U.S. Capitol Riots: What Happened?

Michael Bilodeau, Writer

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. was raided by supporters of the previous President Donald Trump, on January 6, 2021, in hopes of overturning the election results that saw Joe Biden winning the presidency. In what started as a march that was promoted by President Trump on his social media, the planned event quickly turned into an insurrection that caused the death of five people, including one U.S. Capitol police officer.  The rioters were able to get into the Capitol building by breaking windows and sometimes walking into open gates. Rioters were seen taking pictures of themselves at lawmakers’ desks such as that of Nancy Pelosi’s, as well as selfies with Capitol police officers. It became clear that among the crowd of Trump’s supporters, many were also white supremacists and right-wing extremists, who had plans of pressuring Republican leaders, such as Vice President Mike Pence and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to use their power to overturn the election. Some even appeared to want to hold lawmakers hostage on the Senate floor, as they carried zip ties into the building.

The insurrection came as a shock across the country and was widely covered in the weeks following. The idea that thousands of people were able to storm the Capitol, with little success of pushback, was frightening to see.  However, it’s important to recognize that this event almost certainly seemed predictable. After four years of the Trump presidency, his followers have grown into more of a cult than a group of supporters. This isn’t the first time that extremists have attempted to promote their ideologies publicly during this administration; in 2017, the “Unite the Right” rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The event, which was planned by self-proclaimed neo-Nazis and white nationalists to protect a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, saw three die and thirty-three others injured as counter-protests ensued. Trump, although he claimed to condemn the hatred shown by the white nationalists, said that some were “very fine people.” Many of the symbols and flags seen at Charlottesville, such as the Confederate flag, were also seen on Jan. 6 at the Capitol. Trump’s hateful rhetoric throughout the years has made a major impact on the minds of many Americans. His words have fueled baseless conspiracy theories such as “Stop the Steal,” a slogan that has become a call against the certification of Joe Biden’s November election victory, and even more damning ones such as QAnon, which claims that President Trump has been fighting against Satan-worshipping pedophiles in Hollywood, as well as Congress, since his time in office.  His disdain for mainstream media has caused a distrust of the mainstream media and has led to millions of Americans getting their news from other outlets, such as One America News Network, or OANN.  Even Fox News, a right-leaning platform has been disowned by many Trump supporters for reporting Biden’s win.

In the aftermath of the insurrection, reactions were quick as the F.B.I. began investigating and taking into custody those who were seen at the event.  The House of Representatives, with a Democratic majority, quickly held a hearing for the impeachment of Donald Trump for incitement, with only a week until he was due to leave office. The House successfully impeached Trump, and many Democratic leaders have also pushed for the punishment of Republican lawmakers who failed to dispel the baseless election fraud allegations before Jan. 6. Trump was also quickly suspended from numerous social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.  Other platforms where his supporters have grown large followings, such as Parler, were banned from the App Store and the Google Play Store. Joe Biden was inaugurated on Jan. 20, and as a result of Trump’s presidency and the insurrection, he preached the idea of unity.

However, even with all these actions taken to silence the right-wing movements, unity seems far from likely, and even with a new president, these movements will continue to grow in the aftermath of Trump’s presidency. It’s almost like America has had a problem with hate since its inception, and a few changes are not going to fix that immediately.