OPINION: Roots of Capitol attack long in the making

A supporter of President Donald Trump carries a Confederate battle flag inside the Capitol building in Washington, as a mob of his supporters protest the presidential election results, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Historians said it was unnerving to see a man carry the flag inside the Capitol, something not even Confederate soldiers were able to do during the Civil War. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
A supporter of President Donald Trump carries a Confederate battle flag inside the Capitol building in Washington, as a mob of his supporters protest the presidential election results, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Historians said it was unnerving to see a man carry the flag inside the Capitol, something not even Confederate soldiers were able to do during the Civil War. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Credit: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Credit: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

It’s taken me a while to process the attempted coup that occurred last week at our nation’s Capitol.

Not because I didn’t see it coming but because so many others apparently didn’t. They said they were surprised, that they didn’t think the president intended to incite a riot.

Surprised? For four years, President Donald Trump and many of his supporters have been showing us who they are.

“The violence in the Capitol only surprised those of us with the naivete of white privilege, no matter how much we eschew it,” said Susan Peppers-Bates, associate professor of philosophy at Stetson University. “After all, America was founded on white supremacy, via native genocide and land theft and African enslavement.”

Indeed, after the Civil War, she said, Southerners used violence and intimidation to undo the gains of Reconstruction and virtually re-enslave Black people via sharecropping, convict leasing and Black codes.

“We did not have a true democracy, even on paper, until after the civil rights movement. And as Michelle Alexander demonstrates in ‘The New Jim Crow,’ white politicians quickly figured out how to use racialized mass incarceration to disenfranchise many African Americans and undermine their newly gained rights,” she said. “White lash has been the response to every forward movement for people of color, often with violence. The attack on the Capitol is simply the latest iteration of entitled white rage and toxic masculinity asserting itself.”

Susan Peppers-Bates is an associate professor of philosophy at Stetson University. Contributed
Susan Peppers-Bates is an associate professor of philosophy at Stetson University. Contributed

“Operation Occupy the Capitol” had been in the works as far back as December when flyers first surfaced on Facebook and Instagram. Heck, Trump himself pinpointed the day, promising it would be wild.

“We will not take it anymore,” he said during his “Save America Rally” last Wednesday before rioters stormed the Capitol. “We will stop the steal.”

And so as members of both houses of Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, Trump’s supporters, those who feared losing their dominance, did his bidding, storming the halls of the Capitol holding the Confederate flag.

Instead of fighting back the mostly white mob, instead of arresting them for attempting a coup to undermine democracy and its ideals of equality, a member of the Capitol police appeared to take selfies with them and at one point other officers appeared to help them remove barricades.

Imagine a mostly Black mob doing the same. The situation would have gone very differently.

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My only hope now is that we will finally deal with the double standard. Not just in the way Black people are treated by police but how we’re treated in general by almost everyone, including by other Black people.

As I sat watching the scene unfolding with the rest of you, I remembered then-candidate Trump referring to Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists; bragging that he could grab women by their private parts and declaring that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

He was right, of course, but that wasn’t even the first sign Trump was trouble.

Well before he became president, he famously refused to rent to Black people, spent $85,000 in newspaper ads that called for the execution of the Central Park Five, Black and Latino teens wrongly accused of raping a white woman, and was one of the loudest voices of the “birther” conspiracy, claiming that then-President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.

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His list of transgressions was beyond number and yet tens of millions of voters elected him anyway.

Many, in fact, have defended him as he insulted minority members of Congress and female journalists who dared to ask him hard questions about his response to the coronavirus pandemic. They cheered as he referred to NFL players protesting racial injustice as “sons of bitches.” And even defended his mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, which by the way has killed more than 370,000 of us.

Now those same people, who winked at the president’s bad behavior, would have us believe they’re shocked domestic terrorism has hit home.

They shouldn’t be. Galatians 6:7 — “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” — still holds true.

Even as I write this, I keep thinking about the Scripture: You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.

I keep thinking about Stacey Abrams’ loss in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race. It didn’t look good then, but what a feat she and the other foot soldiers ultimately pulled off, delivering the state for Biden and ushering in the first Black vice president and the first Black candidate from Georgia to be elected to the Senate in the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

And in October when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ignoring the impact COVID-19 has had on the American people, refused to even negotiate a relief package that would ease the suffering but rushed to approve Trump’s third nomination to the Supreme Court, it didn’t look too good.

Well, a mostly Republican Supreme Court dismissed the president’s challenge to the election. And a second round of stimulus relief was eventually approved last month.

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You may have seen a mix of circumstance. I saw God moving. I saw a set back for a set up. For good.

For over a month, President Trump took every opportunity at his disposal to undermine the validity of our elections, to stir up anger in his followers, and then finally will them to stage a coup. He spewed hatred, then made excuses for the actions of his supporters and he did it over and over and over again. No one said anything, did anything.

Even last February when Democrats sought to hold him accountable for his actions, the Senate refused to remove him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

“Sadly, many Americans were just fine with Trump’s racism and misogyny, and thought that somehow democratic norms would constrain a man determined to destroy them,” Peppers-Bates said. “Five deaths later, they are beginning to realize that they were very, very wrong. As long as our nation does not dismantle the continuing framework of systematic racism, we are at risk of demagogues exploiting the poison lurking in so many white citizens’ souls in order to rise to power.”

And so here we are, America. Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, in the land of freedom and opportunity.

Well, is that what we are or not? Are we a democracy or not? It’s time we decide.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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