I wrote yesterday that we shouldn’t compare the riot at the U.S. Capitol with the riots over the summer “for whatever reason,” and I need to walk that back. I’ve heard from several people in a way that’s forced me to think harder. The comparisons are inevitable, and it makes no sense to say it “isn’t useful” to think about them, as I said.
My point of reference for the summer riots is, of course, Minneapolis. I lived a mile from where George Floyd was killed, and learned later I was getting ice cream at Dairy Queen 10 blocks away at the very moment he was being handcuffed. My kids and I marched for a little while with the crowd that started at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue the next afternoon. I saw the protesters light the Third Precinct on fire in person, amid a carnival-like atmosphere on Lake Street while the plundered liquor store went up in a column of flame and drunken teenagers staggered around aimlessly shattering windows on buildings that would later be burned to the ground. I’ve tried a lot of times to sum up what I think about it all and I can’t. The only outrage I feel, other than anger over Floyd’s killing, is when I see people try to reduce what happened to one simple thing. It was many things, set in a complex historical context. They’re not equal, but so was the mob rush on the capitol.
For one thing, the Capitol Police on Wednesday were, at very best, woefully unprepared for what was a well-advertised attempt at insurrection (far less prepared than they were to protect, for instance, the Third Precinct on Lake Street in Minneapolis). That deserves (and is getting) interrogation. Claims that off-duty officers were flashing their badges to get into the building are flying around. We know at least one on-duty officer took a selfie with people in the mob. Would any of this have happened if people wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts were charging the capitol to stop an election certification, carrying zip-ties and molotov cocktails, wearing body armor? The Left says no way! The Right says left-wing riots were coddled all summer!
More blood was shed (five dead, two from actual violence including a police officer) on Wednesday than in any of the rioting in Minneapolis, a city that was engulfed in unrest for a full five days in late May 2020. A police officer shot Ashli Babbitt in the neck at point blank range on Wednesday after she jumped up on a barrier into a blocked-off part of the capitol, killing her. I’m sad that happened and glad nothing like it happened in Minneapolis. People on the Right, excluding those who think the assault on the capitol was justified, are taking the angle that riot at the capitol only happened because the summer riots were allowed to happen — widespread lawlessness in American cities opened the door for lawlessness at the seat of government. Michael Lind draws the parallel between the Seattle autonomous zone and the rush on the capitol for Tablet here. He’s obviously a both-sides-ist.
A firm Trump supporter I know told me last night, without hesitation, that he thought capitol police should have opened fire — “drop them,” he said — on people breaking into the building on Wednesday. I looked at his wife. She nodded (again, without hesitation). They’re from Pennsylvania, but live in a suburb of Chattanooga. They had no patience at all for what happened in D.C. But! They blamed the riots over the summer for softening the way police respond to unrest, for changing the norms in our society. “They know they can’t do anything now,” the guy said of police.
People on the Left come back and say something like “Yo, what happened in the summer was property damage. Regrettable, but those riots had a righteous cause and are not in the same category as goons with zip-ties forcing their way into the capitol to stop an election certification and kidnap Nancy Pelosi, at Trump’s encouragement.”
I’ve been sitting with this, running it by people, and here’s what keeps happening:
“BLM and Antifa did it first!”
“No, Trump started this! And protesting ‘extrajudicial state killings’ is not the same as trying to overturn a fair election!”
“Trump did not start this! His supporters respected the law until Wednesday!”
“What about Charlottesville!? That started it all!”
I’ll take a break, but I do think it’s fair to point out that as a society, we were far more accustomed to rioting on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, than we were on the morning of Jan. 6, 2020. Does that excuse what happened Wednesday? Of course not, and I think most Trump supporters agree. Is it all the Left’s fault that we evolved this way over the past 12 months? Of course not, but it’s partly the Left’s fault, isn’t it? What percentage is the Left’s fault and what percentage is Trump’s? What percentage of blame goes to Mitch McConnell, or the mayor of Portland, or the Minneapolis City Council? What percentage goes to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington? What percentage of the blame do I get, personally, as an 8-year resident of Minneapolis and 38-year citizen of the Unites States of America?
In any case, the share of Americans who believe violence is a means acceptable in achieving political ends has grown frighteningly in recent years, and it turns out there’s plenty to parse in the riot comparison department, whatever your position. It was dim of me to try to shut that down. Have a good weekend.
The death of political cartooning, and why it matters — Quillette
53 pro-democracy activists arrested in CCP Hong Kong sweep — BBC
Lessons from Japan’s several 1930s coup attempts — Noah Smith
Some back-of-the-envelope bad news on Virginia’s vaccine rollout — Tyler Cowen
Trump supporters react to the riot at the capitol — NPR
Trump’s statement last night on his Twitter account — Twitter
Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House chamber in 1954 — Wikipedia
Sidney Powell sued by Dominion over vote-fraud claims — Bloomberg
“Human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical and judgmental.” — Jonathan Haidt, “The Righteous Mind,” 2013
About: I send this email most mornings to force myself to stay informed and in touch. It’s typically ~8 links, a quote, and an update on what I’m working on. Write me back! And please share the email. If I added you and you don’t like it, please click unsubscribe below. I was a newspaper reporter for 14 years at the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Des Moines Register and Minneapolis Star Tribune. I gave the basic story of why my family left Minneapolis here. You can find my new venture, Scuffed News, on YouTube (please subscribe!), Twitter and Instagram, and you can support the project with your money, in exchange for exclusive video and early access to some of the video, on Patreon.
I read a lot of thoughtfulness in this post which reads close to my own thinking on the topic. I'm a Minneapolis resident, now a baker's dozen years and counting, but among my privileges is living in a quiet part of Ward 13 which is, by any standard definition, essentially suburban.
Still, Minneapolis is my adopted hometown and for several years I lived just off of East Lake Street. For part of that time, I didn't own a car. I rode my bike or rode the bus and walked. Seeing businesses that I patronized looted and burned was absolutely heartbreaking.
My initial reaction was also to shut down comparisons between Wednesday and summer 2020 for the same reasons you articulated. I'm still impatient and defensive with anyone not from Minneapolis offering an unsolicited a take on this summer's events prior to asking what I think. Lots of people that were more directly affected than me; I can't imagine what they're feeling, but I try. And those are the perspectives I want to understand before any else.
One distinction I've been thinking about: the US Capitol belongs to every citizen. I'm inclined to think "both sides" is an unhelpful reaction or framework considering this week's events. What are the two sides if not a violent insurrection fomented by a cult leader and reasonable citizens committed to democracy?
Minneapolis and other cities where unrest and rioting took place this summer don't exist in isolation and shouldn't be exempt from outside criticism or reflection. But if your immediate reaction is to compare these riots or invoke one in discussion of the other, then I'm afraid you may be in the insurrectionists' cult.