The frightening parallels between the Burning of Washington on 24 August 1814 and the Siege of Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021 will continue to reverberate in American politics and jolt Americans who voted for Joseph R Biden Jr. to replace the tumultuous, racist, xenophobic and nepotistic regime of Donald J Trump.
As the diabolical mob carrying Confederate and Trump flags descended on the iconic building, blasted through Capitol Police barricades, grappled with cops, scaled the walls, smashed windows and locomoted in the Statuary Hall and the Senate, the monstrosity of British Major General Robert Ross and his troops overwhelming American soldiers and their ragtag militia before burning down the Capitol more than 200 years ago was replayed.
The spine-chilling redux of the British onslaught, as the Senate was counting the Electoral College votes to confirm Biden’s victory, was also a stark reminder of how the racially-biased administration was complicit in the veritable coup d’état by Trump’s rampaging mob—comprising several members of conspiracy theorist QAnon and far-right neo-fascist organisation Proud Boys—on the very steps of the famed building where the 46th POTUS would be sworn in on January 20.
Shocking footage and pictures of a rioter taking a selfie with a cop; QAnon member Jacob Anthony Chansley, aka Jake Angeli, standing inside the Senate Chamber like some medieval marauder; Richard ‘Bigo’ Barnett sitting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, his foot on a desk; Adam Johnson carrying her lectern from the House of Representatives chamber, and of the petrified huddled lawmakers, expose the reason why the police were frozen into inaction—because the majority of the thugs were white, not Black, and avid Trump admirers.
The grotesqueness of the insurrection was also amplified by the administration’s impotency and unflinching loyalty towards Trump even in his last few days in not halting the mob right at the Capitol steps. The global superpower with the most gargantuan war machine, which can deploy its 82nd Airborne Division and 75th Ranger Regiment within 18 hours anywhere in the world and the National Guard within 24 hours, resembled a banana republic with an easily-subdued Capitol Police offering little resistance to the hooligans.
There was no lapse by police, nor delayed action by the administration, as reported by the US media, on that ignominious day; it was a well-designed plan of administrative inaction to allow Trump to flagrantly abuse American democracy. Any police action would have been anathema to Trump’s allegations of voter fraud and a rigged election, his belief in an imaginary Biden-led Left conspiracy and his tenet of white supremacy.
Usually, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the police and the Secret Service have an elaborate plan to tackle any massive protest or demonstration in Washington DC. However, despite early warnings on the social media—for example, 1,480 Twitter posts from QAnon-related accounts since January 1— about the impending violence by white supremacists and extremists to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, neither the US National Guard nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was deployed before the vote certification started.
In fact, much before Trump’s supporters started posting dangerous messages and videos on Twitter, Facebook, right-wing platform Parler, TheDonald (a pro-Trump community linked to banned subreddit r/The Donald and TheDonald.win), YouTube and TikTok exhorting others to converge at the Capitol, the Commander-in-chief had already tweeted about his incendiary 6 January rally, held near The Ellipse. “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, be wild!” he had tweeted on 19 December.
As thousands of his supporters attended the rally moments before the attack, the President said, “Our country has had enough, and we will not take it anymore. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”
Trump’s provocation should have been enough for the Capitol Police to request for immediate security assistance. What prodded Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser to request the National Guard to arrive at around 2pm and acting defense secretary Chris Miller to activate the DC National Guard half-an-hour later, around an hour after the saboteurs had invaded the Capitol, was nothing but collusion with Trump.
In a blatant show of hypocrisy, after the mob walked inside the building without meeting any resistance, Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who has since resigned, said his officers acted “valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions as they stormed the United States Capitol Building”. After his resignation on 11 January, Sund blamed the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms Paul Irving and Michael Stenger, who both have resigned, for denying his request to place the National Guard on standby in the days before the sedition.
What is astounding is the official denial of any intelligence on the impending assault despite the deluge of seditious messages and videos on social media platforms. Washington DC Police chief Robert Contee’s facile remark that there was “no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the US Capitol” not only smacks of recklessness but collusion in allowing Trump to provoke violence.
Contee permitted the onslaught right under his nose despite the arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio by his own force on 4 January for burning a Black Lives Matter (BLM) banner last month. Not surprisingly, being the leader of a far-right group, whose extremism is openly espoused by Trump, he was released the very next day despite being charged with two counts of felony for possessing two high-capacity magazines, which hold extra cartridges.
When Jeffery A Rosen, the head of the US Department of Justice, responsible for enforcement of law and administration of justice in the country, is merely shocked at images of Barnett with his boots up on a desk in Pelosi’s office, it exposes the rot in the whole system. “Those who are proven to have committed criminal acts during the storming of the Capitol will face justice,” Rosen said. Shockingly, only 13 rioters have been arrested for the Capitol assault, which killed five people.
The alacrity with which the National Guard and the DHS were pressed into action during the anti-racism protests following the murders of George Floyd and Jacob Blake by the police in 2020, when compared to the cavalier attitude to the assault on the Capitol is appalling. More than 62,000 National Guard personnel—who chased, beat up, tear-gassed and arrested thousands of BLM protesters—were deployed during the demonstrations last year in contrast to only 2,000 Capitol Police members left to tackle the swarm of thugs on 6 January.
Following the Capitol siege, BLM tweeted: “When Black people protest for our lives, we are met by National Guard troops or police equipped with assault rifles, tear gas, and battle helmets. When white people attempt a coup, they are met by an underwhelming number of law enforcement personnel who act powerless to intervene. Make no mistake, if the protesters were Black, we would have been tear-gassed, battered, and perhaps shot.” The Trump administration’s hatred and discrimination is not restricted to Blacks; it manifests itself horribly even against whites protesting his policies.
Revolting images of wheelchair-bound Americans being dragged away by the Capitol Police while protesting against the rollback of Medicaid at Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s office in June 2017 showed how the administration acts swiftly against anyone protesting Trump or his cronies, but is hit by inertia when his supporters break the law with impunity. Between June and September 2017, more than 400 Americans protesting Trump’s bid to repeal Obamacare were arrested by the Capitol Police.
Similarly, the Capitol Police arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters who flooded the steps of the Supreme Court after the Senate confirmed Trump’s controversial nominee Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. In the same year, the Capitol Police arrested more than 500 women peacefully protesting the President’s harsh immigration policies.
The author is a journalist with two decades of experience. He writes on foreign affairs and other issues. The views are personal.