Last week’s attempted coup was another example of racial terrorism fueled by President Donald Trump and abetted by White nationalists and Republican Party members. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, as well as the 147 members of the House of Representatives and 17 state attorney generals that challenged the election results, also share the blame for what the Joint Chiefs of Staff called an “insurrection” and “seditious” gathering.
Racial extremism and White nationalism were front and center to the mob violence that unfolded on January 6, 2021. Some seditionists proudly displayed Confederate and pro-Holocaust regalia. Based on media reports, they planned to kidnap and perhaps execute officials including the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice-President Michael Pence.
Law enforcement’s response to the insurrection highlights the differential treatment given to the seditionists compared to Black Lives Matter activists. Approximately, 14,000 BLM arrests took place at nation-wide protests this past summer after the murder of George Floyd. Over 2,170 arrests (Blacks comprised 70% of these discriminatory arrests) occurred at BLM rallies in Chicago from May 29-31, and 360 activists were detained at a June 1 protest in the District of Columbia. These figures far exceed the 69 people arrested at the Capitol Hill insurrection.
BLM activists who were arrested are still bearing the legal, financial, and psychological burdens of being targeted for arrests that are reserved almost exclusively for Black people. Further, the arrests exacerbated harmful media stereotyping that influenced the context through which policies on policing have been taken up since.
Activists attending BLM rallies also faced an unprecedented amount of repression by federal agencies. In August 2020, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security told Fox News that the agency was targeting BLM members. DHS sent 700 border control and ICE officers to crackdown on BLM protests. Attorney General William Barr even flirted with the idea of using the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces to target BLM rallies.
Trump’s endgame of overturning the election by stoking racial extremism and violence required assistance from vigilante groups, White supremacists, and armed militias. These groups see themselves as extensions of the reactionary elements of law enforcement agencies—as privatized security forces that must punish and regulate Black activists, so-called ‘looters’, and anti-Trump lawmakers. Hundreds of armed extremists stormed the state capitols of Michigan and Wisconsin in opposition to the COVID-19 lockdowns last year. Some militia groups planned to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia. Others showed up at BLM protests even killing protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The convergence between privatized police forces such as armed militias and uniform police has been a mainstay in the Trump era. It should come as no surprise that off-duty police officers from Washington, Texas, California, and Virginia participated in the January 6 insurrection. And since BLM protests this summer, lawmakers in states such as Ohio, Florida, and Tennessee have prepared legislation that expand ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws to give legal cover for vigilante killings.
NCOBPS condemns last week’s insurrection as an act of domestic terrorism propagated by White supremacy, far-right conspiracy theories, and state-backed violence. We urge political science departments and university administrations to take an authoritative stand against racial authoritarianism, extremism, and voter suppression. We also urge the political science discipline to develop an action plan for countering mass disinformation and far-right conspiracy theories that can be disseminated to public officials, civic groups, and media institutions.