1/6/21: What happened, why, and what to do
Like others, I’m both shocked and, sadly and simultaneously, not at all surprised by the events that occurred on January 6, 2021. I call the date out with intention as I think this should be a day we all remember, just like how we remember 9/11/2001.
This is my understanding of January 6, 2021.
On 1/6/21, we had an insurrection against US Democracy within the US Capitol, with the explicit goal, at best, of delegitimizing the votes of millions of Americans, seeking to stage an unsuccessful coup over our government [thankfully, few actually in government, particularly our military or the judicial system went along, thus making the word “coup” a stretch], and, at worst, seeking to further drive and catalyze the next Civil War within the United States. This was white terrorism carried out by a mixture of White nationalists, fascists committed to oppressing others, and their accomplices. They were stoked by the sedition of Donald J. Trump1 and the far-right movement, including members of the GOP. They were angered and acting out on falsehoods and their complete loss of trust and faith in anything save Donald J. Trump and the alt-right media.
I chose my words with intention and, simultaneously, I welcome disagreement, such that we can learn and grow together. As it seems insurrection, sedition, and even fascism are gaining recognition, I will justify a few other key words mentioned.
First, white. This was an act mostly of White people as those who carried this out were speaking out using the words, tropes, beliefs, narratives, politics, and economics of white supremacy. They further displayed this through their political identifications via political objects like the confederate flag and MAGA signs and were politically organized among groups espousing to white supremacy and fascism, including a large contingent of the Republican Party and the person, Donald J. Trump. They were supported and reinforced economically to do this via far-right Talk Radio (e.g., Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh), Conspiracy Theories (QAnnon and other derivations evolving from instances like PizzaGate), and likely contributed a great deal of funds to enable Donald J. Trump and his accomplices (e.g., Rudy Guilianni, Donald Trump Jr) to engage in sedition in front of Congress. And, of course, the ideological, political, and economic underpinnings that made 1/6/21 possible did not start with the election of Donald J. Trump. Indeed, this is a logical evolution and very explicit and transparent and easily seen expression of structural racism and white supremacy, as it follows Black oppression and murder of black persons and destruction of black wealth since our founding. It was on full display during that day, as the contrast on the level of police protection, particularly the level of military readiness to use violence and force to counteract the insurrectionists, between this white movement compared to Black Lives protesters was apparent.
Similarly, this white supremacist ideology is part of the patterns of colonialism and the systematic looting of tribal lands, killing and forced movement of indigenous people, such as the trail of tears/death, and their continued treatment as second class citizens, at best, or non-citizens. The history of Japanese concentration camps, the systematic oppression of Chinese individuals who built the railroads, and other examples of dehumanizing people with Asian decent also harkens to the ideology of white supremacy. And, of course, we only need look to recent history to see the myriad examples of white supremacist ideology being invoked and used to subjugate and dehumanize Latinos, such as our recent border crises. In brief, those who NOT are given the political distinction of being white, know first-hand the effects of whiteness, as a political and social concept, on them and our society.
If, after reading this, you do not see the linkages or you question this, I invite you to an NPR podcast, particularly No Compromise, but also Nice White Parents. If you are confused about this moment, that is an excellent place to start if you want to understand whiteness as it exists today and why colorblindness is not the appropriate moral response to this moment.
Second, terrorism. I ask you to consider this. If what you saw happen yesterday were carried out by non-Americans, Arab Americans, Black Americans, or other people of color, what word would you choose? It is baked into white ideology that undergirds much of our language structures we use in America that has us, without thought, use strong words and language with people of color and then placate and resort to euphemism with white people (listen to 1, 2, and 3 for background on how language establishes dominance hierarchies, particularly in the media). Thus, we are loath to put the word “terrorism” and associate it with “white” as the two feel anathema to many Americans. Please look at different definitions of terrorism, including: “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes; the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization; a terrorist method of governing or of resisting a government.” Reading those definitions, I invite any challenges to how what happened on January 6, 2021 cannot be seen as terrorism, save via whitewashing. Now, I also recognize there are counter-arguments to using the phrase white terrorism or white supremacy terrorism related to policing. In brief, the use of terrorism has been used as a way to classically put more power in law enforcement and, thus, we do not wish to further propagate power structures that guide power to the law enforcement. Still though, as per the discussion that brought up the counter-arguments, I personally think white supremacy terror is the right label for what happened, but am very happy to change if someone comes up with better words to use that still convey the gravity of the event. I also want to acknowledge how hard this likely is for many, particularly those reading this who identify or are identified as white.
