January 6th, A Year On
by: Cole Breen
Last Wednesday, the nation marked the anniversary of the January 6th Capitol Riot. In what was arguably the defining moment of 2021, a mob of 2,500 stormed the capitol building in an attempt to block a joint session of congress assembled to count and certify the electoral votes that would formalize President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The perpetrators hoped to delay or halt the proceedings in an effort to swing the election in the favor of former-president Donald Trump.
In the hours preceding the inciting event, thousands of people flocked to Washington D.C to participate in the March to Save America Rally. The rally was organized by different pro-Trump organizations that were there to protest the 2020 election results on the same day that they would be certified. President Trump, along with other figures like Rudy Guiliani, highlighted the event. He fired up the crowd with claims of election fraud and powerful rhetoric like, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not gonna have a country anymore." In the days, weeks, and months following January 6th, many have questioned whether or not the speakers at the rally should be legally charged with inciting a riot. All things considered, the role that they had in creating an angry mob is undeniable.
What started off as a peaceful protest took a sharp twist after the initial march began. The rioters broke past the barrier installed by the Capitol Police while pushing and shoving their way into the Capitol Building. Officers were assaulted as they attempted to repel the wave of people that were coming down upon them. Windows were broken, doors were battered open. It was almost comical watching these scenes on the news. How could something like this happen in our country? I had personally been following the news briefly during the day. One moment I was watching a rally and then the next I saw a teeming mass of protesters breaking into the Capitol Building and rioting. It was unbelievable. Never in my life would I have expected to see or experience something like this.
Property was vandalized and stolen. Rioters were heading deeper into the building to stop the joint session of congress. Staff and lawmakers rushed to secure locations or barricaded behind doors and offices as the mob stormed the halls. All told, five people were killed as a consequence of the riots, including a Capitol Police Officer who was beaten by the mob. Amongst these casualties was Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot by the Capitol Police for attempting to breach a secure location to presumably harm lawmakers and staffers. We do not know what would have happened if the rioters were to breach these secure locations but it's tough to imagine a peaceful outcome.
The kindling to the fire that would become January 6th was a consequence of months of election fraud claims and rhetoric that inspired people to take matters into their own hands. A year on, the country has largely recovered from the tragic events of that day. Still, in many ways, the issues that promoted that outcome are still very much alive and well. The divisions in our country have grown far beyond a manageable level. There is something fundamentally wrong with this country and the way it is being run if people feel so strongly in the conviction that their elected officials are somehow plotting against them. I mean people were willing to take up arms (or more accurately fists) against Capitol police officers and lawmakers in a desperate attempt to stop what they thought was a conspiracy to destroy our democratic system. These people are friends, neighbors, and coworkers. And yet, they all felt drawn towards violence. Their horrific actions are completely inexcusable. Those charged deserve everything that's coming to them. President Trump coerced and manipulated hundreds of individuals into believing that their government had promoted fraudulent election results. The utter chaos of the day eventually led to President Trump's second impeachment trial. Although a year separates us from that fateful day, many still believe that President Joe Biden somehow cheated his way into office. When the executive branch loses the confidence of a small but very vocal minority of Americans the trust in the branch itself is put at a detriment.
It's quite possible that this may not be the end of this kind of orchestrated violence. There is a part of me that doubts that this will be a self-contained event. The insurrection essentially gave credence to violence as a legitimate form of political expression. That's going to be hard to shake as a nation. I don't believe that this is in any way comparable to the tragedy that was September 11th. But, both events forced us to consider long held beliefs about American infallibility. 9/11 was unmatched in its unifying power. January 6th was just the opposite, we walked away bitter with two sides arguing as to who should be blamed. The legacy of January 6th will be a catalyst. Whether it will inspire us to move forward as a nation with a renewed understanding of just how much we stand to lose or promote more profound acts of political violence remains to be seen. There is a tendency among some to minimize January 6th as a footnote. I can respect the idea that we should move on as a nation. However, treating that day like a footnote is a mistake. It may be cliche to say now, but those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. To let this slide would give permission to others that we'll just allow this to happen again. Numerous Republican and Democratic Leaders rightfully blamed the Trump administration for their failure to act appropriately in their response to January 6th and the rhetoric they used that inspired many to be there on that abhorrent day. This is a nation with values. Democracy is an institution that is both resilient and inviolable. Our republic has faced far greater challenges, we will endure it all.
"If we do not act to protect our elections, the horrors of January 6 will risk becoming not the exception but the norm."
- Senator Chuck Schumer
"This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our republic. Our nation was founded precisely so that the free choice of the American people is what shapes our self-government and determines the destiny of our nation – not fear, not force, but the peaceful expression of the popular will."
- Senator Mitch McConnell