Along with millions of other Americans who work in Washington, D.C., I was warned of the Trump voters who would be coming to the city. We all knew that they were coming. Trump told us that they would be en route if the presidential election didn’t go his way. It was a planned gathering, invitations sent via tweet and retweet.
Residents in and around D.C. were all advised to stay home for the next few days, that it wouldn’t be safe due to the large crowds that were expected. Family and friends texted me to make sure that I had followed the mayor’s orders. I had protested for much of the summer; I wasn’t surprised by their level of concern. So, I sat this one out and worked from my couch.
I watched the storming of, the siege on, the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol building on January 6th. I watched reporters struggle to describe the participants, moving from calling them protestors to a violent mob to insurrectionists. Using the American flag as a weapon, these terrorists beat police officers and beat down doors in an attempt to gain access to our elected officials. Baton flag. Battering ram flag. They had clearly pledged allegiance to violence and the cameras were rolling for the world to see it.
Now, there were no chants of “Blue lives matter!” They didn’t come to “back the blue”; they didn’t even stand for the red, white and blue. This was not a show of patriotism. They wanted favoritism.
They shouted, “Stop the steal!”, which is an interesting choice of words considering how this country was “founded.” We all know it was really stolen from the First Nation people and banning the 1619 project from some of America’s classrooms will not change those facts. Because the American way is a show of force.
The insurrectionist told police officers that they were outnumbered and that it would be best if they joined them. If they didn’t, they were pushed, kicked, beaten, crushed and called a traitor. One died. Because the ballot was not in their favor, because the law did not take their side, because their candidate had not won, they had come for blood.
It was not a threat; they had brought a noose and zip ties, planted bombs the day before. They were going to have justice and no one was going to have peace until they got their version of it. They shouted, “No Trump, no peace!”
They were not called thugs, lowlifes or scum bags, predators or super predators. No lone wolves, they packed hotels and restaurants, the streets and then the U.S. Capitol building.
And there seems to be no consistent dirty word for them. Trump loyalists, Trump allies, “Trumplicans.” None of these words go far enough. Because what my fellow Americans did on January 6th was beyond the pale. They didn’t just challenge our democracy or breach the U.S. Capitol building. They replayed a horrific scene from America’s history that is played out presently on country roads and city streets against African Americans. They stood their ground.
It is extrajudicial justice. Lynch mob justice. “At the hands of persons unknown” because most of these “very fine people” went home. African Americans have seen images of these crowds before and heard stories. Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative tells them well and painstakingly. So does Philip Dray, who writes in At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, “Discerning who and what type of person took part in lynchings is made difficult by the fact that those who carried out extralegal punishments were pointedly anonymous. … ‘Death at the hands of persons unknown,’ affirmed the public’s tacit complicity: no persons had committed a crime, because the lynching had been an expression of the community’s will.”
These vigilantes knocked on doors. They called their would-be victims’ names. It is likely what Emmett Till heard in Money, Mississippi. The taunting of the killers who dragged African Americans out of their homes and from prison cells because they knew that these men and women were guilty, that they were right and that he or she had to die tonight. Their victims didn’t need a lawyer and the vigilantes didn’t want a judge. They were justice and their hands were the justice system.
They sent out an invitation for others to join in the lynching, placing an announcement in local newspapers. The movement was festive; people brought their children. See Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.
This mob is not new but runs deep. It is the way America has always done things. This is not an aberration. This is normal and we have got to talk about why we allow it to be under any circumstances.