Recognizing that 1/6/21 was an active form of white terrorism opens the door to the realization that domestic, white terrorism has been a foundational part of this country, from slavery and colonization to today. We only don’t call it terrorism because the people in power are doing the terrorizing. Is that terror not for political reasons though? It’s time we face that reality. We can only move forward when a large enough critical mass in our society faces that reality and doesn’t fall into whitewashing. Thus, anyone who says, “this is not who we are,” doesn’t know who we are, though I hope this moment can be a time to see and face this as a keep step towards a better, more just future for all. Indeed, it is not also only who we are at there are also examples of goodness in the United States. This is a time to face the bad in us and cultivate the good.
How did we get here?
Two essential feedback loops are essential to recognize: the feedback loop between ideology, politics, and economics, and the feedback loop between stories, rage as a secondary emotion that hides the initial harm and masks what’s really going on, and the catharsis of being part of something, defined as a thing that is against something else. The feedback loop of ideology, politics, and economics is the foundation of structural racism and other forms of oppression, and was discussed above, thus I’ll turn to the second feedback loop.
It is clear that the people who stormed the Capitol, and, indeed a large contingent of people who identify as Republican (based on the numbers, probably in the order of around 20–40 million Americans; let that sink in for a moment how many people that is) have been wrapped into a deep web and social context of fictions. They have been set up to see and accept bigger and bigger lies, to the point that, now, the halls of Congress were filled with Republicans like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Jim Jordan, stating that the elections need to be looked into purely because people feel like something was amiss. They are not bringing forth evidence or proof, nor are they acknowledging that all of the allegations that did have some evidentiary value were reviewed in the courts and dismissed. Let that sink in for a moment. This means that our elector system is being challenged based only on a shared feeling like something is wrong, nothing more. As others have said, society cannot function if we only run on feelings. This is exactly what was the fear illustrated so clearly in the dystopian novel, 1984, which was not meant to be a guide for a political party to act but, instead, a word of warning. Sadly, those who are creating “the feeling” simultaneously can sound high-minded in the halls of Congress while ignoring that they are central architects of creating “that feeling,” thus causally linked and complicit in propagating it and, thus, using that feeling to undermine democracy. In brief, they are central architects, along with the right-wing news media, of the big lie they now use as evidence to sidestep democracy. These are indeed, dangerous times.
Digging further, it is essential to ask why people are so ready to accept a big lie and use it to challenge our societal norms all while, deeply ironically, draping themselves in the flag, patriotism, making claims of being a party and people of law and order, and the “true champions” of the Constitution. A key reason for this is that they have lost faith and trust in most of the foundational institutions of America that help people get grounded and connected into community and society. This includes now the Republican party itself. While there are very good epistemological and experiential reasons for this — such as recognition that government has been stalled and incompetent for some time — the main issue is that, a large portion of the United States has lost faith in the United States, self-governance, the rule of law, our values, and principles, and one another. Much like how, with increased recognition of the importance of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, it inspired a need to change a way of life among loggers, so to are there very large changes to work, community, and culture that are making many feeling lost, confused, or abandoned. Those fears, anxieties, and the hurt they feel from these changes are important to acknowledge and to seek to repair. With that, the conversation and discourse right now is not around those primary concerns, fears, wounds, and longings and, instead, it is about rage. Anger is much more comfortable for many to express than loneliness, isolation, feeling lost, or otherwise. Thus, for many individuals, the only people and groups who can be trusted are those who are either as angry, or angrier than themselves. Thus, they don’t want evidence, nor even solutions right now. They want someone to acknowledge their feelings.
