“I am asking for confidentiality. Feel free to pass this on. I was there.”
So began Frank (not his real name), who contacted me shortly after arriving home from the craziness at the Capitol Building on January 6. He was there, right outside the walls of the free-for-all. Except for Frank, and for most others on the grounds that day, this was not a free-for-all. That’s why he reached out to me. Frank wants people to know what he saw at the so-called “insurrection,” and to know that the vast majority of people rallying in Washington that day were not there to march into the Capitol Building.
“I made it to the front right up against the barricades around 1:30 pm,” he began his email.
In fact, that wasn’t hard to do. Frank rather nonchalantly sent me photos he took outside the Capitol Building. I was immediately struck by the huge bleacher-like stands for people to peacefully gather. I asked Frank, “Are those stands of people outside the Capitol Building? In other words, was there seating/standing that had been set up outside the Capitol Building?” His email reply: “Yes, these are the people outside the capitol building.”
In other words, the people outside the building (not those inside or climbing on it) had not trespassed there. There was seating (or standing) set up for them there. Most remained there. They didn’t dash inside.
“We were fist bumping and chatting with the police. Almost everyone was cheerful,” Frank said. “They call it violence? We weren’t doing violence. We were chanting, singing the star spangled banner, calling on people to stop the fraudulent election results.”
Let’s pause there. Whether you agree or disagree with that characterization is beside the point. Read on.
“Violence?” wrote Frank with a laugh at the prospect of “65+ year old grandmas and grandpas (including me) needing help to cross the walls.” He quipped that because of his bladder issues, he couldn’t have even hung around for coffee or tea if he wanted.
“There may have been a couple antifa buttheads doing violence,” he continued, “but I didn’t witness any.”
Further, Frank and his wife were “very pissed off at the lying media reports we watched from our hotel room after the event.” (For a similar reaction from an eyewitness, see Matt Keener’s American Spectator piece from Monday.)
Again, we can argue with these details, but here’s Frank’s greatest frustration, which explains why he went to Washington that day: “But obviously, we have failed in conveying the message by normal means. We may have had some instigators in our midst today, but the VAST majority of us were not there committing violence!”
Frank believed that actually “the problems were initially triggered by a couple trigger happy police” (I can’t confirm that), though he hastens to add: “Most of them [the police] were doing their jobs, and we were chatting with them on the front line. And we made no effort to scale the wall.”
This report from Frank is one of several I’ve gotten from people who were at that rally, though he was the only one who happened to be right there at the Capitol walls. He was not there to engage in violence.
What happened was serious, a big deal. Do not downplay or understate it, but don’t overplay or overstate it. Above all, cease and desist with all overheated rhetoric.
It has been a week since the incident at the Capitol Building in which a disturbing number of Trump supporters unacceptably breached the building and stomped inside. In the ensuing days, the incident has been analogized to nothing less than the Storming of the Bastille and the Burning of the Reichstag. We expect liberals to use such rhetoric. It’s interesting, however, to watch even Republicans and conservatives engage in over-the-top and even incendiary descriptions.
Former California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the event to Kristallnacht. Yes, you read that right.
“Wednesday was the day of broken glass right here in the United States,” Schwarzenegger averred, no doubt to the delight of Hollywood liberals. “The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. But the mob did not just shatter the windows of the Capitol. They shattered the ideas we took for granted.”
To Arnold, an Austrian, I ask: Good grief, man, do you know what a Stormtrooper was? To compare this to the Night of Broken Glass trivializes the brute madness of lunatics who turned the corpses of Jews into soap. Strutting MAGA guys with tattoos, no matter one’s distaste for them, must not be compared to the uniformed Gestapo who ran places like Auschwitz.
For that matter, do not call this a “coup.” A valued academic colleague of mine (I’ll leave him nameless) was far from unique in calling it just that.
“This is an attempted coup,” he said, “the foreseeable and predictable result of President Donald Trump, his lawyers and his allies, including some particularly craven members of Congress, spending the last two months repeating spurious claims of election fraud, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.”
Prominent Never Trumper David French came up with maybe the strangest description of all, dubbing the moment a “Christian insurrection.”
“I’m going to be honest,” wrote French. “I can’t shake the sadness. I can’t shake the anger. We have to be clear about what happened in Washington D.C. on January 6th. A violent Christian insurrection [emphasis original] invaded and occupied the Capitol.”
To all of this, I say, enough. Stop it. Basta. I beg my colleagues to please be more precise with their language — tone down rather than ratchet up a bad situation that needs sobered up. This, ladies and gentlemen, was not the Reichstag fire.
Worse, our incoming president, Joe Biden the Healer, has done nothing to calm the waters. After taking aim at the “riotous mob” of “domestic terrorists” — directly charging Donald Trump with “inciting a mob to attack the Capitol” — the incoming president himself groped for some Nazi analogies. He generously added Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley to his Trump–Goebbels category. “They’re part of the big lie, the big lie,” stammered Biden, as liberals swooned over their new healer. “I was being reminded by a friend of mine, and maybe you were with me, I can’t recall, when we told that, you know, Goebbels and the great lie, you keep repeating the law, repeating the lie.”
Gee, thanks, Joe. That’s how you calm things.
But Biden wasn’t finished. In his most recklessly divisive charge all week, he racialized the toxic situation. “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesters yesterday that they wouldn’t have been treated very differently than the mob that stormed the Capitol,” Biden proclaimed. “We all know that’s true — and it’s unacceptable.”
Think that one over. Joe Biden wasn’t casting aspersions on MAGA mobs or the Orange Man or Ted “Goebbels” Cruz. No, this nasty charge could only have been directed at D.C. police officers (many of whom are black) and authorities.
