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White Supremacy in Action: Police Stand Down as Trump Mob Storms Capitol to Disrupt Election Vote

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Image Credit: Jim Urquhart / Reuters

The U.S. Congress has certified President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, hours after a violent, right-wing mob incited by President Trump interrupted proceedings and stormed the U.S. Capitol. Four people died during the chaos, which has been described as an attempted coup. The insurrection was the culmination of months of lies by President Trump, widely repeated in right-wing media and on social media platforms, that the 2020 presidential election was rigged for Joe Biden. At a rally Wednesday, Trump urged supporters to head to the Capitol, who later broke through barriers and lines of police outside the Capitol and made their way inside, where they ransacked offices and sent lawmakers scrambling. Bree Newsome Bass, an antiracist activist, artist and housing rights advocate arrested in 2015 after she tore down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state Capitol, says it’s impossible not to note “the obvious difference in terms of how police have a coordinated, overtly militarized response to any kind of protest that is challenging racism in policing or racism in the government versus what we witnessed yesterday” in Washington, D.C. “It is very clear that the primary function of police forces in the United States is to enforce racism above enforcing public safety.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. Congress certified the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris shortly before 4 a.m. Eastern time this morning, about 14 hours after a violent mob incited by President Trump stormed and occupied the U.S. Capitol in an act of insurrection to stop the counting of votes. Some lawmakers described the siege as an attempted coup.

Members of the right-wing mob smashed windows, broke down doors and scaled walls to enter the Capitol. They attacked Capitol Police. They ransacked and looted offices, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s. An armed standoff took place at the door of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rioters took over the Senate chamber, with some Trump supporters, including a prominent supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, posing for photos in the seat occupied by Vice President Mike Pence just minutes before. One man carried a large Confederate flag inside the Capitol. Another wore a shirt that read, quote, “Camp Auschwitz.”

Vice President Pence and many lawmakers were evacuated to secure locations just as the mob breached the Capitol. Other lawmakers hid in their offices.

Four people died, including a Trump supporter who was shot dead by police.

Meanwhile, explosive devices were found at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

As of last night, Washington police had made just 26 arrests on Capitol grounds. Lawmakers are calling for probes into the Capitol Hill Police after officers were seen moving barricades for Trump supporters and taking selfies with members of the right-wing mob.

The insurrection began shortly after Trump spoke at a rally urging supporters to head to the Capitol, after once again falsely claiming the election had been stolen.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.

AMY GOODMAN: When Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, the president remained silent, safely in the White House. The New York Times reports he initially rebuffed and resisted requests to mobilize the National Guard to protect the Capitol.

Hours after the insurrection began, Trump released a video statement urging his supporters to go home, while telling them, “We love you. You’re very special.”

Calls are mounting for Trump to be removed from office before his term ends January 20th. Multiple news outlets report some members of his Cabinet have discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from power. Such a move would require the support of a majority of Cabinet members, as well as Vice President Mike Pence. The move has been backed by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, as well as the National Association of Manufacturers, which says it’s needed to, quote, “preserve democracy.” Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says she’s drawing up new articles of impeachment.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker condemned the president for inciting the violence.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: I can only think of two times in American history that individuals laid siege to our Capitol, stormed our sacred civic spaces and tried to upend and overrun this government. One was in the War of 1812, and the other one was today.

What’s interesting about the parallel between the two is they both were waving flags to a sole sovereign, to an individual, surrendering democratic principles to the cult of personality. One was a monarch in England, and the other, with the flags I saw all over our Capitol, including in the hallways and in this room, to a single person named Donald Trump. The sad difference between these two times is, one was yet another nation in the history of our country that tried to challenge the United States of America, but this time we brought this hell upon ourselves.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, announced this morning he would resign from his post as special envoy to Northern Ireland, following Wednesday’s insurrection. Shortly after the election, Mulvaney wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal titled “If He Loses, Trump Will Concede Gracefully.” At least four other Trump administration officials resigned on Wednesday.

Shortly after Congress certified Biden’s victory, Trump issued a statement saying there will be an orderly transition of power on January 20th, but then repeated false claims that he had won the election, he keeps repeating, “by a landslide.” He ended the message saying, quote, “it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again!”

The certification vote process was prolonged after Republican lawmakers challenged the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania in a last-bid effort to overturn the election. The senators were led by Senator Hawley. The Kansas City Star said he “has blood on his hands” for continuing with challenging the vote after the mass insurrection.

We begin today’s show with two guests. Manisha Sinha is professor of American history at University of Connecticut. She’s author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. And we go to North Carolina, where we’re joined by Bree Newsome Bass, artist and antiracist activist. Following the massacre of eight African American parishioners and their pastor by a white supremacist at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in June 2015, Bree scaled the 30-foot flagpole at the South Carolina state Capitol and removed the Confederate flag. There were Confederate flags in the Capitol yesterday, carried by the insurrectionists. She’s now a housing activist in North Carolina.

Bree, let’s begin with you. You were tweeting up a storm as the storm was unfolding in Washington, D.C., yesterday. You said, “Y’all the DC mayor requested the national guard. The pentagon was discussing the threat long before today. It’s not possible security forces were caught off guard, unprepared or simply failed. Please cease this ridiculous narrative.” So, take it from there, Bree.

BREE NEWSOME BASS: Yes. Thank you for inviting me to join you.

I mean, I was on social media all yesterday and, like everyone else, was just kind of gripped by watching the events that were happening. And one of the things that we saw throughout the day yesterday were people like myself, who have been present for various protests, you know, and mostly people of color, Black people, noting the obvious difference in terms of how police have a coordinated, overtly militarized response to any kind of protest that is challenging racism in policing or racism in the government versus what we witnessed yesterday. And I think that what we saw yesterday is just another one of these kind of flashpoint moments in history that just represents a culmination of everything that came before it, and really shines a spotlight on everything that is fundamentally wrong. And one of those things is clearly policing.

The idea that we had no idea that this was coming, which I think, is, frankly, one of the, like, ongoing, most disturbing talking points that we have gotten throughout the Trump administration — people say, “How could we have gotten here? This isn’t who we are,” which just completely flies not just in the face of American history — right? — but in the face of the events of just the past five years. I mean, everything that we have seen in the past five years pointed to what happened yesterday happening. And so, the idea that security officials, people who are tasked with protecting the Capitol, could not have foreseen the conflict that played out yesterday is clearly beyond belief. I mean, there’s no way to believe that that is the case.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Bree, quite apart from the fact that, you know, it was just an astounding spectacle of all these, I mean, effectively domestic terrorists invading the Capitol, what’s also strange, if not outright stunning, is the fact that there was such little comment from either the Department of Justice or security agencies responding to this extraordinary event, apart, of course, from the FBI asking for explicit help in identifying those who instigated the violence — an extremely bizarre request given that it was quite apparent who the instigators were.

BREE NEWSOME BASS: Absolutely. I mean, again, the central issue here is white supremacy. And white supremacy was foundational to the establishment of this nation. That is the central conflict. I mean, that is the main thing that I continue to say as an activist, is that, clearly, this is the central conflict. It is baked into our institutions. It was baked into our Constitution at the founding. And that continues to be the case. And that explains why — I wouldn’t even describe it as a difficulty in figuring out what is going on. It’s just the fact that it is the defining internal conflict of the nation. So, yes, of course, you have people within the military. You have people within policing. You have people within the government. It was elected officials who initiated the events that led to this riot.

One of the things that was most striking to me yesterday — I was among the people who kind of stayed up into the wee hours of the morning watching how things played out at the Capitol — was, you know, you would see congressperson after congressperson condemning the insurrectionist mob — so you’re talking about, you know, the civilians who showed up — but there was still very little acknowledgment of the fact that the people who led the insurrection, the people who have incited these people to mob the Capitol, were sitting there in the chamber, were still voicing their objection to the election.

So, you know, this idea that we are somehow just going to reach across the aisle and shake hands and carry on as though we did not witness things play out as it did, as though the primary inciter of violence yesterday was not the president of the United States, is just completely unrealistic. And there’s no way that that can happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Bree, you also — among your tweets yesterday, you wrote that what was happening yesterday was not the culmination of the last four years, but in fact the culmination of the last five centuries. Could you talk about that?

BREE NEWSOME BASS: Yeah, that was actually me retweeting someone else who made that excellent point. And again, it goes to the heart of this false notion that we could not foresee what was happening or that this is not America. This is absolutely America. We have an ongoing, prolonged history not just of colonization and slavery and genocide in this country, but also this constant back-and-forth where we try to make strides towards having a democracy that truly recognizes the rights and citizenship of all people, and violent, white supremacist backlash against that cause.

I mean, you know, people were bringing up the Wilmington riots — right? — of 1898, which that took place here in North Carolina, another example in the aftermath of the Civil War where you had Black people being elected to Congress, working in collaboration with white elected officials, and they were overthrown. There was a white mob that just came to town, burned down buildings and violently overthrew the democratically elected government. And we are still, in our state, in the year 2021, dealing with the aftermath of that conflict.

So this is not something that is foreign to the United States. This is something that is very much baked into our DNA. What happened yesterday cannot be separated, of course, from the fact that we just had an election that not only ousted a blatant white nationalist president, but we just elected a Catholic president, a vice president who is Black and Indian American, and then we had the Senate just flip, day before yesterday, with the election of a Black man and a Jewish man from Georgia. So, yes, you know, of course we’re going to see white supremacists in the Capitol waving Confederate flags. Of course we have known for years now that the greatest imminent threat to the United States is both white supremacist, far-right terrorists and the current president of the United States.

So, again, for anyone in a position of security or authority who is tasked with securing national security and securing the Capitol and the safety of the people who work and reside there to claim that this was somehow unpredictable, again, flies in the face of any logic. And if we are going to be serious about addressing the threats that we face right now from fascism and from the far right, we have to confront the presence of that element in our police forces, point blank, period. This has been the main point that we have been making in the Black Lives Matter movement, in the call for defunding the police and shifting resources, because it is very clear that the primary function of police forces in the United States is to enforce racism above enforcing public safety.

AMY GOODMAN: As you point out, I mean, yesterday was bookended — the early-morning hours of Wednesday, it was announced that the first African American Democrat was elected senator from the South. And that was Raphael Warnock. Then, yesterday afternoon, the Democrat Jon Ossoff, it was announced, had beaten David Perdue. And that shifted the power of the U.S. Senate. This bookends this insurrection at the Capitol. And also, just two days ago in Wisconsin, the DA chose not to bring charges against the white police officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back, the African American 29-year-old, seven times at point-blank range.

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