Bearing Witness: Capitol Riot Aftermath


Noah Edelman, Editor in Chief

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. 

Do justly now, 

love mercy now, 

walk humbly now. 

You are not obligated to complete the work,

 but neither are you free to abandon it.”

The Talmud


On a cloudy January morning in the nation’s capital, President Donald Trump was set to make an appearance and speech at a large protest named the “Save America Rally,” in support of his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Perhaps only he himself knew what would transpire only hours later. In this largely maskless and white gathering of supporters, there was an air of anticipation. Mr. Trump took the stage to raucous applause, and swiftly began adding fuel to the fire. He urged the mob below to “fight like hell,” Trump added a dangerous ultimatum onto this, “And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Rife with lies and fear-mongering, Mr. Trump’s speech raised eyebrows as it was being given. The world started to sweat a little when he urged his mob to march down to the Capitol building, where members of Congress were busy certifying the electoral votes and Joe Biden’s victory. The President, in a moment of palpable desperation, boasted the protesters would be “going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Emboldened by the speech, at around 1pm Eastern time, a massive group of angry, delusional, and heavily armed Trumpists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and began swarming outside of the Capitol. Capitol Police were few and far between, much to the horror of those watching. The few officers manning the metal barriers were assaulted with various chemical irritants and bludgeoned with lead pipes, and those who were not face to face with an officer were setting up ladders and scaling the walls. 

Easily overrun, Capitol Police were forced to retreat and call for help. The National Guard was contacted. And for the first time since the War of 1812, violence had infiltrated the Capitol. The world watched in disbelief as the Trumpist mob shattered windows and battered in doors. As rioters were flooding into the building, several things were occurring. Outside below the steps of the Capitol, rioters defaced  an armored police vehicle  placing a sign reading “[Nancy] Pelosi is Satan” on the windshield. Also outside, the mob erected wooden gallows with tied nooses hanging from them. 

Within the mob itself, rioters were carrying confederate flags, plastic handcuffs (ostensibly to take hostages), chemical agents, and weapons. Rioters were wearing swastikas, 6MWE shirts (“Six Million Wasn’t Enough,” a reference to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust), and military armored gear. Chanting voices echoed down the halls, screaming “Hang Mike Pence,” and young interns ran for cover. Almost immediately, the Vice President was ushered out of the Senate chamber by the Secret Service. Members of Congress either were evacuated to secure locations or sheltered in place. Those who left the chamber donned gas masks. 

The United States entered a state of limbo. The mob roamed the Capitol, defacing art, ransacking offices, snapping photos with policemen, and searching for politicians. A group of rioters lowered the American flag hanging on the exterior of the building, let it fall to the ground, and cheers rose from the crowd as they raised a Trump flag in its place. There was an eerie atmosphere of a party within the mob. Rioters were relaxing in congressional offices, live streaming, smoking weed, and taking souvenirs. Thirteen Republican legislators from various states were spotted participating in the insurrection.

Three improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found, one at the Capitol, one at the Democratic National Committee, and one at the Republican National Committee. Later searches also uncovered a vehicle stocked with guns and Molotov cocktails near the Capitol. By this time, armed FBI, National Guard, and state police forces had entered the building and began to clear the Capitol. It took 3 hours. During this, President-elect Biden made a statement, denouncing the mob and directly calling on Mr. Trump to put an end to what he started. A little while later, Trump posted a video on his Twitter. In this video, he tells the mob to go home, but also that he “loves them” and they “are very special.” As most of the video was spent talking about the “fraudulent” election, the insurrection taking place seemed like an afterthought.

This video in particular would set off a chain reaction of technological drama. It was quickly removed from Twitter, as it seemed to make things worse. Later that day, Mr. Trump’s account itself was suspended for 12 hours. With Trump silenced, police quickly completed clearing and securing the Capitol, setting up an unscalable barrier around the building. By the time Congress was ready to continue its certification, it was 8pm. The results were certified, and after debating and rejecting Republican objections, Joe Biden’s 4am victory confirmation felt that much sweeter. National Guard were deployed to monitor D.C. through Inauguration Day, and the world slept.

The following morning, an internet firestorm raged . Comparisons in policing between the Capitol riots and the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer painted a picture of stark, undeniable inequality. Many users online expressed the common belief that if people of color had stormed the Capitol, they would have been massacred. 

Mr. Trump would have his Twitter account back for only a few hours, tweeting that he would not be attending Mr. Biden’s inauguration and another video statement in which he is visibly reading off a teleprompter and his tone of voice is forced. However, in this video, for the first time, Mr. Trump conceded the election, confirming that there will be a new administration. While he never actually mentioned Mr. Biden by name, Americans took what they could get.

Extremists began deleting their Twitter accounts and moving to an unmoderated app called Parler. Moderate Republicans expressed shame and still received threats for denouncing the President. Upon realizing that social media platforms were being used to plot more attacks, Mr. Trump was permanently banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Reddit, and even Pinterest. Parler servers crashed because of millions of new accounts being made, and personal research confirms that active planning of violence was taking place. On January 8, Google Play removed it from their store and Apple issued a warning that if the app did not implement some form of moderation, it would be removed. No such moderation was even thought about at Parler. Apple removed it from their store, and Amazon Web Services removed it from their servers, taking the app offline in its entirety. 

Remaining Republican commentators have called the move “Orwellian,” in reference to George Orwell, the author of the famous science-fiction novel 1984, in which an authoritarian government represses free thought. The difference here is that Twitter, Apple, Amazon, etc. are all private companies who reserve the right to determine the rules of their platform and refuse service for any reason. Somehow, ultra-capitalist Republicans have failed to understand this. Calls have come from far and wide to invoke the 25th Amendment in the Constitution, which allows the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet to remove an “unfit” President. Reportedly, Mr. Pence is not interested in this option at the moment, as three White House staffers and two cabinet members have already resigned. Due to this, Congress has introduced new articles of impeachment, in what Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders describes as “setting precedent.”

Democracies around the world commented and denounced the actions of the mob. Interestingly, countries in which the United States has intervened in political processes made comments calling the US hypocritical. With the eyes of the world fixed on them, the FBI has started possibly the largest manhunt in recent history, using advanced facial recognition and public attention to track down each identifiable rioter. The largest flight attendants’ union also collaborated with the FBI to ensure that those involved do not flee, or board an airplane. There are many videos circulating of airport arrests (#NoFlyList).

This is an event that we will never forget. It is likely our grandchildren will learn about this. It is a profoundly strange feeling to witness history. With extremist views being pushed back to the dark corners of the internet, now is the time for healing. Shake hands with a member of the opposite party or someone with different views than you, separate their personality from their ideology. Practice tolerance and open your mind to the experiences of another. The Capitol riots were a product of 4 years of deep division, and now we must look forward and appreciate democracy just a little bit more. Fight for what you believe in, but do it with collaboration instead of elimination in mind.