Juggling livestreams from the attempted coup on Wednesday, I heard one of the white women outside the Capitol yell, “This is what a peaceful protest looks like!” Simultaneously streaming from inside the Capitol building, I saw white men with white supremacy insignia on their clothes, tattooed on their bodies, carrying flags representative of oppression and hate as they stormed the deserted halls. I saw one lone Black security guard attempting to hold off the horde ascending the marble staircase, calling for backup on his radio as he whipped out his baton and stood, alone. Later, there would be a shot, a death, pipe bombs found and disarmed. An officer would die from the events that day.
Friends on Facebook began sharing what they were seeing, including messages from conspiracy pages claiming Antifa had infiltrated the MAGA protest. A message from the President, hours too late, called for peace and then emphasized that he loved his supporters who had walked past police officers, took selfies with police officers, as they tried to overthrow the election.
My heart pounded; I assume yours did, too. I felt scared, and sad, and angry.
But this was not unexpected.
Or, rather, it was not unexpected to segments of our society who know all too well what white people do when their authority is threatened. The night before the insurrection, as soon as it was clear that one or both democrat nominees would win in Georgia, Black and Indigenous folx began issuing the warning. Sorry, that’s wrong. They had spent four years warning the nation that the man in the White House was a white supremacist intent on remaining in power in spite of any election outcome. What’s more, they had been warning that the groups who constituted his base were exactly the people, armed and willing, who would help him. They only had to use the President’s own words and their lifelong knowledge of white supremacy to prove the point. He had told a known white supremacist group, the Proud Boys, to “stand down and stand by.” He had repeatedly tweeted lies about a stolen election, promising they would not lie down while snowflake Democrats and traitorous Republicans destroyed America. Throughout his presidency, he actively worked to suppress the votes of Black, Latiné, and Indigenous people and then tried to have their ballots thrown out once they were cast.
Six days before the attack, Representative Maxine Waters asked Capitol Police Chief Sund a series of questions: were the rooftops secured? Would the streets be blocked off? Were they prepared for violence from Proud Boys and Oath Keepers? He assured her they were. They were not. He has resigned.
The night of the Georgia Senate count, Black twitter doubled down on warnings. Jan. 6 had been named by the President as the day for his base to converge on the Capitol. Parler and other social media outlets were full of plan-making as well as not-just-hinted-at promises of violence.
Maybe you, like me, felt shocked that the police and National Guard, which had reportedly been deployed around the city, failed to prevent the overrun of the Capitol. After all, we’d seen them in action all summer long, in Portland, on the steps of capitol buildings around the country, across the street from the White House. They didn’t let things like this happen!
Except, they did. Not when the protestors were Black, of course. When Black people walked down the streets asking for an end to police violence, the police, and other law enforcement personnel, fired pepper spray, pepper balls, bean bag rounds, tear gas. They sprayed a child in the face because he was…standing there. He was just standing there. He later asked his dad, eyes swollen with chemicals, what he’d done wrong. No, Black people have different rules in the US, don’t they?
No, it wasn’t during the protests for equity that the police and National Guard stood by. They stood by while anti-maskers stormed the Michigan State Capitol, semi-automatic weapons strapped to them, and forced the emergency shut down of the legislative session. They stood calmly by while white people drove vehicles into crowds of protestors. They tossed a bottle of water to a white boy from Wisconsin who had just murdered two people with a gun he had illegally. White people have different rules in the US, don’t we?
If we want to understand what white people do when their power is threatened, we need to start listening to the people who have spent their lives learning how to read the warning signs. If we want to know how to keep democracy safe, we should start centering the voices of people who have watched democracy weaponized against them. We should listen to the experts.