Supporters of President Donald Trump climb on walls at the US Capitol during a protest against the certification of the 2020 US presidential election results by Congress, in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
The White House finally lowered its flag to half-staff the other day, to honor the Capitol police officer who was killed by angry mobs who had entered the Capitol building. That was four days too late. The scene was surreal last Wednesday as angry rioters broke through barriers into the Capitol building, desecrating the very history of the place and dishonoring the giant men and women who have walked those very halls. The picture of the man with his feet on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, the QAnon Shaman in bear skin, a gothic helmet, face painted.
The guy casually walking through brandishing a confederate flag. The picture of the police officer in pain while being crushed on a doorway by these pro Trump supporters. Their slogans of the hate for the Speaker of the House and even one of their own, Vice President Pence. As more information comes in, about the truck the bomb squad found parked just blocks away with pipe bombs, the guy who came armed to the teeth and texted he was ready to unleash mayhem tells us the power of his lies.
A lie that was propagated and disseminated by the President himself, laying the foundation for it even before the elections. Then echoed by the likes of Rudy Giuliani, his family and other enablers like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Lies that they used to fire up thousands of his supporters and quietly walked away, leaving them to unleash mayhem. These rioters actually believed they were heroes of this Insurrection. An election was stolen from them, even though the courts and the Supreme Court found no evidence of it. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani could present no evidence at all, his accusations melted away as swiftly as his hair dye.
A lot of opinion leaders were saying this is what happens in a banana republic, not in America. That is where they are wrong. Perhaps this is the first time it was so vividly captured on television in their lifetime or it touched close to home as the violence was targeted at those who are not racially different.
To the rioters, though, they were betraying the country by stealing the election and as patriots it was up to them to set things right. What I am saying is this was the culmination of a deeply embedded historical legacy of racist structures and ideas. This was not the first time.In 1921, for eighteen hours between May 31 and June 1, a white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the predominantly Black Greenwood community in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hundreds of people were killed and thousands left homeless. In 1921 Greenwood, a mostly Black community, included a business district that was sometimes referred to as Black Wall Street. The beginning of the violence was from an incident where a young Black teenager named Dick Rowland had entered an elevator in an office building and the young white elevator operator at some point screamed. Rowland was arrested the next day.
By that time rumors spread of what happened; and then there was a front page story in the Tulsa Tribune that Rowland was arrested and had sexually assaulted Page, the woman operator. This led to a chain of events, as angry white mobs gathered outside the courthouse, and the violence spread to the neighborhoods and it led to the massacres. After the massacre ended all charges against Dick Rowland were dropped.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year old Black man, was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by a nonchalant police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck and even after he kept saying, “I can’t breathe”, the officer let the life in Floyd slip away. What we had witnessed in that moment was the notion of racial superiority.
These notions of white supremacy, fear of immigrants, of different religions, anti Semitism have always been embedded in American society. The events at Charlottesville which the president dubbed as “fine people on both sides” were just a return to the old American tradition rather than a wholly new one. The idea of white nationalism, white supremacy, the alt right and fascism has always been there.
The end goal always is more ethnic power of one division and hate and violence are legitimate tools to achieve that end. At one time these were just fringe ideas but over the years, especially the last four, white nationalists have succeeded in channelling them into the mainstream media. They were always in the sidelines till Donald Trump was elected President. People like his senior advisor and chief speech writer Stephen Miller, his 900 emails to contacts at Breitbart News, revealed his extreme white supremacist concepts even though he never spoke of that in public.
Breitbart’s previous chairman Steve Bannon, who fanned the supremacist flames, served in Trump’s administration for a while. It is a worldwide phenomenon, whether it is a country banning hijabs, or someone saying that immigrants are overtaking the white population, all Muslims want to implement Shariah Law. Politicians in Europe, in Scandinavian countries have used this as a tool to sow division for political benefit.
As I mentioned earlier these notions were propelled into the mainstream media and that was done through a repackaging of these extreme ideas to make them sound more acceptable. So when someone says Mexico does not send their best, they are trying to sow fear that the community will see disruptions as crimes will go up, or implying that they are mentally superior than those coming in.
There has been no president who has been so obsessed with boasting about his high IQ and genetics, although we will never know what it is like many other things. When Fox News TV host Lauren Ingraham says, “Replace kind of the old America with a new America”, that is essentially a dog whistle to those who will hear that Muslims, Mexicans, indeed everyone is taking their jobs and taking over their country.
When Obama became president, the fears of those who subscribed to white supremacist views came true. That was perhaps one reason a flawed person like Donald Trump became president in the first place. Trump has used the dog whistle many times and that is why you saw the guy walking in the Capitol with a confederate flag, in case you missed the all white crowd.
When you implement a Muslim ban but say that it is okay for someone from Norway to come in you are basically trying to lessen, dehumanize another based on their faith or color of the skin. A tactic the Pakistan army used when they branded all Bangladeshis as lesser Muslims, which helped them commit the genocide. Just how dangerous the President’s rhetoric can be we saw last Wednesday and there is more cause for alarm when you realize that it was a close election.
The tech companies like Facebook and Twitter just banned him. Perhaps because he is leaving now and can cause no harm to their profit line or perhaps, they finally woke up. That even as I say it sounds absurd, knowing the amount of information they have on us. These companies gave him the megaphone he needed.
They have been as much of an enabler as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; and Kellyanne Conway, who repackaged the truth as alternative facts. It almost seems like a losing battle against people who have no morals. But I take solace in the words of Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential historian who said in an interview with Anderson Cooper there is always hope as each time real change happened was when there were visuals like that in Selma.
I do hope what happened on January 6 was visible enough, even though I know that with the ease of spreading disinformation as the idea that this was Antifa was already floated there will be attempts to drown this. We can also take solace in the fact that there are the likes of Stacey Abrams, who has won Georgia twice now. This could make all the difference in putting the white supremacist genie back in the bottle.
The writer is based in Maryland, USA.
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