Biden’s crude assessment was flagged by our founding editor-in-chief, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., in his post this week withdrawing his longtime support for Donald Trump: “Mr. President-elect, this is a time for healing, not a time for waving the bloody shirt,” Tyrrell wrote. Amen to that.
Biden was not alone in making this a racial issue. That same arrow at the D.C. police was slung by Michelle Obama. “What if these rioters had looked like the folks who go to Ebenezer Baptist Church every Sunday?” said the former first lady. “What would have been different?”
What Michelle Obama and Joe Biden are saying of D.C. law enforcement officials is just awful.
Yet another Democrat leader, Chuck Schumer, lunged for Pearl Harbor analogies. “President Franklin Roosevelt set a day aside that will live in infamy,” observed Schumer. “Unfortunately, we can now add January 6, 2021, to that very short list of dates in American history that will live forever in infamy.”
What Schumer is really telling us there is his goal: to try to equate the event with December 7, 1941. That is, the event that brought America into a world war.
Heck, why not call it another 9/11?
Actually, that’s being done. Professor Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, described by Insider Higher Ed magazine as a “scholar of democracy,” described the event at the Capitol as “another 9/11 attack on the U.S. government by terrorists.” He said that “the attackers are motivated by xenophobia, racism and hate” and equated them with the beheaders of Al-Qaeda. Actually, that apparently wasn’t extreme enough for Suri, who went much further, equating the GOP leadership with Al-Qaeda: “Today’s terrorism is at the heart of the Republican Party, which now, in much of its leadership, has become a white supremacist Al Qaeda.”
Alas, a “white supremacist Al Qaeda.” That’s the Republican Party leadership?
Does Suri know what Al Qaeda did? What it was? Its bombings and beheadings? Can you imagine a statement more outrageous?
Again, how’s this for healing? This is terrible hyperbole that merely fans the flames of a fiery situation.
So, how to best characterize the fiasco of January 6?
For starters, and needless to say, this was absolutely in no way akin to Kristallnacht or Pearl Harbor or 9/11. The favored word choice by the collective liberal media now seems to be “insurrection.” I don’t know that I would go quite that far either. Granted, Merriam-Webster defines insurrection as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government” — which may indeed describe the mentality and behavior of those who went inside the Capitol Building, though it still seems too much. (See Shmuel Klatzkin’s American Spectator piece calling this application of the term “insurrection” the “overstatement of the year.” Likewise adamantly objecting to this term, and especially the Nazi comparisons, is Dennis Prager.) As a historian and someone who has spent his academic career studying foreign policy, I can say that this isn’t what we would typically label an insurrection. When I think of an insurrection, I envision fires at least (i.e., the leftist riots this past summer), guns, bombs, Molotov cocktails. Not only were those who mobbed inside the Capitol on January 6 unarmed, but I doubt many of the “insurrectionists” even had pocket knives.
We can debate the semantics of how one defines an insurrection. That’s fine. But here’s the key: the tens of thousands (I’ve heard estimates as high as 45,000, and some much higher still) who were at the Capitol last week don’t collectively fit the profile of mass “insurrectionists.” But as I write, that seems to be the consensus label. It will probably stick. Ideologues wanting to politically exploit last week’s ugliness will ensure it.
Let me state this emphatically: Everyone must condemn the ugly scene inside the Capitol on January 6. Rightly denounce it as egregious, and arrest anyone who deserves to be arrested. Above all, condemn the needless violence and tragic and unnecessary loss of life. What happened was serious, a big deal. Do not downplay or understate it, but don’t overplay or overstate it. Above all, cease and desist with all overheated rhetoric.
The email that I received from Frank was prompted by his outrage at being called names like these, after five years of already being referred to as everything from a “deplorable” to a “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” because of his support of Donald Trump. And it didn’t start with Trump. Frank, a business owner, supported the Tea Party movement — a group that bafflingly was immediately smeared as “racist” by liberals despite the fact that it was a low-taxes, limited-government, largely free-market/libertarian-leaning movement. Frank is so sick of it that he joined a huge crowd last week to voice his frustrations. He sought to do so peacefully, and he absolutely didn’t barge into the House chambers and stake a claim at Nancy Pelosi’s desk. And what is he being compared to? Everything from a Nazi Stormtrooper to a terrorist to a white nationalist to an insurrectionist.
Gee, do you think he’ll feel less frustrated now? He was already tired of being smeared. The vitriol being slung his way is being amplified to an even higher decibel.
Those pundits piling on guys like Frank are often doing so at least in part for political reasons. For conservatives, it’s to understandably separate themselves from bad actors on the right and emphatically prove to liberals that they do not support such disorder. For Never Trumpers, it’s to further justify their dire warnings about Trump. For liberals, the goal is to further demonize Donald Trump and to silence dissenters and anyone who going forward who dares to question the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election victory (that’s quite ironic, given that liberals daily since 2016 openly questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s victory, and, as Rachel Bovard points out, Democrats have objected to certifying electors as recently as 1969, 2000, 2005, and 2017).
But one need not cancel or begin reprisals against every single person who attended that rally on January 6. Literally over 99 percent of them did not charge into the Capitol Building and likely had no desire to do so. Don’t smear every single one of them as violent insurrectionists.
As Frank rightly put it to me, it was a “very small group” of people on January 6 that lost it (hundreds at the most, out of tens of thousands). Let’s not lose it as well. If we want to bring back civility, and above all cool the incendiary public discourse, then we all need to watch our actions and language.
It’s time for everyone to return to decency. Please.