It was one of worst attacks on the Capitol since the British burned it down in 1814.
We should have woken up this morning to mass arrests. The President, the Republican Party and law enforcement should be treating this debacle as gravely unacceptable. To do otherwise would send one dangerous message: This was OK.
And make no mistake: If there aren’t serious consequences proportionate to the severity of these acts, the mob will be emboldened. They will try again, and they will escalate.
We know this because we’ve already seen it happen. In the spring, hundreds of heavily armed agitators calling themselves “patriots” stormed Michigan’s Capitol, protesting Covid stay-at-home orders. The President supported them
, tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” the day after. Six of those men
were later charged when investigators uncovered their alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The President called the demonstrators “very good people.”
Was it any surprise, then, that an insurrectionist mob moved on to Washington, DC?
This is a crucial moment. If fair and appropriate consequences are leveled against the traitors who have sought to destroy American democracy, then yesterday’s pillaging may mark the end of a dark period.
Or, if there aren’t sufficient consequences, yesterday could mark the beginning of an era of unprecedented chaos and violence.
It’s egregious and inexcusable that the police didn’t arrest those who forced their way into the Capitol building on the spot. And it’s particularly appalling that they did manage to arrest working journalists
while letting men and women (mostly men) who perpetrated violence and destruction go free.
It’s not that the police lacked capacity. After all, when Black Lives Matter protesters gathered in DC and were mostly peaceful — and certainly not storming the Capitol building — 289 demonstrators were arrested on June 1 alone
. Over the four-day period between May 30 and June 2, more than 400 people were arrested for “unrest-related” offenses.
Across the US, more than 1,400 Black Lives Matter demonstrators were arrested this past summer. But yesterday, as mostly White pro-Trump agitators gathered at state capitols across the country
— and as many of them launched assaults on state Capitol buildings and governors’ mansions, forcing employees to evacuate and buildings to lock down — the police largely stood by.
Let’s be clear: The police should stand by when protests are peaceful. No one is asking that the pro-Trump protesters be treated like the Black Lives Matter protesters. We are asking, instead, that demonstrators for racial justice be treated appropriately.
And vice-versa. Angry but non-violent demonstrators should be allowed to assemble and should be given significant leeway. But when peaceful demonstrations give way to marauding mobs and all-out violent assaults on the country itself, it’s time for law enforcement to intervene. Yesterday, law enforcement shirked that duty.
But it’s not entirely too late. We have the tools to track down at least some of the offenders, and indeed, many media outlets have already identified
several of the ringleaders. Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen
issued a statement saying that charges against some rioters would be coming Thursday, with more to be brought in the coming weeks, and that the Department of Justice “will continue to methodically assess evidence, charge crimes and make arrests in the coming days and weeks to ensure that those responsible are held accountable under the law.”
The FBI says
it “is seeking to identify individuals instigating violence in Washington, D.C.” If they’re looking for the chief instigator, they should walk over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If they’re looking for the many who carried out the violence, looting, and ransacking, many of their faces are easily visible in photos and videos, and many are bragging about their acts on social media.
One outstanding question is which charges prosecutors, who have significant discretion, will choose to bring — if they will prosecute the accused perpetrators aggressively, as they have with many Black Lives Matter demonstrators
, or if they will choose to be more lenient. What they should be is fair: Not retributive and needlessly harsh, as has been the case with the BLM prosecutions, but proportionate to the gravity of yesterday’s most grave of acts.
This is a make-or-break moment for American democracy. Lock them up? Yes, some of them. Everyone who sacked and desecrated the Capitol building yesterday, and everyone who encouraged and enabled them, should see serious consequences for their insurrectionist acts. If they don’t, it’s the rest of America that will suffer the ramifications.
There is a cost to yesterday’s riots. The only question is who will pay it.