Peaceful demonstrators for racial justice were tear-gassed in Lafayette Square last June so U.S. President Donald Trump could take photos at a nearby church in Washington, D.C.
Seven months later, a mob inspired by the president’s baseless conspiracy theories smashed through the doors of the U.S. Capitol, pushed past security and ran amok inside the complex, taking selfies with guards and posing for silly photos in the halls of America’s centrepiece of democracy.
One person even tried to walk out with the Speaker of the House’s lectern as a souvenir.
Shocked and disgusted critics accused police of a double standard in the way they handled the Make America Great Again (MAGA) crowd, which faced far less resistance than Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters saw on several occasions last summer.
Violence has erupted at protests involving both groups over the last year, but not on the scale of what happened Wednesday. The pro-Trump mob also made it further into a federal building than any BLM protesters did last year.
Four people died and 52 were arrested after the pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Trump himself urged them to defend his conspiracy-theory claims.
The president later urged the group to be peaceful while also praising them.
“We love you,” he said in a video message. “You’re very special … but go home.”
The National Guard showed up hours after the Capitol was breached, sparking accusations that the Trump administration had failed to use the same force it showed against BLM protesters last year.
Some described the Trump supporters’ antics as evidence of “white privilege,” given how far they got into the Capitol — and what they did once they were inside.
“We need to call it what it is — it is white supremacy — it was white privilege and it was the call of our president,” Rep. Cori Bush, a Democrat from Missouri, told MSNBC on Wednesday night. She also called for all Republicans who supported the attempted “coup” to be removed from office.
“Had it been people who look like me, had it been the same amount of people, but had they been Black and brown, we wouldn’t have made it up those steps,” Bush said. “We wouldn’t have made it to be able to get into the door and bust windows and go put our feet up on the desks of Congress members.”
A senior federal law enforcement official familiar with the planning to protect other federal sites on Wednesday, including the grounds where Trump spoke, said that he was shocked that the Capitol Police were not better prepared.
“It looked like the Keystone Cops out there,” said the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It should have never happened. We all knew in advance that these people were coming, and the first order of policing is presence.”
“This isn’t what happens at the U.S. Capitol,” Chuck Wexler, head of the Police Executive Research Forum think tank, told the New York Times. “This is completely unprecedented. This is as close to a 9/11 attack as you can think of, in that no one has ever done this before.”
Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago-based activist, told the Times that Wednesday’s riot highlights the different attitude police take toward a majority-white movement. “We all know if Black Lives Matter would have stormed the Capitol, there would have been deadly force used to protect that building, especially because it’s a federal building,” he said.
“We today saw what it means for white people to have the privilege.”
Critics on Wednesday circulated a photo of National Guard members standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on June 2, during another peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. They compared the photo to the relatively weak police perimeter around the Capitol on Wednesday.
Many took issue with the photos that emerged from inside the Capitol on Wednesday, which showed Trump supporters laughing and posing throughout the complex.
Political scientist Yousef Munayyer ridiculed the security response in a tweet on Wednesday night.
“We spend $750 billion annually on ‘defence’ and the centre of American government fell in two hours to the Duck Dynasty and the guy in the Chewbacca bikini,” he tweeted.
One set of photos showed a Trump supporter reclining in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office, his feet up on the desk.
A note left behind on her desk read: “WE WILL NOT BACK DOWN.”
Several protesters stormed into the Senate Chamber. One hung from the balcony, while others took over the podium.
The FBI has since put out a call for help to identify many of the people involved in the riot on Wednesday.
The protesters dispersed after Trump called for them to do so on Twitter. His social media accounts have since been suspended.
Congress eventually reconvened and certified President-elect Joe Biden‘s victory over Trump, after a few baseless challenges from some of the losing candidate’s supporters.
Biden defeated Trump by 74 Electoral College votes and won the popular vote by more than seven million. Trump’s own head of election security called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history,” shortly before Trump fired him.
Trump has refused to concede, but early Thursday committed to a peaceful transition of power. He has also refused to back down from his baseless claims of voter fraud, despite two months of failure to prove such claims in court.
Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20 as the 46th president of the United States.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press
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