Mob violence at the US Capitol

The attack on the Capitol building in Washington, DC was wrong and anyone involved with it should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Vast majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree with that statement. But if we distill it down to it’s base argument — mob violence is always wrong — the opinions diverge.

In this episode, I talk about why that is, and suggest who might be to blame for normalizing mob violence.

Mentioned links:

US Capitol secured, 4 dead after rioters stormed the halls of Congress to block Biden’s win

Whataboutism [Wikipedia]

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Show transcript

It was January 6th, 2021, and I was in the middle of my workday when I got a Facebook message from Listener Barb. “You watching this!?!? Unacceptable.” All that I knew that was going on politically that day was that the Electoral College votes were to be certified in the Senate, and there were Republicans that were going to request that there be a commission to review the results in some of the close states. So I replied, “Is it the Electoral College thing?” Her reply didn’t seem possible. “Protesters have broken into the Capitol building. Congress being evacuated. Turn on your TV.” Well, it turned out that on that particular day I was working at the home of a friend who does not get broadcast TV but has a great Internet connection. What I found out made it one of those days where I believe I will remember where I was when I heard the news.

It was January 6th, 2021, and terrorism entered the halls of our nation’s Capitol. It was at once unthinkable, horrifying, sickening, un-American, evil, heartbreaking, and insane. Feel free to add any adjectives of your own. Make no mistake; this was, at the very least, terrorism; violence committed in pursuit of a political goal. In this case, it was a goal almost guaranteed to not be arrived at. It may have temporarily stopped the procedure that would ultimately declare Joe Biden and Kamala Harris President-elect and Vice-President-elect, but the violence did not stop it, partially because the American system of government is so very resilient, and partially because it is so very stubborn.

But not achieving their goal is beside the point. What their goal was or why they were pursuing it is beside the point. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what they did, and what they did were acts of violence. The place that they committed these acts was uniquely dangerous to our constitutional system of government, and may likely result in stiffer penalties, but their violence was the core of what they did wrong. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for what they did.

Some are calling what they did “insurrection” or “sedition”. Technically there might be a case for that, but guys taking selfies in the Senate chamber with horns on their head, or with their feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, don’t come across as those trying to usurp the government; more like rebels without a clue. Maybe that’s just me. But there were some other consequences of their actions that they do need to answer for. At least one person that I heard about died of a heart attack during the event, and a Capitol police officer was killed. Those must be a component of their prosecution.

So now let’s zoom out a little from the protesters, and as we do that we see Donald Trump. I’ve been so dismayed at President Trump for fanning these flames of the idea of a stolen election, and that it was really a landslide for him. I hear people talking about evidence for it, but his legal team either didn’t present that evidence in court or presented it and then withdrew it. Some suits have been thrown out, many by Trump-appointed judges. We’ve heard people talk about what they saw, but never in court. At this point, I’ve decided I have no dog in this race. I said in the show for November 9th that I was resigned to a Biden/Harris administration, though not in despair of it, and that’s where I’ve been since then. But it really doesn’t help to have the President personally address supporters who came to DC to protest the Electoral College vote certification and fan those flames for an hour. Now he didn’t tell them to get violent, and in fact, he specifically said to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”, but his rhetoric was definitely pushing the narrative. He deserves some blame for that, but calling it “incitement” is really taking liberties with the meaning of that word.

Now let’s zoom out a lot farther. As we do, we start to see the burned-out buildings and looted stores that were part of the riots during the summer. Now before I get into this, I know some will say that I’m about to engage in “whataboutism”. Did you know that this term goes back to the 1970s, and was a tactic often used by the Soviet Union? When criticized for the gulags and massacres that were going on at the time, the Soviets would respond with “What about…” and bring up our past history of slavery, for instance. Basically, it’s a deflection of criticism by pointing out the bad behavior of the critic. So “whataboutism” is where you or your tribe (be it a political group or social group or whatever) ignores criticism by claiming hypocrisy of the opposing tribe. There is no admission of guilt; that’s the key.

This is different than what I will be doing. I will admit guilt on the part of my tribe, and request consistency of the other tribe by asking that they similarly admit guilt for the same or similar action on their part. I’d like to have a catchy name for it, but I haven’t spent time any time on that. If you’ve got an idea, let me know. For now, I’ll call it “consistent-ism”.

And the “consistentism” in this case goes like this; mob violence is always wrong. It’s as simple as that. Mob violence is always wrong. You probably know where I’m going with this. I’m going to compare the BLM riots this summer with the right-wing extremist riot we saw in DC. You might suggest that what the right-wingers did at the Capitol was insurrection, which is far worse than burning buildings or looting stores. Well, I guess that depends on if you’re the store owner or a building tenant or not. But consider this; what was the insurrection? What action did people take that made them insurrectionists? It was the violence. From the storming of the barricades outside to the vandalism of the building inside to the disruption of the government, these were all violent actions. Again, where it happened and to whom it happened should be considered when the charges are drawn up and sentences are given. They may pay a bigger penalty but the penalty is beside the point. Instead, I want to repeat; mob violence is always wrong. From a moral point of view, that is, or should be, self-evident. And for the hundreds or thousands of business owners whose livelihoods were destroyed, consider that the violence during the summer had a far greater impact on them than the violence in DC.

Another objection to a comparison between the two was the motivations for each. Since one had to do with racial justice and the other to do with the belief in a conspiracy theory, they were clearly different. I will go back to the base principle about mob violence because it should give us some perspective relative to any comparisons. As I said (consistently) this summer, I thought the American people were united behind the BLM cause right after the George Floyd incident, but as the rioting, looting, and burning continued, that support faded. Polls bore that out. For many who were sympathetic to the cause, mob violence was not the answer.

But here’s the problem with excusing mob violence in pursuit of a lofty goal. One man’s lofty goal is another man’s conspiracy theory. While a majority of the country may have agreed with the ultimate goal of the protests about the treatment of George Floyd, that does not excuse the riots. Well, it shouldn’t. I have a video in the show notes of media figures and politicians doing just that; excusing or downplaying mob violence. But when you spend months normalizing that behavior, don’t be surprised that, when another group thinks that their cause is a lofty goal, mob violence breaks out again. When you chant “No justice, no peace”, don’t be surprised when anyone who feels they’ve been given “no justice” implements their version of “no peace”. When you quote an out-of-context phrase from Martin Luther King that “riots are the voice of the unheard” to downplay mob violence, don’t be surprised when others who feel unheard follow that example. When you excuse mob violence with the observation that “buildings can be rebuilt”, don’t be surprised when it’s your building, or even the people’s building – the nation’s Capitol – that is the next target. Again the mob is responsible for their actions, but if you hold up Trump’s speech at the rally against literally months of dismissing or in some cases outright approving of mob violence, and fund-raising to get rioters out on bail, you tell me which is more inciting?

Mob violence is always wrong. It shouldn’t be excused, downplayed, or mischaracterized. It doesn’t matter the goal, or what other people think of the goal, or what law the violence is breaking. Mob violence is always wrong. On this point, I have been consistent, as well as most conservatives. It is conservatives who have spoken out against mob violence no matter who was doing it. But for so many on the Left, the ends justify or excuse the means.

If you get accused of “whataboutism”, it may be that the accuser just doesn’t want to be consistent. As for you, be consistent and expect consistency. Keep that in mind as you continue to consider this.

Filed under: ElectionsPartisanshipRace Issues