American Dream of a DEMOCRACY where ALL people are treated with dignity and respect, not just under the law but in their hearts.”
—Sharon Leslie Morgan, Gather at the Table
“On January 6, we saw the consequences of years of Trump fanning the flames of fear and distrust and urging his followers to act on these impulses. I describe Trump as an ‘architect of anxiety,’ someone who tells us not to trust our neighbors down the block, at the border, or in distant lands. Trump used people’s fears to fuel marginalization and dehumanization. Our democracy has been compromised by the climate of scarcity, suspicion, and dehumanization that the fear-based model of safety has propagated.
Congress members and the President are sworn to uphold the constitution and protect democracy, not subvert it. As a result, President Trump and all congress members who supported the coup attempt should be removed from office. Not to do so would be to repeat the mistakes of the past when leaders of the confederacy were allowed to reassume positions of power.”
—Zach Norris, Defund Fear
“It was, as some commentators of color have noted, a whitelash, a spasm of white-led violence in response to perceptions of expanded political power by those deemed usurpers of the ‘real America’—people of color (particularly Black people), women, and increasingly, Jewish Americans. The assault on the Capitol fits neatly into a long history in the US of white mob violence mobilized by political elites to manipulate and control democratic elections through violence, suppression of votes, and tryng to create the impression that any electoral victories won by people of color are—by definition—fraudulent. We can look back to Reconstruction for vivid examples: New Orleans massacre of 1866; KKK violence at Black election rallies and voter registration drives during the electoral season of 1867-68; and the mob assault on the Capitol in North Carolina in 1898 to overthrow democratically-elected Black officials. Part of what made this so scary was that it was not local. This was organized by the President of the United States and his allies.”
—Annelise Orleck, “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”
“During part of my time in US Special Forces in the mid-1980s, I was stationed in several different nations in Central and South America, including Venezuela, Colombia, and Honduras. We were not in Latin America promoting democracy, I can assure you.
For generations, the United States has promoted and planned coups in the Global South at the behest of corporations and financial interests. Is it any wonder that many Americans are cynical and have no respect whatsoever for democracy? Don’t like the outcome of your nation’s elections? Just overturn them by force and intimidation. Liberals and conservatives alike supported the US-backed 2009 coup d'état in Honduras.
The Trump autogolpe on January 6 is a wake-up call. We must call upon the incoming Biden administration to reject coup politics once and for all. We must demand an end to US imperialism and cease our interference in the affairs of other nations. Only then will we begin to rebuild a democratic culture in the United States.”
—Paul Ortiz, An African American and Latinx History of the United States
“The storming of the Capitol on January 6 showed, in dramatic fashion, just how radicalized the far right has become over the past several years. We saw the blood-thirsty convergence of conspiracy theories (from QAnon to a stolen election), white nationalism, and a cult mentality towards Trump, who incited the insurrection. The far right is as armed and activated as it ever has been. From their perspective, America is under siege, and civil war is the inevitable option. I believe we have entered what will be a protracted period of far-right domestic terrorism in the US.”
—Alexandra Minna Stern, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate