Terry Bouton
+ Your AuthorsArchive @TerryBoutonHist Historian of the American Revolution and democracy. Author of Taming Democracy. Mostly posts about history, politics, and how the past can inform the present. Jan. 10, 2021 4 min read

My wife and I attended the “Stop the Steal” Trump Insurrection on Wednesday (as observers, NOT participants) and there are FIVE big take-aways from what we witnessed and heard outside the Capitol that I'd like to share. (We took all the pictures below). 1/22

1) This insurrection wasn’t just redneck white supremacists and QAnon kooks. The people participating in, espousing, or cheering the violence cut across the different factions of the Republican Party and those factions were working in unison. 2/22

Preppy looking "country club Republicans," well-dressed social conservatives, and white Evangelicals in Jesus caps were standing shoulder to shoulder with QAnon cultists, Second Amendment cosplay commandos, and doughy, hardcore white nationalists. 3/22

We eavesdropped on conversations for hours and no one expressed the slightest concern about the large number of white supremacists and para-military spewing violent rhetoric. Even the man in the “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt wasn’t beyond the pale. They were all “patriots." 4/22

I'm sure there were Republicans there who were horrified by what was happening. But the most common emotions we witnessed by nearly everyone were jubilation at the take over and anger at Democrats, Mike Pence, non-Trump supporting Republicans, and the Capitol Police. 5/22

2) There is no doubt the Capitol was left purposefully understaffed as far as law enforcement and there was no federal effort to provide support even as things turned very dark. This contrasts sharply with all of other major protests we have attended. 6/22

A lot has been made of the contrast to the overwhelming police presence at Black Lives Matters protests in the fall, and this is certainly true. But there was also A LOT more federal law enforcement presence at every single previous protest we have attended in DC. 7/22

Most of these protests involved tens of thousands of mostly white, middle-aged people (meaning race wasn’t the only reason for the disparate police presence). Even the March for Science had far more police for a non-partisan event featuring “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” 8/22

By contrast, there was a tiny federal police presence at “Stop the Steal” despite weeks of promises of violence spread on social media by well-known far-right radicals, many of whom had long histories of inciting violence. 9/22

When we arrived, the only forces present were the clearly overwhelmed Capitol Police. The only reinforcements that arrived were other Capitol Police. There were a handful of DC Metro police, but they had accompanied the ambulances to take away the injured. 10/22

The only other federal law enforcement presence was an FBI Swat team of about eight officers who arrived to provide cover for the Capitol Fire and EMTs there to extract Ashli Babbitt, the QAnon radical who was shot inside the Capitol Building. 11/22

Once the FBI team got Babbitt out, they left and no other federal officers arrived in the more than two hours that followed. The small Capitol Police force was left to deal with the chaos by themselves. 12/22

3) The Trump rioters only supported law enforcement as long as they believed law enforcement was supporting them. Rioters, many carrying Thin Blue Line flags, seemed convinced that the Capitol Police would turn against the government and join them. 13/22

Numerous rioters shouted at the police, saying some version of “we had your back, now you need to have ours.” All of the Capitol officers we saw—Black, white, Latino, male, female—seemed alarmed by what was happening and continued to try to do their job faithfully. 14/22

And the crowd reviled them for it. They booed the police and FBI swat team, calling them traitors and murderers. A man on the back Capitol steps ripped up a Thin Blue Line flag, the torn stripes fluttering down over a crowd briefly chanting “fuck the police.” 15/22

4) There were also no clear crowd rules imposed for Stop the Steal like there were for all the other protests we have attended. All of the “liberal” protests of the last four years we attended had a long list of things you could not bring that were enforced at the Capitol. 16/22

At these protests, there were no poles or sticks, no backpacks, no weapons or body armor, etc. There were sometimes security check points to go through to get onto the mall or Capitol grounds. 17/22

None of these standard rules applied to Stop the Steal. There were poles and flags and backpacks and body armor EVERYWHERE. We didn’t see any guns or knives. But there were certainly people brandishing flag poles as if they were weapons. 18/22

5) These people are serious and they are going to keep escalating the violence until they are stopped by the force of law. There were many, many people there who were excited by the violence and proud and excited about the prospect of more violence. 19/22

And it wasn’t just the white nationalists, Second Amendment radicals, and QAnon boneheads. I can’t adequately describe the blood lust we heard everywhere as we walked over the Capitol grounds, even from mild-mannered looking people. 20/22

The most alarming part to me was the matter-of-fact, causal ways that people from all walks of life were talking about violence and even the execution of “traitors” in private conversations, like this was something normal that happened every day. 21/22

I am convinced that if Congress doesn’t act to do something about this quickly, these people are going to keep going and the unrest and violence will get more widespread and more uncontrollable. This is a crisis. It’s real. It’s happening. It must be taken seriously. 22/22

(Wanted to make sure my wife, Noelle, received due credit for the photos).  https://twitter.com/housewifeangst 


You can follow @TerryBoutonHist.



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