ON THE SCENE: America will remember Jan. 6, 2021
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump smashed their way into the United States Capitol as the House and Senate began the certification of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris as this country’s next president and vice president.
The horrifying televised and photographic images of barriers torn down, windows shattered, and a violent mob rampaging through the hallowed halls shocked Americans and people worldwide. That shock continues to reverberate throughout our region.
Not since the War of 1812 when British forces burned the Capitol had a similar outrage occurred, and never before had people surged through the “People’s House” waving Confederate flags.
In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 March to Save America rally, Trump and his allies urged his supporters to attend and “rise up against the rigged national election.” Social media was abuzz with many hard-right extremists saying they would heed the call. On Wednesday morning, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Trump, members of his family, and others like his attorney Rudy Giuliani continued the false claim that the election was stolen. Trump concluded his remarks urging the estimated crowd of 8,000 to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell.” Many did.
The truth is that on Dec. 11, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had certified their 2020 general election results. Getting to that point, several states had their votes recounted, which Georgia did three times. In addition, lawyers on behalf of Trump’s campaign had vigorously contested elections losing well over 60 times, many in courts presided over by judges nominated by the president. The outcome, decided by the courts and state officials, was there had been no wide-spread or even significant examples of fraud, none to any degree that would change the outcome.
Nonetheless, the ongoing claims of voter fraud by the president, his family, legal team and many political leaders and political pundits resulted in a sizable percentage of the population believing Trump’s false claims and an angry mob arriving in D.C. more than ready to march on the Capitol.
Just as George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” were a searing wake-up to the racism and unequal justice that takes place in America, another was the contrast between Capitol Police arresting a dozen of the hundreds who broke into the Capitol and federal police using flashbangs, rubber bullets and tear gas on peaceful protesters and arresting 300 so Trump could pose with a bible on June 1.
As Doc Rivers, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, said of the rioters on NBC News, “Can you imagine if those were all Black people storming the Capitol and what would have happened? No police dogs turning on people, no billy clubs hitting people — people being peacefully escorted out of the Capitol. So, it shows you that we can disperse a crowd peacefully, I guess, would be the one thing. But it’s a sad day in a lot of ways; not good for our country.
“It’s part of what we are, and so we have to solve it.”
In the Adirondacks, many are wondering just that. How do we move forward, how do we address the tremendous inequalities in our country, how do we get people listening to, hearing, and working with others who may have very different political beliefs or life experiences?
Wilmington Supervisor Roy Holzer feels that fundamentally what it takes to govern a small town needs to be writ large.
“In my opinion, how we go forward starts on the local level of government,” said Holzer. “Local communities are the ones most connected to the people. This country is so divided right now that it’s going to take the foundation of small-town America to set the base to bounce back from all this division. I think it has to start as a grassroots effort throughout the country as a way of getting everyone working for the same common goals again.”
Both Keene Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson Jr. and Sen. Dan Stec feel that people need to come together, identify the root causes that led to our polarized society, and then begin addressing them. Like Holzer, both are horrified by the images of the U.S. Capitol being broken into and vandalized. Wilson is having a hard time processing what he experienced, as it was so beyond the pale of what he imagined could happen.
“I’m shocked and outraged,” said Wilson. “I haven’t had a chance to get beyond that. Going forward, I think we have to go through a period of looking at what took place, looking at the truth, and finding a way reconciling everyone’s feelings so we can move ahead.”
Stec feels that the root causes go back 10, 20, 30, 40 and even more years. He fears that the polarization is so intense that people will have a hard time hearing the other, yet even so, he’s convinced that people must try. All three feel that people who vandalize property, threaten, and hurt others should be held fully accountable for their actions and that all Americans have the right to peaceable assembly to voice their concerns.
“We’ve had a lot of this lately, and it’s wrong, it’s unjustifiable, it’s gotten out of hand,” said Stec. “The violence, destruction of property, five people died in Washington; this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Nothing justifies it. This is not how we resolve differences.”
For Monique Weston of Keene, the willingness of many in positions of power to propagate a culture of lies that leads to others believing in and acting upon those lies has resulted in a world upside down in a very Orwellian sense. Her hope is the shock of what people witnessed in D.C. will wake congressional leaders and all citizens to how vulnerable our democracy is. Weston believes that people need to come together and deliver fact-based real benefits as a means of rebuilding public trust.
Martha Swan, founder/director of John Brown Lives, believes that those who stood idly by should own up to how their inaction helped create the mess we are in, and those who pushed the narrative along to advance their career must be held accountable.
“I don’t think there is any way forward without any semblance of who we are or even who we think we are, what we think American democracy is, even what’s American exceptionalism, without holding people accountable and prosecuted, when and where appropriate, to the fullest extent of the law,” said Swan.
While Swan fully supports tracking down and prosecuting those that smashed their way into and damaged the Capitol, hurting or resulting in the death of others, and holding accountable those who did not adequately prepare to protect the Capitol in the first place, she places a higher priority on a reckoning for those who pushed falsehoods forward be it to increase ratings or advance their political or financial interests.
“I’m sure a lot of people are not going to want to hear that, but there’s no forward, no tomorrow without a deep, unwavering, unshakable commitment to holding people accountable in a fair, transparent, and open way,” said Swan.
Meanwhile, the carnage may not be over. Many people and agencies that visited Washington are calling for an armed march on Sunday, Jan. 17 on all state capitols and to disrupt the swearing-in of Biden and Harris on Jan. 20.
“Many of us will return on January 19, 2021, carrying our weapons,” wrote a Parler user. “We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match.”
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)