When I first sat down to write this newsletter, it had just turned 2021 — a “new” year, I was told. And some things did, for a hot second, seem different. Then, The Insurrection™ happened.
I had planned to write this newsletter edition on Adam Goodman’s The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants, but I’ve pushed that back. Instead, I’m sharing a handful of shorter readings, old and new, that may help explain what happened on January 6 in Washington, D.C. — and why.
On what happened:
What Parler Saw During the Attack on the Capitol (ProPublica)
In which 31 journalists at the investigative outlet ProPublica stitch together a visual timeline of the storming at the Capitol using videos uploaded on Parler, a messaging platform favored by the far right.
Among the Insurrectionists at the Capitol (The New Yorker)
A skinny man in dark clothes told the officer, “This is so weird—like, you should be stopping us.”
The officer pointed at each person in the chamber: “One, two, three, four, five.” Then he pointed at himself: “One.” After Chansley had his photographs, the officer said, “Now that you’ve done that, can I get you guys to walk out of this room, please?”
“Yes, sir,” Chansley said. He stood up and took a step, but then stopped. Leaning his spear against the Vice-President’s desk, he found a pen and wrote something on a sheet of paper.
“I feel like you’re pushing the line,” the officer said.
Chansley ignored him. After he had set down the pen, I went behind the desk. Over a roll-call list of senators’ names, the Q Shaman had scrawled, “its only a matter of time / justice is coming!”
A hundred feet in front of us, a half-dozen police officers armed only with handguns stood in front of what looked like a large piece of furniture that had been pushed in front of the main chamber door. I cannot overstate how terrified we all were, not knowing what was coming next.
How the rioters who stormed the Capitol came dangerously close to Pence (The Washington Post)
About one minute after Pence was hustled out of the chamber, a group charged up the stairs to a second-floor landing, chasing a Capitol Police officer who drew them away from the Senate.
(This one is by me — full disclosure!)
Countless protests have been staged in and around the building in recent years, most of them peaceful. However, activists have been swiftly escorted out of these demonstrations — sometimes, they have argued, too swiftly and with too much force.
The response to Wednesday’s chaos stood in sharp contrast. For one, Capitol Police were not armed in riot gear to begin with, as law enforcement on crowd control duty have been at almost every large protest against police brutality in D.C. in recent months. When the mob breached the guardrails, the building was locked down, yes. Tear-gas canisters were shot, and yes, some police inside the chambers drew their guns. But others tried to “let them do their thing,” according to the New York Times. Videos also emerged of some police personnel opening up the barricades and taking selfies with the intruders once they were inside the building.
But it was not about a lack of barricades or of boots on the ground. None of this will go away if more public spaces are further fenced off and boarded up. As long as disproportionate force is used against the people who want to declare their humanity, and those who want to deny that humanity are escorted gently out the doors they have just destroyed, the fundamental institutions of American society will continue to replicate the violent myth that only certain lives matter.
On the context:
The Capitol Riot was an Attack on Multiracial Democracy (The Atlantic)
The chaotic scene in Washington was familiar to American history but foreign to many living Americans—an armed mob seeking to nullify an election in the name of freedom and democracy. The violence was a predictable consequence of the president’s talent for manipulating dark currents of American politics he does not fully comprehend. What transpired yesterday was not simply an assault on democracy. It was an attack on multiracial democracy, which is younger than most members of the Senate.
The Washington Post described the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol as “would-be saboteurs of a 244-year-old democracy.” But true democracy in America is only 55 years old, dating to 1965, the year the Voting Rights Act guaranteed suffrage—at least on paper—to all American citizens, regardless of race. Four decades later, a multiracial coalition elected a Black president. As in the past, the rise of Black men to political power made some white Americans question the wisdom of democracy.
Citizenship once meant whiteness. Here’s how that changed. (The Washington Post)
By the early 19th century, communities of free people of color were large enough to challenge many white people’s conceptions of black people’s “proper place.” Born in America, their “proper place” was in America, as citizens.
White politicians clung to the idea of a “white men’s democracy,” tying political rights to white male identity rather than property holding or free status. In 1790, Congress had limited naturalization to “free white” persons, leaving out enslaved people, indentured servants and most women. In the 1830s, as Southern state legislatures expanded voting rights to all white men, they also discussed the need to “remove” freed slaves from their states. To them, free people of color challenged the neat equation of full citizenship for white men, degraded status for others.
The struggles of free people of color prefigured the fights for civil rights that have occupied us ever since. Not only Southern but Northern states limited their rights to travel, join professions and receive the same education as white people. After the Civil War, the same limits were imposed even more widely and given the name Jim Crow.
This white rationale for citizenship was then applied to immigrants who came from China to mine for gold and build railroads. When they sought to bring wives and start families, they, too, were excluded from citizenship. Other immigrants — from Syria, Japan and India — had to pass the legislative test of proving they were “free white persons” to naturalize to citizenship. But those who couldn’t meet those whiteness standards, such as immigrants from India, lost their land and were deported.
Accelerationism is the idea that white supremacists should try to increase civil disorder—accelerate it—in order to foster polarization that will tear apart the current political order. The System (usually capitalized), they believe, has only a finite number of collaborators and lackeys to prop it up. Accelerationists hope to set off a series of chain reactions, with violence fomenting violence, and in the ensuing cycle more and more people join the fray. When confronted with extremes, so the theory goes, those in the middle will be forced off the fence and go to the side of the white supremacists. If violence can be increased sufficiently, the System will run out of lackeys and collapse, and the race war will commence.
Toward a Global History of White Supremacy (Boston Review)
Because white nationalists are primarily concerned with the racial integrity of states, they have wrongly been assumed to be parochial in their politics, focused solely on domestic issues. In fact, transnational ties and transnational flows of culture and capital have long undergirded the pursuit of white racial nationalism. The success of Brexit, for example, emboldened Trump’s nativist supporters to see themselves as part of a global movement that could achieve power in the United States. Trump’s victory in turn inspired the Christchurch killer, who praised the U.S. president as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” We need to understand the history of these connections if we are to grasp what has sustained white nationalism despite global trends toward liberation and equality.
White nationalism is an ideology that asserts national identity and belonging in terms of European descent. Accordingly, white nationalists see their countries as threatened by immigration and social advancement by non-whites. They contend that national identity and belonging must be built around racial whiteness—rather than culture, language, or place—and that it is the whiteness of the nation’s past, present, and future that ensures its continued historical development and survival. The fundamental ideas of white nationalists are hardly new, yet they have taken on new formulations since the mid-twentieth century as a politics of reaction to the promise of racial equality and decolonization. Though the numbers of self-identified white nationalists remain small, their ideas resonate broadly, impacting contemporary debates about global demographic change, national identity, and mass migration.
White Terrorism Often Leads to Harsher Punishment for People of Color (The Marshall Project)
Even hate crime legislation, specifically intended to help prosecute crimes motivated by white supremacy and other forms of bigotry, can have a disparate negative impact on minority groups. In 2019, for example, Black people made up roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population yet were accused by law enforcement of nearly 24 percent of hate crimes, according to Justice Department statistics. White people, conversely, were 60 percent of the population yet faced fewer than 53 percent of hate crime accusations.
Finally, some Twitter threads by historians, sociologists, political scientists, and lawyers:
Not sure what happens this week here in D.C. and in state capitals around the country, but my hope is that everyone stays safe.
Before I go: On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s worth revisiting this special edition of The Atlantic from 2018. It features Dr. King’s words with necessary context provided by some of the best contemporary writers on race and inequality in the United States.
Back soon with more.
Over and out,