Historically, most presidential transferences of power have been relatively smooth and peaceful, with the exception of notable occurrences such as the election of 1876. On January 6th, 2021, less than a week into the new year, supporters of President Donald Trump had already made national and global news headlines by breaching the U.S. Capitol. Following Joe Biden’s presidential victory, confirmed in early November of 2020, Trump and his supporters began to claim election fraud. The volume of these allegations only grew as time passed, with more “Stop the Steal” groups gaining social media presence. In fact, Trump supporters have filed over 50 lawsuits regarding these concerns, most resulting in dismissal, denial, or withdrawal. Overall, all the courts that have been presented with such cases have not found any evidence of fraud. However, many far-right-wing advocates took to social media to express their disdain at Biden’s election and were only further encouraged when the President used Twitter to incite a protest rally.
Tweets by Trump that openly promoted the Capitol breach include: “See you in Washington, DC, on January 6th. Don’t miss it. Information to follow” and “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” His actions were met by his supporters exploring possible methods to follow through with the President’s, in essence, instructions.
Finally, on January 6th, one of the many formalities in the pre-inauguration process took place, the counting of electoral votes executed by Congress. While some believed that Vice President, Mike Pence, could potentially contend Congress’ count, he stated in a letter that he did not possess power over the electoral votes as, “The presidency belongs to the American people, and to them alone.” Trump responded to Pence’s decisions by expressing his frustration and disapproval in a speech later that day.
As the day stretched on, the initial gathering of hundreds of Trump supporters rapidly grew to thousands of protesters enthusiastically brandishing flags and sporting pro-Trump apparel. When he appeared in front of them, outside the White House, he delivered an instigating speech explaining that he doesn’t accept the results of the election and he has no plans to concede. Ensuing the implied suggestions to “take back the country,” the armed group of Proud Boys, neo-Nazis, Boogaloo Bois, white supremacists and more, stormed the capital. The crowd began by using gas grenades, tear gas, throwing bricks, fire extinguishers, and other heavy objects. As officers yelled for help to manage the crowds, multiple perimeters were gradually breached and protesters approached the Capitol doors. With no other way to enter, many eventually climbed the walls and shattered the windows, creating their own access point.
A few days before the riot, the Capitol Police had conducted an internal assessment that identified potential dangers from the President’s speech. Despite this admonition, the Capitol Police expressed, after the attack, that they were extremely unprepared to confront the violence, intensity, and enormity of the crowd. While they may not have been entirely equipped to handle the extremely coordinated and aggressive efforts, there was a stark contrast between the treatment towards the Capitol protesters and the Black Lives Matter protesters. Many activists used social media to create visual comparisons of the police presence during the mostly nonviolent BLM protests and the turbulent Capitol breach. For example, during BLM, there was a streamlined reliance on rubber bullets and tear gas, yet neither was used on the Capitol protesters until they were already on the Capitol grounds.
Some of the most appalling displays by the protesters inside the Capitol, a symbol of the US, included the Confederate flag, advocacy for “straight rights,” antisemitic clothing with the phrases “6MWE” (which stands for six million wasn’t enough), and “Camp Auschwitz,” and more. In spite of these unacceptable exhibitions of a disregard for human rights, Trump told the protesters that “we love you” but “you have to go home now.” The riot, which many politicians have even referred to as a domestic terrorist attack, left five people dead. Additionally, in the aftermath, several members of the Trump administration, national security officials, and the Capitol Police chief had resigned from office. The FBI has arrested almost 100 people and is continuing to search for more responsible perpetrators. Past the initial awe, the breaching of the capitol has brought to light the fickle state of national security, the extremity of bi-partisanship, and the work needed to reunify and strengthen America under the term of 47th president.