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The Capitol Hill riot was not a coup. It was an attempt to preserve white supremacy

To pin the woes of this republic on Trump is to buy into the myth of American democracy, a dream that is manufactured in the exact halls that were raided on Wednesday
A supporter of US President Donald Trump protests in the US Capitol Rotunda on 6 January, 2021 (AFP)

On Wednesday, hundreds of President Donald Trump supporters forced their way into buildings on Capitol Hill, the seat of the US government and bastion of American democracy, to try and stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency.

On their way, the armed militia shattered windows and vandalised lawmakers’ offices. Four people died, including one woman who died from a gunshot wound in circumstances still unclear; 52 were arrested for offences including possession of unlicensed weapons and unlawful entry. 

Outside the buildings on Capitol Hill, protesters who had come to show their support for their commander-in-chief carried American and Confederate flags; they shouted slogans and held banners calling November's election results fraudulent as directed by Trump.

Three hours later, the standoff on Capitol Hill was eventually put to rest. Fearing further trouble, Washington DC was placed on a 12-hour city-wide curfew.

'Un-American'

While the incident made headlines around the globe, drawing alarm as well as comic relief from those used to being lectured on democracy and the rule of law by American politicians, much of the outrage in the US - led by President-elect Joe Biden - appeared to hinge on how "un-American" the episode had been.

The storming of Capitol Hill demonstrated how white America remains so entitled and so protected

It was a lament repeated from pretty much all sides of the political establishment, the media and the pundit class. "Imagine what this looks like to the rest of the world," wrote Ben Rhodes, former aide to President Barack Obama. "This isn’t Kabul, this is America," an ABC correspondent said during a live report.

But the incident was the most fundamental attestation of America’s soul. 

It demonstrated, without any equivocation, how white America remains so entitled, so protected, that they could literally march fully armed into the house of government, break down doors, torment government officials and be treated as disturbed patriots rather than criminals.

Reports suggest that the police attempted to block their paths, including using teargas. Other reports indicate that the police didn’t try hard enough. Multiple sources show the police took selfies with the militia.

'Myth of America'

It also provided a snapshot of the undying myth that is America.

"This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic - not our democratic republic," former US President George W Bush said in response to Wednesday's incident. That Bush, a member of America’s premier US political dynasty and responsible for US-led state terrorism in Iraq, would insinuate that an election dispute "belongs some place else” (and gets to be quoted seriously on the matter) is an absurdity in itself. The US-invasion led to at least 500,000 deaths.

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In their attempts to explain the tumultuous turn of events on the Hill, the "Banana Republic" trope would be repeated endlessly by the American media, too, showcasing how historical amnesia has come to be a permanent American condition.

For anyone in policy or the media world to express disbelief that the storming of Capitol Hill could happen in America is odd, given how much the same America tramples on its most disenfranchised communities every day. 

It is this same America that sustains the gun lobby, the Christian right and Israeli lobby. It is the same America that peddles in antisemitism and Islamophobia that has led to a rise in hate crimes in the country. It is the same America that allows corporations to run riot over people’s health and livelihoods. 

Under Trump, the Covid-19 virus has killed more than 357,000 people, mostly Black and brown people, many of whom were working-class or essential workers - erased by their ethnicity and poverty. And there is still no plausible relief for those left behind. Why then is it especially embarrassing or egregious that a group of white supremacists would march into government given they are the government? 

Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stand after to reading the final certification of Electoral College votes cast in November's presidential election during a joint session of Congress, after working through the night, at the Capitol on January 7, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stand after to reading the final certification of Electoral College votes at the Capitol on ON 7 January (AFP)

In truth, this was not an attempted coup as some have described it. They hadn't come to threaten the moral basis of America; they had come to preserve it. By all accounts, as terrifying as they may have been, they were little more than peons of the white supremacist state itself. 

Why else would they not be subject to disproportionate use of force as we see in protests against racism? They walked past the police on their way out.

'Stop looking away'

“This is not America. No, it is not. It’s the United States' history of slavery, mass incarceration, immigrant detention and exploitation, white supremacy and patriarchy, voter suppression and disenfranchisement,” Melissa Castillo Planas, an assistant professor in English at Lehman College in New York City, wrote.

Getting rid of Trump won’t accelerate the return to an America everyone fondly remembers

“Stop looking away. We are not a democracy and never have been,” Planas added.

On Wednesday evening, Democrat lawmakers said it was time to ensure that Trump was impeached and ousted immediately. Representative Ilhan Omar said it was “a matter of preserving the republic”. Omar has been at the receiving end of vile and life-threatening attacks from Trump and his supporters. However, violence against lawmakers - even presidents - didn’t begin with Trump. This is a republic founded on violence.

Even at this stage, to pin the woes of the republic on Trump is to hanker once again for the American dream, a dream that is manufactured in the exact halls that were raided on Wednesday. It is to imagine, again, that Trump and his supporters are an aberration, a blip in the system.

Getting rid of Trump won’t accelerate the return to an America everyone fondly remembers.

Because that America does not exist.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Azad Essa | Senior Reporter
Azad Essa is a senior reporter for Middle East Eye based in New York City. He worked for Al Jazeera English between 2010-2018 covering southern and central Africa for the network. He has written for the Washington Post, Foreign Policy and others. He is the author of the 'The Moslems are Coming' (Harper Collins India) and 'Zuma's Bastard' (Two Dogs Books). He was a visiting Nieman Fellow in 2019.