Last Thursday’s one-word headline in the Richmond Times Dispatch was in such a large font that it extended across the entire width of the newspaper: INSURRECTION. The generally conservative newspaper that was in its history the mouthpiece of massive resistance against school desegregation could have termed the events at the United States Capitol the previous day a riot, a disturbance, or a protest. That they and many others chose insurrection as the best description of what happened is an indication of the seriousness of it.
No one expressed the situation better than Senator Mitt Romney in his prepared speech delivered at the Capitol as soon as the insurrectionists had been forced out: “We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”
An insurrection is defined legally as the act or an instance of revolting especially violently against civil or political authority or against an established government. Under federal law, whoever incites, assists, or engages in any insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined and/or imprisoned; and shall be incapable of holding any office in the future.
The rights to assemble and to petition the government are protected in the Constitution. America is known for its open protests to bring injustices to the attention of government officials and the public. Some would say that such actions are as American as apple pie. What happened last week is different. Incited and directed by the President of the United States, his lawyer and a retired general who was recently pardoned by the President, thousands of persons marched from near the White House to the United States Capitol where for the first time since the British occupied the Capitol in 1814 took over the building for a short time.
It is essential that the Congress and the justice system take appropriate action against those who incited, led and participated in the insurrection. Defense of our democracy demands it. Likewise, we need to understand why the Capitol was left so defenseless when it was well known that a major bullying of the Congress was going to take place that day as the President had been talking about for weeks.
The Guardian offered a perspective: “A group of white supremacists from throughout the country who had been radicalized by the rants and misinformation from the President occupied a space that has been the citadel of democracy.” About the ease with which the insurrectionists took over the Capitol it observed, “The contrast with the mass deployments of over 5,000 troops for the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer could not have been more glaring. Then, Washington resembled a city under occupation.”
Through what has been one of the most disturbing days of our history I remain hopeful that we will be able to undo the many wrongs of the last four years and the racism of hundreds of years. I pledge myself to working as hard as I can to make it happen!
Photo via Ken Plum