Erasing January 6th
On June 10, 1963, a handful of protesters picketed the Danville, Va., City Hall following the mistreatment of activists who were demanding the city government change its hiring practices to hire Black people. Under a mayor known as a staunch segregationist, the police attacked the protestors and arrested them. Later that day, a larger group of protesters led by a local minister, Rev. Lawrence Campbell, marched to the city jail where the picketers were being held. They were met with even worse violence. The police deputized sanitation workers, and turned fire hoses on the crowd. “Some were washed under the cars; others were clubbed after the water knocked them down,” recalled Dorothy Miller, an activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). “Bodies lay on the street, drenched and bloody.” The violence drove outrage and national attention as part of the broader national civil rights movement.
But as a young white man growing up in a conservative, Southern Baptist family outside of Danville just two decades later, the number of times I heard about these events, which came to be known as Bloody Monday, was exactly zero. It was hardly discussed in our schools, or mentioned in the white community. Nor was the Danville Massacre 80 years before it — when white men shot indiscriminately at Black citizens after a minor altercation. Over the years, I’ve talked about these events with other white classmates- none recall ever being told these stories. But my Black classmates learned the true history of our community in their churches. The erasure was nearly complete, until local activists involved in today’s racial justice movement were able to finally place a historic marker. I think about it quite a lot: the sinister power of white supremacy to assert false narratives or simply disappear events that are counter to its interests.
Is something similar already starting to happen with the January 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol? Just three months since that gruesome day, are we witnessing the early stages of the erasure of the violence from the minds of Trump-supporting Republicans? Or is it something even more sinister: the complete fictionalization of the history of the event into something for which its participants should be proud?
There is certainly cause for concern. Consider some recent data:
- A little more than half of Republicans believe the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6 were either “peaceful, law-abiding citizens or were left-wing activists who were trying to make former President Donald Trump look bad, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll,” reports Huffington Post. 6 in 10 believe the Big Lie: that the election was indeed stolen.
- Donald Trump has advanced these false claims, arguing his supporters represented “zero threat” and that he observed them merely “hugging and kissing the police,” despite the reality that five people were killed, including a Capitol Police officer, and hundreds were injured.
- In a Pew poll, most Republican respondents say the January 6 insurrection is getting too much attention.
- White nationalist news figures like Tucker Carlson continue to gaslight audiences about the events of January 6.
- Want more? Watch Donie O’Sullivan interview Trump supporters at Trump National Doral this weekend. One asks, “what is so terrible about conspiracy theories anyway?”
All of this comes as researchers continue to add ever more granular evidence proving what was apparent on the day: the assault on the Capitol, and on the election’s outcome more generally, was a white supremacist project. Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, conducted an analysis of 377 Americans arrested or charged in the Capitol insurrection- individuals hailing from 250 counties in 44 states. Perhaps predictably, he found them to be 85% male and 95% white. But:
… by far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists’ backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges…. Put another way, the people alleged by authorities to have taken the law into their hands on Jan. 6 typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest.
Indeed, in subsequent opinion polling to understand the roots of the rage that drove the events on January 6th, Pape found one fear most substantial — and it will not surprise readers of this newsletter much to learn that it is indeed fear of the “Great Replacement,” the notion that Black and Brown people are replacing white people in America through immigration and higher fertility. The other significant driver? “Extensive social media exposure,” reported Pape. “We cannot presume it will blow over,” he writes. “The ingredients exist for future waves of political violence, from lone-wolf attacks to all-out assaults on democracy, surrounding the 2022 midterm elections.”
He’s not alone in issuing such a warning. “History shows that burying violence creates the conditions for its repetition,” wrote Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an NYU historian and expert on illiberal figures such as Mussolini, earlier this week. “If there is no accountability for Jan. 6, we can be sure that unscrupulous elements within the GOP will take that as a green light for them to try other lawless maneuvers in the future in order to return to power — and stay there. The time to set the record straight is now.”
This is one reason why it is so important for Congress to pursue a thorough investigation into all of the events that led to the siege at the Capitol — from the role of Donald Trump and the aides and family that helped him push the Big Lie to the politicians who so cynically and vocally supported it, from the media figures who propagated the lies to the social media platforms that pumped it into the feeds of millions. Racial injustice and white supremacy thrive in a medium of lies and disinformation; we need a complete account of January 6, and we need public hearings and the production of documents to stamp out untruths and educate the public. Nancy Pelosi’s draft bill to create a National Commission has its pluses and minuses — but in the long run, the nation needs the truth.
- On Friday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum to establish a Countering Extremism Working Group (CEWG). Led by Bishop Garrison, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Defense on Human Capital and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the CEWG will seek to counter extremism in the media by updating policies and commissioning an extremism study to get “greater fidelity on the scope of the problem” of extremism in the armed forces.
- Want to learn more about the January 6th Capitol Hill Siege and extremism in the military? Join the Program on Extremism at George Washington University for an event on Monday, April 12th at 10:00 AM via Zoom. Register here
- The RAND Corporation released a report on violent extremism in America based on interviews with ‘former extremists and their family members, representing 32 unique stories of 24 white supremacists and eight Islamic extremists.” The report looks at a variety of drivers of extremism, ranging from ideology to the addictive nature of extremist activity online, and indeed physical violence.
- Google Blocks Advertisers from Targeting Black Lives Matter YouTube Videos: “Black power” and “Black Lives Matter” can’t be used to find videos for ads, but “White power” and “White lives matter” were just fine, reports The Markup
- China’s Techno-Authoritarianism Has Gone Global: Washington needs to offer an alternative, reports Maya Wang in Foreign Affairs
- Covid-19 Fuels Inequality, Political Divide, Authoritarianism World-Wide, U.S. Intelligence Analysts Say, reports the Wall Street Journal
- Facebook will not notify more than 530 million users exposed in 2019 breach, reports The Guardian
- Emails between NYPD and controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI obtained by FOIL request prompt questions, reports …. me! …. in Tech Policy Press
- Amid a rising mental health crisis, Stanford researchers find many social media companies are simply ignoring posts about self-harm, reports Platformer
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I know that this was a pretty heavy newsletter and this may be all of the political turmoil and outrage you can handle this week, but I ask you to consider this ranking of the Muppets put together by NPR based on reader votes. Seriously, what kind of monster would rank Sweetums over Count von Count? Who the hell is Janice? And how is Fozzie Bear more popular than the Swedish Chef? I’m livid about it all.
That’s it for me this week — Greg Greene (not a muppet) will send the next newsletter in two weeks’ time. Until then: stay cool.