In rage we trust.
In this context, Trump was the perfect agent for bringing people together. He brought them together to rage, distrust the “other,” and, simultaneously, find love, care, and community with one another. They have come into the oldest and one of the most powerful way of forming community; create an out group to hate and bound around your shared hatred. From this perspective, QAnnon makes perfect sense as a binding force that justifies bonding over shared “righteous rage.”
While people wrapped up in this must be sequestered and taken out of places of power and privilege to protect themselves and others until they can be de-radicalized and brought back to engaging in civil discourse, grounded in a commitment not merely to opinion but also evidence, observation, history, and context, they are also humans that have lost faith in nearly everything, save rage. Thus, sequestration is an important initial step, but it then must be followed with compassion and work to help them heal, find their place in this changing world and, through that, develop a mature faith — meaning a faith not built on blind acceptance, nor on communing around shared feelings alone, but, instead, one that can endure examination and contemplation when it occurs — in things that are worthy of trust.
What is worthy of trust?
The simple and, simultaneously, almost impossibly difficult answer is:
We the people.
We the people and, by extension, the institutions we create, manage, support, and cultivate are what must become worthy of trust. For all of us who did not storm the Capitol, it is our duty to be worthy of trust. How?
In my view, I think Baratunde Thurston has it right, though, I would choose a slightly different word. We need to civically engage.
Building on Thurston’s ideas, to civically engage is, at the very least, to show up, value the collective, understand power and privilege, and recognize and cultivate the inherent interconnectivities between all humans, particularly those who share space together in a region/estosystem and the rest of life and, with that, commit to strengthening the collective, as a way to strengthen all individuals.
In addition, to civically engage is to fundamentally change your thoughts and beliefs related to politics. Politics, when done appropriately, involves the active listening, engaging, and seeking out pathways of shared benefit between humans. Politics does not have to be about parties, entrenched positions and policies, or socially and economically reinforced identity structures. That is partisanship. We need less partisanship and more politics. The tools of partisanship were meant to help us to organize and civically engage but, in this moment, they are failing us. Thus, we must return to the root of politics. To civically engage. To civically engage is not merely to vote, or to tell your representative what you want, though that is part of it when that is part of your power. To civically engage has nothing to do with ones’ legal status as everyone can civically engage as life worthy of being recognized and supported. To civically engage is to be the change you wish to see in the world.
To civically engage means to engage in radical compassion. A compassion grounded in honoring the inherent dignity and value of all life, human and non-human. It involves engaging in acts of self-compassion to address one’s fears, wounds, and unacknowledged gifts and longings as not doing so can seed us to become vessels of destruction, as we saw on 1/6/21. We must all remember that that capacity to destroy resides in us all. It also involves engaging in acts of compassion for others as a pathway to shared understanding, connection, and convergence of interest. This radical compassion calls us to see the wounds, fears, and longings undergirding the painful actions, thoughts, deeds, and structural inequities people enact out upon, with a desire to heal and, simultaneously, a commitment to justice, including the use of sequestration of those who are hurting themselves and others and, perhaps ironically, laughter to help people to decenter from themselves to see when they are committed to harm instead of life.
