When the first clips of Trumpian extremists scuffling with United States Capitol Police crossed my Twitter feed, I considered grabbing my notebook, pen and recorder and heading down to the Hill. I know the place pretty well. I’ve reported there, taken meetings there, protested there, reported on meetings there — even reported on protests of meetings there. And as a denizen of the Fourth Estate, going to the scene of the crime felt instinctual.
So, I texted my mother, informed a few friends, got dressed and took a look in the mirror: a brown man with long hair in black pants, black hoodie, black coat, black toque, black mask and even black gloves wielding the telltale instruments of a journalist. I looked like Antifa, or maybe a reporter from the left-wing alternative media collective Unicorn Riot, which is to say that I met just about every criterion for a beatdown from the right-wing Proud Boys: a minority, left-wing member of the press. After giving it a thought, I texted my mom to let her know that I had reconsidered my reportorial excursion. “Thank you,” she responded. “Could get very bad.”
Instead, like most of the rest of the country — and probably much of the world — I watched the insurrection unfold on social media and cable news. Here’s how bad the blow-by-blow looked from my couch. At about 1:30 in the afternoon, a colleague alerted my work slack that a mob was storming the Capitol Building with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” In an internet minute, the red-capped, pale-faced right-wingers overwhelmed the cops, scaled the steps of the legislature and were at the doors. A video taken inside showed the horde banging on an entrance and busting in the windows, like a column of Uruk-hai at the gates of Helm’s Deep.
Then they were swarming the lower and upper chambers. Tear gas filled the rotunda lined with busts and portraits of American statesmen. Members of Congress and their staff, we soon learned, were evacuated. A quick-thinking aide hustled the mahogany chests filled with electoral college ballots certifying president-elect Joe Biden the winner of November’s election through the tunnels below the Capitol to a secure location alongside the legislators. Soon, it was reported that a truck full of guns, ammunition and the material to make Molotov cocktails was discovered near the premises. Pipe bombs had also been planted at the headquarters of both the Democratic and Republican parties. A woman was shot and died on the scene. Insurrectionists trashed lawmakers’ offices, posing for pictures at the head of the Senate Chamber and in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
On the far side of the Capitol building, the mob turned its attention on the news crews. “Fuck the mainstream media!” someone yelled into a bullhorn, as a man started smashing equipment with a flag. “Get out of here!”
The National Guard — called upon by both the Senate minority leader and the leader of the House of Representatives, according to the Washington Post — was nowhere to be found.
On the far-right network One America News, the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani described the mob’s reaction as “proportionate to the situation.” Trump soon posted his own video to Twitter, as he is wont to do, repeating false claims of election fraud while urging his supporters to be peaceful. “I know how you feel,” said the president. “But go home, and go home in peace.”
Not long after, a clip showed a police officer holding the left half of a double door open so that a line of rioters could walk out of the ransacked legislature. Someone had scrawled “MURDER THE MEDIA” on the right side of the exit.
“Next time we come back, we won’t be peaceful,” shouted one man, triumphantly.
As #Trump's foot soldiers invaded the Capitol, @jnoisecat wonders, "Can this nation really be saved? And does it even deserve to be?"
“We’re getting our country back baby!” exclaimed another
“Let’s go get a beer, and then come back,” responded a third.
“Next time we come back, we’re going to be armed!” said someone else, off camera.
“We will never give up, we will never concede,” the president told these same rioters at the Save America March rally earlier that morning. “You never concede when there’s theft involved.”
I must admit that I, too, thought America could be saved. Not from some phony notion of a rigged election, but from the hatred of white mobs like this one. Perhaps that was naïve of me. I am, after all, Indigenous. These United States were stolen from First Nations, much like mine, through waves of state-sanctioned genocide that spanned centuries. I grew up in the city that gave birth to the Black Panthers. And I was in high school when a cop shot Oscar Grant in the back, point-blank, at the Fruitvale Bart station, five miles from my childhood home. I know — I feel — this nation’s unrepented sins. And my writing and reporting, if not my identity, always bring me back to them.
But I have long held out hope that those wrongs could somehow, someway — maybe through marches and in laws, be righted. When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, my mother made a beaded medallion based on Shepard Fairey’s iconic poster of our first Black president. I went off to college and then graduate school, got educated because I believed that despite this nation’s flaws, if I armed myself with knowledge, I could make a difference. The last several months, I organized everyone I could to help elevate Rep. Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo to become the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary. And on Tuesday night I watched in glee as a Jewish man and a Black reverend — the pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s former congregation, no less — won both United States Senate seats in the state of Georgia.
I have always had my doubts about this country — its cowardice in the face of its unreconciled truths; the way that it clings to myths designed to soothe the masses like bedtime stories; the conceit of its shackled freedoms, unrepresentative democracy, forestalled justice and sham equality. But those same doubts have pushed me to write, organize and agitate for change — to join in the long tradition of people like me fighting for our dignity and our due on this plundered land.
But if, at the ripe age of 27 in the year of our Lord 2021, I, a Native man and journalist, could not safely venture down to the Capitol to do my job because of an insurrection incited by lies from the head of state, I have to ask myself: Can this nation really be saved? And does it even deserve to be? Indigenous and Black people have been forced to flee in the face of lawless white mobs since before this republic was founded. How far have we come, really?
After the mob was cleared and order was restored to the Capitol, I tuned into CSPAN to watch Congress return to the business of confirming Joe Biden’s victory in the electoral college. About an hour into a debate triggered by eight Republican senators’ objections to the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, which was backed by 139 conservative members of the House of Representatives, I closed my laptop in disgust. By midnight, the truth of the election may have prevailed, but my doubts and fears remain.