To Repair Our Country After Violent Insurrection, We Must Fight White Supremacy

By Bettina Ramon, Communications Manager, People For the American Way

Photo: A. M. Stan / Right Wing Watch

Just two weeks ago, many of us celebrated the new year — and the end of an especially devastating one — with a renewed sense of optimism that perhaps the worst of the Trump presidency was behind us.

That hope came to a screeching halt on January 6 when a violent, insurrectionist mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Many forces at work perpetuated and exacerbated the disturbing events that unfolded that day, and immediate and decisive efforts to hold Trump legally accountable have already begun:

  • On January 13, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump a second time for inciting insurrection, an effort People For fully supported.
  • In addition to Trump’s impeachment, we have also called for the resignation of every senator and House member who voted to reject certification of the Electoral College results, and censure for Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Whip Steve Scalise.
  • In addition, we believe the Justice Department should undertake an investigation into Trump’s potential criminality in inciting the riots, as well as potential criminality of the actions of Trump cronies and rally participants, including Rudy Giuliani, Mike Flynn, Peter Navarro, and Rep. Mo Brooks.
  • And we have called for a full investigation of the law enforcement response for fraternizing with rioters and potentially even facilitating the violent attack, and for the stark disparity in their response to the pro-Trump mob and their history of needlessly aggressive policing tactics at Black Lives Matter protests, during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and other events.

These legal actions are a sorely needed jump-start toward full accountability. History shows us that if we do not legally hold white supremacists to account for their violence, it will not end. But as we continue to process what transpired in Washington D.C. last week, it’s just as important to have a clear understanding of how we got here — and to recognize white supremacy and racism as the common threads.

In addition to the racist hate Trump has stoked for the last several years, his Republican enablers in Congress — which now includes a representative who compared Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan — played a key role in fomenting violence by promoting the racist rhetoric and actions of an unhinged and unfit leader. White supremacy and racism are also behind the right-wing reliance on voter suppression as a mechanism to stifle the votes of Black, Latino and other people of color in our elections, and they are at the heart of our nation’s law enforcement system.

And we cannot, as social justice activists and concerned citizens of this country, continue our pursuit of a more just and equitable democracy without understanding how the forces of white supremacy came to bear that day and recognize that:

We were explicitly warned about this violent attack.

Warnings about white supremacist violence in our nation’s capital came from many sources.

  • People For’s Right Wing Watch published a series of articles on the threats of violence in the months, weeks and days preceding the attack. As early as October 30, Right Wing Watch reported that one white supremacist group “is actively training in preparation for violence following the upcoming presidential elections.” In December, Right Wing Watch published multiple pieces on the threats to “burn down the GOP” and “retaliate” if congressional Republicans voted to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
  • In addition to Right Wing Watch and other media outlets’ coverage of the threat of white supremacist violence, protestors of racial injustice signaled that danger was imminent. In late December, Black Lives Matter D.C. called upon local officials to anticipate and prepare for “attacks by violent Trump supporters.”

Despite these warnings, many mainstream media outlets underreported or minimized these recent threats of violence, just as they have failed to appropriately report on the growing racial resentment in our country over the last four years. Black journalists, particularly Black women journalists, have written recently about newsrooms’ refusal to allow them to report on the growth and impact of white nationalism, particularly in politics — and about the clear need for cultural competency in our newsrooms.

Trump supporters refuse to recognize the electoral outcome of our elections because they do not recognize Black and Brown votes as legitimate.

On Jan. 6, white supremacists marched through the U.S. Capitol parading Confederate flags and other symbols of race and hate.

They did so partially because Black, Latino and Asian organizers overcame widespread voter suppression and gerrymandering — two Republican bastions of political power — to mobilize their communities to the polls in November, and in Georgia, again this month.

Even before his 2015 presidential campaign, Trump has pandered to white supremacists as a key portion of his base. And what motivates Trump supporters’ false belief that the election was stolen is a refusal to acknowledge the votes of people of color as legitimate — and contempt for the ascendancy of prominent Black leaders, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and Georgia Senator-elect Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Law enforcement officers were directly involved in the violent insurrection.

In addition to the systemic racism that undergirds our criminal justice system, many law enforcement officials have long held active personal links to white supremacist movements.

That was clear January 6, as Capitol police officers took selfies with rioters and put on “Make America Great Again” caps. We saw that in the stark differences between law enforcement’s preparations for and response to the attack and its response at Black Lives Matter protests and other peaceful demonstrations against racial injustice. And we see it in the off-duty police officers who willingly participated in the violent insurrection.

Immediately following the Capitol attack, several law enforcement officers claimed that they had not received any warnings about threats of danger and violence. We now know that’s not true.

Of course, the truth is more nuanced than a simple good cop/bad cop framing would suggest. We also know that a Black police officer single-handedly directed the violent mob away from the Senate chambers, likely saving many lives by using himself as bait. In addition, two other Black Capitol officers described the racist verbal and physical abuse they endured as they did their job and police management’s failure to adequately prepare them for the mayhem they experienced. In fact, since 2001, more than 250 Black Capitol police officers have sued the department for racial discrimination in the workplace.

Taken together, these facts make the need for immediate legal action clear. But the violence we witnessed last week also reveals white supremacy at work, and in its aftermath, white and non-Black people of color can benefit from an honest interrogation about whose voices we listen to when warnings are issued and whose voices are represented when people say that “this is not the America we know.”

The work of fighting for a fully realized democracy continues. But we must recognize that white supremacy is among the greatest threats to achieving that vision. And to begin to truly undo the legacy of racism and white supremacy in this country, we must, as Rev. Bernice King said, “earnestly address America’s violent roots … with urgency.”

That work can and should start now, for all of us.

People For the American Way works to build a democratic society that implements the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity and justice for all.