“Violence is as American as cherry pie,” incarcerated activist Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin intoned more than fifty-three years ago, provoking outrage from conservative commentators across the land. Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, should have drawn distinctions in his rap. Right wing violence in America is enduring, intimidating and usually goes unpunished.
Fresh memories of the far right’s U.S. Capitol insurrection, occupation and trashing caused me to flip back to a July 27th, 2020 tweet by Donald Trump:
“Anarchists, Agitators or Protestors who vandalize or damage our Federal Courthouse in Portland, or any Federal Buildings in any of our cities or states, will be prosecuted under our recently re-enacted Statutes & Monuments Act. Minimum Ten Years In Prison. Don’t Do It!”
Trump deployed federal agents who hunted down demonstrators far from the courthouse, making extra-legal arrests of folks off the street. When Black Lives Matter protests came to Washington, D.C., last June, police from twenty states were mobilized. Prison guards from Arkansas were deployed. A phalanx of fuzz, in Ninja Warrior outfits, stood guard on steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
By contrast, the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was sparsely defended. The 45th President egged on the mob. Former New York Mayor (and federal prosecutor) Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat.” Of the arrests eventually made, more than eighty percent were for curfew violation (although Facebook and Instagram photos are being used to track down the worse occupiers and trashers).
“I am shaking my head about the U.S. Capitol Police,” Heather Foley, widow of the late House Speaker Tom Foley, said in an email.
She used to run administration for the House.
Would the Capitol have been left undefended in a Black Lives Matter protest? Would protesters have been gently escorted out? The answer, delivered Thursday by President-elect Joe Biden, was a resounding “No.”
It has been so for sixty years of protests for civil rights and peace.
The recent death of Congressman John Lewis revived films of Alabama State Troopers brutally attaching peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma Alabama, named for a Confederate general). Lewis would point to where his skull was cracked. He also saved a Herblock cartoon from the Washington Post, identifying his assailants as “Alabama State Storm Troopers.”
Right wing violence has not infrequently met with official approval.
A peaceful post-Kent State 1970 antiwar protest headed for New York City’s financial district. The marchers passed a construction site. Hardhat set upon them, beating and injuring dozens. New York’s Finest stood watching.
A few days later, President Richard Nixon (who would later resign in disgrace) welcomed the hardhats’ leaders to the Oval Office. He had recently described protesters against the ”incursion” of U.S. forces into Cambodia as “bums.”
The National Guard killing in cold blood of four students at Kent State, and killing of two Jackson State College students by city and state police in Mississippi, produced zero prosecutions.
Ditto for what a commission report described as a “police riot” at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Instead, seven protest leaders were indicted.
The pattern of violence has continued.
The nation’s most lethal and vicious ask of domestic terrorism, the 1994 federal building bombing in Oklahoma City, was perpetrated by right-wing militia types, one leader from Michigan. A quarter century later, Michigan militia types plotted the kidnapping, “trial” and execution of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Militia folk have invaded the state capitol in East Lansing.
Out here, following passage of gun safety initiatives, they have packed heat – mainly assault rifles – to protests at our capitol in Olympia.
At one protest, after hearing from Pam Roach and Matt Shea, armed Second Amendment enthusiasts invaded the State Senate gallery.
For anyone covering years of protest, the affinity between police and right-wing protesters cannot be ignored. The result is kid gloves treatment.
Going viral on Thursday were shots of cops moving a barrier so demonstrators could enter, and (later) the provision for peaceful departure.
All the while, Trump was watching on television and liking what he saw.
Occasionally, crimes are so horrendous and public as to demand punishment. Timothy McVeigh was executed after planning a bomb that killed one hundred and sixty-eight and injured more than six hundred.
The killer of reproductive health provider Dr. George Tiller was given life after gunning down Tiller as he entered his Wichita church. The alleged human who ran down a peaceful demonstrator in Charlottesville was given a long sentence.
The fascist gathering in Charlottesville, with its torchlight parade and Nazi flags, was undeniably domestic terrorism.
Yet, we heard Trump say there were “very fine people on both sides.”
Trump later defended his dog whistle remark, saying: “If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly.”
The militia movement spiked in the early 1990s, after the Waco confrontation. It had adherents here. A Chelan County militia group took up arms fearing that United Nations infiltrators were about to use the remote Nighthawk-Chopaka border crossing west of Oroville.
Turned out it was an interagency anti-drug smuggling exercise.
The violent right is on the rise again, in this corner of the country.
Witness the prolonged armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. Its organizers got off scot free.
The arsonists who burned down Planned Parenthood’s clinic in Pullman, after incendiary remarks by Spokane politicians, have never been brought to justice.
For another thirteen days, it has official blessing.
After all, Trump gave Proud Boys the friendly advice to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate of 2020 in September.
They deployed Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol. In words of the Boys’ official Telegram channel, “For several hours our collective strength had politicians in Washington in absolute terror… The system would have you believe that you are alone. That’s why they want to ban all ‘radicals’ from social media. They want you to feel alone. But the truth is that you are not alone. We are everywhere.”
The Trump regime has not only winked at, but made use of right-wing intimidation… all the while, with the President and such allies as Fox News’ Tucker Carlson warning about and blaming all violence on “anarchists” and antifa.
The movement is tanned, rested, ready and well-armed, as well as used to getting its way or getting away with what it does.
The President-elect introduced his Justice Department team on Thursday, with high emphasis on the Civil Rights Division.
The Biden administration will also face a home-grown domestic terrorism problem. It can be witnessed at state capitals and the U.S. Capitol.
Those interested in this topic should also want to read Deborah Levine’s and my book from last year, When Hate Groups March Down Main Street.