By Ben Olson
Publisher’s note: This is an opinion article.
As Reader staff members were preparing our first edition of 2021 before press time on Jan. 6, pro-Trump extremists in Washington, D.C. breached the U.S. Capitol building in what unfolded as one of the darker days in our nation’s history.
To start with, I have always supported the right for Americans to protest and use their First Amendment rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Even when I do not personally agree with certain causes brought forward, I have always stood by their efforts as long as demonstrations are conducted in a peaceful, nonviolent manner. This was not the case in our nation’s Capitol on Wednesday. At least four people have lost their lives and, according to multiple news outlets including ABC and D.C. local News 10, at least two dozen law enforcement officers were injured in the melee that took place in D.C. The damage that has been done to the integrity of our nation will be measured for years to come.
Let’s be clear about what caused this, or rather who caused it: President Donald J. Trump. After speaking to a rally in the morning hours, the president told those in attendance in very clear terms to “walk down to the Capitol” to protest what he has repeatedly — and falsely — claimed is an effort to “steal” the election. This followed months of stoking division and outlandish conspiracy theories in the months following his loss in the election, an effort that has so far resulted in 61 lost court cases and zero credible evidence offered to support his claims of widespread voter fraud.
Blame does not lie squarely on the president’s shoulders, but is shared in part by House and Senate Republicans — including Idaho Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, who both signed the amicus brief to overturn the election a few weeks ago. Also by elected officials such as Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and the rest of the people duly elected by American voters who have degraded our Constitution with their insidious efforts to attempt a coup.
In the morning hours, before the mob breached the Capitol, Fulcher appeared on Fox and Friends to speak about filing objections to the Electoral College vote count, telling Fox hosts that “this is going to be a monumental day in America’s history, make no mistake about it.” Hours later, after rioters pushed their way into the Capitol and a woman was shot, Fulcher tweeted, “I will always respect our citizens’ First Amendment rights — and the rule of law. The violence seen today, and this past summer, is unacceptable. It does not move us closer to solutions.”
Among a barrage of critical responses to Fulcher’s tweet, one user commented, “Clearly trying to thread the needle between, ‘well, you have to say something’ and remembering to not piss off the Alt Right white supremacists in Idaho…”
Rep. Mike Simpson tweeted at noon, “We have a constitutional right to peaceful protests but the clashes with police and destruction of property must stop now. We can disagree in a better way.”
Sen. Mike Crapo tweeted an hour later: “The violence we are seeing at the Capitol is wholly unacceptable. It must be stopped immediately and all perpetrators prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law…”
Sen. Jim Risch added a few minutes later: “This nonsense and violence needs to stop now.”
These statements of disdain were all devoid of any share of accountability after months of stoking these actions into reality.
I have never supported or condoned violence, whether it comes from the left or the right. I didn’t support it when rioting and looting occurred in the wake of the George Floyd protests this summer. I also didn’t support it when extremists led by Ammon Bundy broke windows and shoved their way into the Boise Capitol building to protest COVID-19 lockdowns.
Insurrectionists supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election — egged on by months of dangerous rhetoric by the president — swarmed the U.S. Capitol, eventually forced their way into the building. These Trump supporters quickly became rioters as they tussled with police officers, broke windows and illegally entered the building, shouting violently to law enforcement tasked with keeping the Capitol and its occupants safe. One woman was reportedly shot and died later in the evening. Right before press time, ABC announced one additional woman and two additional men had all died after “medical emergencies.” Two pipe bombs was also reportedly found near Capitol grounds, one each at Republican and Democratic National committee headquarters near the Capitol. Calling these people rioters is even a bit mild; domestic terrorists is more appropriate.
Waving Trump flags, Gadsden flags and calling law enforcement officers “traitors,” pro-Trump rioters gained access to the U.S. Senate floor as well as congressional offices, some of which were vandalized. Rioters occupied and took photos inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office before looting and vandalizing.
The scenes that unfolded on the morning of Jan. 6, as Congress began officially counting the Electoral College votes, looked more like scenes from a country in the throes of social and political collapse, with broken glass everywhere, angry mobs shouting for blood, law enforcement officers with guns drawn to protect members of Congress and flash bang grenades going off throughout the National Mall. The entire grounds resembled a war zone for hours until a 6 p.m. city-wide curfew went into effect and authorities began pushing rioters back from the building.
Where was the president during all of this? He was reportedly hunkered down watching it all unfold on television — seeing the results of his years-long barrage of un-American rhetoric playing out in real time, meanwhile doubling and tripling down with tweets that again claimed the election was “stolen.” This could have been avoided months ago if he would have conceded the election instead of his baseless fight to overturn the results.
Hours after the Capitol was breached, Trump released a video on Twitter which he began by claiming the election was “stolen from us,” but “you have to go home now, we have to have peace.” He also said it was a “fraudulent election,” and, “We love you, you’re very special.” He later tweeted, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
No, this is what happens when a delusional demagogue stokes anti-government feelings based on zero evidence for years. And I’m sorry, but “We love you”? The president loves an angry mob that actively and violently attacked the U.S. Capitol? “Patriots”? There’s a good reason that shortly after this video, Twitter flagged his tweet, claiming that it couldn’t be replied to, retweeted or liked “due to a risk of violence.” An hour later, Twitter completely locked the president’s account for 12 hours.
There is no widespread voter fraud. The courts have proved that, time and time again. The president and his supporters are intentionally dividing and inflaming the populace because his ego is too fragile to accept losing a free and fair election. This is the consequence of all of those who have enabled the president’s lies for too long.
I know there are a lot of our readers who support the president. We are a nation of diverse opinions, and at our best we are able to communicate our different opinions in a mature, nonviolent manner. But we are not at our best right now. There comes a time when we have to embrace reality and realize that we have been manipulated by bad actors in our nation’s top offices. There comes a time when we have to give up the ghost and realize that we are fighting a battle with no path to victory, a battle which is weakening the honored tenets of our republic every day we allow the president to lie without challenge.
For months, those on the far right have condemned angry mobs, rioting and looting, but where are those voices now, as our nation’s Capitol suffered an assault by an angry mob of Trump supporters? Almost four years ago the president stood on the Capitol steps at his inaugural address saying the era of “American carnage” was coming to an end. It’s come almost full circle at the end of his presidency that such carnage came to the very steps on which he stood four years ago — but by those who support him.
This is not an authoritarian banana republic. This is the United States of America. It is incumbent on all of us — Democrat, Republican and otherwise — to condemn these attempts at a coup and stand behind our American institutions that are hanging by a thread right now. This is not a joke. This dangerous, misguided behavior is not “patriotic.” This is a disgusting example of how bad these authoritarian, fact-free policies and beliefs have rotted our nation from the inside out.
Trump will no longer be president in fewer than two weeks, and we will pick up and move forward as a nation. It is my hope that cooler heads will prevail, that all of us can be proud of our nation again instead of horribly embarrassed by these violent, anti-democratic actions in the heart of our nation’s government. The events that unfolded today will reverberate throughout our history. It is my biggest hope that we can learn from this dark period of American history and come back from the edge before it’s too late.
Additional reporting by Zach Hagadone.
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