The Guardian • Issue #1947

Storming the Capitol: staging a farce

On the 6th January 2021, the US Capitol was overrun by various factions of Trump supporters under the false pretence that the recent election had been rigged. Following former President Trump’s speech earlier that day at the “Save America” rally, the crowd walked a mile and half from outside the White House to the Capitol. Trump had told them “we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give … our Republicans, the weak ones … the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

The immediate problem is how to understand this event: what name does it deserve? An insurrection, a coup, a riot? To simply call them rioters would downplay the more dangerous and organised factions of the protest. A coup is a far too grandiose a word to describe people simply trying to maintain the existing system. As for insurrection, you’d reckon that an insurrection would require that your leader be up the front there with you instead of tweeting about you from afar. However, we’ll go with insurrection seeing as they were trying to disrupt the process of confirming the victory of then President-elect Joe Biden.

Despite the use of pepper spray, tear gas, and barriers, the “protesters” managed to break through the police line relatively easily; a particularly stark contrast to the enormous police presence during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. You only need to look at the side-by-side photographic comparisons to see the inherent fear the ruling class have of social movements like BLM who push for genuine structural change and the measures they will take to defend it. Once inside, the insurrectionists were met with minimal resistance considering the importance of the building for so-called American democracy. Nevertheless, the “insurrection” was not bloodless: there were five deaths, one of them was a police officer and the other four were Trump loyalists.

The particularly curious feature of this event became apparent once the group had gained access to the building. Lacking any form of centralised organisation, the various factions began pursuing different objectives. Unsurprisingly, the insurrectionists did not understand the necessity for unified political organisation as they’ve never had to consider a political alternative, which is a luxury of people who seek to retain the political status quo. Under the vague, sloganistic jargon of “taking back our country,” once they were actually in a position to make demands of any sort, they were already scattered throughout the building on the flimsy pretence that the election had been rigged in favour of the Democrats. This is the aimlessness of a disunified front, comprised of a people who have never had to pursue change in order to prosper.

One has to wonder what they expected would happen when they got inside. It is tempting to speculate that they were not even expecting to gain entry and so when they did actually get in, they were at a total loss about what to do. However, to reduce the entire day’s events to a single factor would be a one-sided and incomplete analysis. There were far more sinister and organised factions at the rally. While a lot of the media focus was on the absurdity of the “Qanon shaman,” more organised factions erected makeshift gallows outside of Capitol. Amongst the targets named by the chants in crowd were Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Mike Pence. Twitter had to ban the phrase “Hang Mike Pence” due to its enormous popularity.

These were not just idle words. Many of the protestors showed up armed and in combat gear. Various factions were not simply civilians, counted among them were army veterans, off duty police officers, and the like. Even the Democrats had a rare moment of clarity, short sighted as it was, in realising that it was not simply the spontaneous protest a lot of other media outlets have made it out to be. Democratic Representative Jim McGovern stated “I saw this crowd of people banging on that glass screaming … Looking at their faces, it occurred to me, these aren’t protesters. These are people who want to do harm … What I saw in front of me was basically home-grown fascism, out of control.” While the statement that the objective of the “protestors” was simply to cause harm is correct given their general political aimlessness, the second half does make one wonder, does home-grown fascism only become a problem for Democrats once it gets out of control?

Pelosi held a more structured stance, “the evidence is that it was a well-planned, organised group with leadership and guidance and direction. And the direction was to go get people.” This statement, while being more representative of the overall situation, still fails to grasp, unsurprisingly, one of the fundamental principles of genuine political activity: having an organised list of demands. “To go get people,” is not an organised demand in the same way that workers on strike demand better wages and working conditions or how a revolutionary working class demands democratic ownership over their workplaces. “To go get people,” is a politically empty phrase that can be used by anyone against anybody and therefore has no genuine political meaning.

In perhaps the greatest irony, many of the Trump loyalists were accused of being secret Antifa agents, planted there to discredit Trump. Many of the “protestors” have pleaded with Trump to give them pardons in the final days of his presidency to little avail. The sheer proliferation of misinformation and propaganda embedded in the American ideological landscape was ruthlessly intensified by Trump and has now come full circle: like a snake biting its own tail, it is now devouring itself. But unlike the allegory of the snake, it is the duty of the working class to ensure that this cycle does not repeat itself.

This event not only perfectly encapsulated the Trump presidency; it also forced American liberal democracy to show itself for what it is: a farce with no substance.

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