To civically engage is to engage in the praxis of our principles. It is not enough to speak about principles like truth, justice, equity, or integrity or to espouse the lofty words in the founding documents. We must engage in the praxis of these principles, meaning to engage in an embodied enactment of these principles each and every day and in each and every moment that we can muster the strength and resolve to do so. For example, it is not enough to talk about truth, one must actively seek it out and commit to learning what has happened, is happening, and could happen, with humility. To this end, a praxis of principles makes logical fallacy arguments that are so commonly used null and void. There are numerous examples of these false arguments but a few common ones include: 1) “the other side” argument, whereby one group should do something bad because “the other side” does it to; 2) the “what about” argument, whereby a person brings up some tangentially related argument about something different, without ever addressing a challenge or concern raised to them; 3) gaslighting, which involves a person doing or saying something that makes the other person question reality, such as the claims among some Republicans that they are champions of the Constitution by using, merely a feeling that something is amiss, not actual evidence, the courts, or all of the other structures of law and order, as justification for delegitimizing an election; or 4) stating an opinion and then stating some variant of “everybody knows this” or, that’s what people say” or some other variant. This invites a notion of something being more true than it likely is. For all of these, when engaging in a praxis of principles, particularly a praxis of truth and justice, it is the principles that guides the discussion, not the actions, beliefs, or norms of others, thus negating all of those ways of arguing. It also is the exact thing that counteracts the current way of using allegations only as evidence. Allegations are not evidence and a praxis of truth makes that obvious. If you ever hear someone use one of these, or these other ones too, they are either intentionally or unintentionally not really engaging in the discussion at hand. Thus, they aren’t engaging in a praxis of truth. It’s important to note that and not let these false arguments distract us from actually committing to acting out ways to seek out truth, advance justice, cultivate equity, and work with integrity.
To civically engage means to seek out understanding. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are an essential part of being informed, such that we can learn how our natural and social worlds work to find, pathways, forward. Journalism, history, the arts, and the humanities are also essential to help us to understand our past, present, and possible desired futures, together. Compassion is an essential way of knowing, as it invites us to be curious and humble when we experience others and to invite us beyond our emotional blindness and, instead to learn how to feel, understand, and even embody the lived experience of others. Finally, mature faith, as an epistemology and not bound to any religion or spiritual practice, is an essential way of knowing. Mature faith is needed for us to recognize, accept, and, even be drawn towards and learn how to trust the great mysteries that are beyond the comprehension of any one person, such as nature or the incredible power of consensus among humans when it is done in a trustworthy way. Without mature faith, again as an epistemology, it can be exceptionally hard to find trust.
If a critical mass collectively chooses to civically engage, then I think we can recreate our old institutions, groups, and communities and create new institutions, groups, and communities that are worthy of trust and that, even the most disaffected among us can find faith and a place within, including the fascists and oppressors and, hopefully, those who have historically been oppressed. In this version, we can live up to a dream of James Baldwin, “I would like us to do something unprecedented; To create ourselves without finding it necessary to create an enemy.”
If we collectively choose to civically engage together, then I also see this as a moment that can catalyze the tidal shift needed to meaningfully and robustly counteract structural racism, oppression, and enormous wealth disparities as well as start to meaningfully address the COVID 19 pandemic, climate change, and collapsing biodiversity. Why? Because it laid bare to so many people — in even greater relief than the COVID19 pandemic — the fictions, lies, destructiveness, and utter emptiness of the ideologies, politics, and economics that incite a person’s experience of being wounded, their fears or their unrequited longings into a force of hate and destruction for themselves and others. This tidal shift must be used to bring the changes we wish to see in the world, for the good of all of us, human and nonhuman.
And, the best way to start being worthy of trust, is to not only speak, but to also do. To bring the positive changes that are needed into society so that all can benefit and create oneself without the need for an enemy. That is the promise of this moment if enough of us choose to civically engage now and rekindle our shared faith in one another, humanity, and nature.
1 I do not think anyone should give Donald J. Trump the respect of being called President ever again; to offer him that title would be a disgrace to the Presidency. I do not ever intend to put that label in front of his name again, out of respect for the Presidency. I will, however, continue to acknowledge that Donald J. Trump is a deeply wounded, fearful, small, isolated, lonely, rageful human being. His deep pain, shamelessness, and rage make it essential that he be fully sequestered and isolated from the rest of humanity for his own sake and the sake of others, along with his accomplices. In that sequestered space, he could then be offered compassion, care and grace to recognize the life within him.