On Wednesday, a crowd of white supporters of President Donald Trump livestreamed a fascist insurrection. They filmed themselves storming the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., tossing aside barricades, smashing windows and ransacking legislative offices. They filmed themselves screaming and chanting, exultant that they’d somehow just occupied the seat of American power.
Most didn’t even bother to hide their faces, seemingly unafraid of later being identified and arrested for vandalizing the very place where this country’s laws are made.
Their aim was clear — they even broadcast their intentions on the internet: to thwart the democratic will of the American people by disrupting a joint congressional session in which the 2020 election results were set to be formally certified.
But even with all the warning and time to prepare, the Capitol Police were overrun. At times, and disturbingly so, some even appeared to be accommodating. Livestreams showed cops shaking hands and posing for selfies with these MAGA insurrectionists. Other videos showed the relative ease with which Trump’s supporters trespassed into the Capitol, charging past police and forcing lawmakers to evacuate.
The thing is, the Capitol Police are well-practiced at mass arrests. And they’ve earned a reputation for being unforgiving and cruel enough, for example, to drag disabled demonstrators from the halls of Congress for demanding affordable health care.
So why did cops appear to stand down so easily as a MAGA mob laid siege to the Capitol? Why surrender so quickly to a horde of Red Hats, leaving them to urinate on the floor and loot offices, causing elected officials to flee into hiding? It’s a question numerous investigations will try to answer over the next months and years.
These inquiries will likely conclude that cops were undermanned and that the agencies involved ignored mountains of intelligence showing pro-Trump extremists openly plotting the Jan. 6 insurrection online, in plain sight. (U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund resigned on Thursday.)
But what the chaos in the capital on Wednesday has already laid bare is how law enforcement often uses a hands-off approach to white right-wing demonstrations — such as the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — while being well-prepared to violently crush movements for liberation and racial justice.
(Photographs of police making violent arrests at rallies and protests from 2020 and 2016 appear below.)
In June, for example, when antiracist protesters rallied in the capital, National Guard troops in bulletproof vests, helmets and goggles lined the steps of the Lincoln Memorial like an occupying army; police flew helicopters low enough to generate gale-force winds; and, at Trump’s behest, demonstrators were tear-gassed out of Lafayette Park so the president could be filmed walking to a nearby church, where he held up a Bible for the cameras.
“So damn tired of living in a country that treats Black grief as a threat and white rage as a sacrament,” Rev. Jacqui Lewis, a theologian and antiracist activist, tweeted Wednesday after Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol.
“Where there is radical Black resistance, there is state repression,” Guardian columnist Derecka Purnell wrote. “Where there is white rebellion for conservative causes, there is collusion with the state.”
Tens of thousands of people were arrested during the antiracist uprisings that swept the country in 2020 when protesters called for the defunding or abolition of police departments after the high-profile police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and many others. (Police have arrested only a few dozen people from Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol.)
Police brutality at these events was the subject of hundreds of viral videos: a 75-year-old man being knocked down so hard he bled from his ears; a woman being pushed to the ground so hard that she went into a seizure; cops speeding patrol cars into crowds; police pulling down protesters’ anti-COVID masks just to pepper-spray them in the face.
Fascists and assorted white vigilantes often joined police in confronting or attacking antiracist protesters. The malevolent MAGA coalition that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday — a motley crew of white nationalists, Proud Boys, militiamen and followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement — is the very same MAGA coalition that showed up to often violently confront Black Lives Matter protesters throughout 2020.
Police at these protests frequently appeared to ally themselves with, or even belong to, these far-right groups. A Georgia police officer was spotted fist-bumping an armed militiaman; an Orange County, California, cop was photographed wearing a militia patch; and the National Guard sent a Proud Boy to police protests in Los Angeles.
Perhaps most infamously, a cop In Kenosha, Wisconsin, was filmed telling a paramilitary group over a loudspeaker, “We appreciate you guys, we really do.” The cop then tossed a 17-year-old named Kyle Rittenhouse a bottle of water. Later that night, Rittenhouse — a Trump fanatic who wrote “BLUE LIVES MATTER” in his TikTok bio — shot and killed two antiracist protesters.
Pictured below: Pro-Trump rioters storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
It’s possible that police were so unprepared for Trump’s supporters to storm the Capitol this week because U.S. police are so used to seeing Trump’s supporters as allies or, to put it in cop parlance, “friendlies.”
Multiple reports since the riot have documented how law enforcement failed to see the president’s fanatical supporters as potentially violent.
Acting Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee said there was “no intelligence that there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol” on Wednesday — even though journalists and extremism researchers had raised alarms about MAGA World’s calls for violent insurrection.
Neither the FBI nor an intelligence unit in the Department of Homeland Security saw the demonstrations as posing a significant threat, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The U.S. Capitol Police rejected both the Pentagon’s and the Justice Department’s offers to help during the pro-Trump demonstrations, according to the Associated Press.
Ultimately, five people have died as a result of the siege. Ashli Babbit, a military veteran and QAnon conspiracy theorist, was shot by a plainclothes officer as she tried to shatter glass on the door leading into the Speaker’s Lobby of the Capitol. Three other pro-Trump rioters died of unspecified medical emergencies.
And U.S. Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died Thursday after suffering injuries while “physically engaging” with the rioters, officials said.
As the death count has risen, more and more stories have emerged of cops aiding the rioters or even participating in the riots themselves.
One Trump supporter told The New York Times that as he was trying to find and confront Sen. Chuck Schumer in the Capitol, a police officer kindly directed him toward the Democratic senator’s office.
Another rioter gave CNN a glowing review of his time in the Capitol: “It was really weird. The cops were like, ‘Have a nice day, man.’ You could see that some of them were on our side.”
And a D.C. police officer claimed that off-duty cops and members of the military were among the rioters Wednesday, showing their badges and ID cards to on-duty cops as they stormed the building.
Ultimately, U.S. police may be ill-equipped to fight the extremist MAGA movement because, as an institution, American policing doesn’t see the MAGA movement as the threat to democracy that it is.
Just before the siege on the Capitol Wednesday, a journalist filmed two MAGA enthusiasts performing a grisly reenactment, visible below, of the police murder of George Floyd — something Trump supporters have been known to do as a way of taunting Black Lives Matter activists.
The two men climbed the steps of the National City Church in Washington beneath a giant Black Lives Matter banner the church’s congregants had just hung outside.
One of the men, wearing a MAGA hat, played the cop, pressing his knee into the neck of the man playing Floyd, holding the pose just long enough for photographers to take their picture.