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The Capitol Attack: We Have an Opportunity

A Pro-Trump mob perpretrated a Capitol attack on Wedneday. They stormed the nation’s capitol, attempting to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential win.

Photo by Cameron Smith, courtesy of Unsplash

Four people died in the protests, including a police officer, and several were arrested for carrying “unlicensed or prohibited firearms”. In addition, Reuters reports that “two pipe bombs were recovered from the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees, as well as a cooler from a vehicle on U.S. Capitol grounds that contained Molotov cocktails.”

Congress had to evacuate.

People across the nation—including both Republican and Democrat politicians–have decried this event as tragic, horrifying, and an assault on U.S. democracy.

It is all those things.

I also believe it is an opportunity for these three reasons.

One: It is an opportunity to understand how black and white people are treated differently in the United States.

This summer, mass protests sparked after a police officer, Derek Chauvin, suffocated to death George Floyd, a non-resisting black man. Breonna Taylor’s death further sparked protest. Police shot and killed 26 year old Taylor, a black woman who was an emergency care worker and who was suspected of no crime.

Photo by Logan Weaver, courtesy of Unsplash

Police, who had a no-knock warrant and thought there might be drugs in the house, burst into the house where Taylor was sleeping. Taylor’s boyfriend thought someone was burglarizing the house. He shot at the intruders. Police returned fire, killing Taylor. They found no drugs.

Photo by Logan Weaver, courtesy of Unsplash

Protesting Police Brutality

Floyd’s and Taylor’s death are the most recent deaths in a long line of instances of police brutality against black people. Black Americans comprise 13% of our country’s population. They are shot and killed by the police at a rate twice as high as white Americans. Frequently this occurs even when the vicitms are not resisting arrest in any way.

Black people and their allies have long protested such racial injustices and have faced repercussions for doing so.

MLK and his supporters marched peacefully and nonviolently to protest these problems. The police sprayed them with firehoses and unleashed attack dogs on them.

Over the last few years, Colin Kaepernick and many NFL players, knelt peacefully during the National Anthem at football games to protest police brutality. People, including the President, called them unpatriotic and said they should be kicked out of the NFL.

93% Peaceful

This summer, thousands of people protested police violence against black people around the country. A non-profit organization that investigates political violence around the world tabulated the number of protests.

And they also tabulated the number of instances in which some kind of violence or property-destruction occurred.

These calculations showed that 93% of the Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful.

Despite being mostly peaceful, many protesters faced heavily armed police and national guards who sometimes teargassed and shot them with rubber bullets. At one point, the President ordered police to teargas protestors so that he could get a photo of himself holding a Bible in front of the capitol building.

The President referred to the summer protestors as thugs.

Photo by Andrew “Donovan” Valdivia, courtesy of Unsplash

Different Standards

Yesterday, a group of mostly white people stormed the Capitol. Few police confronted the protestors. The police didn’t teargas or shoot anyone with rubber bullets[1].

Even after they broke through barricades in front of the Capitol, some carrying firearms.

The President called the protestors very special and sent them love from the White House.

The President also took step to make sure the protestors were not bothered by the police.

The Washington Post reported this:

“In memos issued on Jan. 4 and 5, the Pentagon prohibited the District’s guardsmen from receiving ammunition or riot gear, interacting with protesters unless necessary for self-defense, sharing equipment with local law enforcement or using Guard surveillance and air assets without the defense secretary’s explicit sign-off, according to officials familiar with the orders.”

It appears that these restrictions slowed police response to the Capitol attack.

In contrast, this summer, Trump sent security agents to Portland because of the protests. State and local authorities raised concerns that this worsened the situation.

We Must Listen 

Consider the contrast.

Police shoot and teargas primarily peaceful protesters decrying a continual pattern of violence against black people.

But. . .

White people storm the capitol to disrupt the election which a conservative Supreme Court, Vice President, and Majority leader all deem valid. They suffer little repercussion.

People call protestors (many of them black) thugs for decrying a historical pattern of violence against black people.

But . . .

The President calls a mob (primarily white) special and sends them love. He does this when they storm the capitol to overturn an election that the Conservative Supreme Court and other conservative leaders acknowledge as legitimate.

This contrast is an opportunity for us to listen to Black People. It is an opportunity to understand the discrepancy between how people (including the police) treat black and white Americans and to be an ally to People of Color.

Photo by Clay Banks, courtesy of Unsplash

And this point might be difficult to hear, but I would ask you to consider it:

If you were very critical of the summer protests but generally supportive of the recent DC protests, this is an invitation. Please take some time to consider why you think about black and white protests so differently.

This post might help. And here are two posts on oppression and white privilege you might find helpful.

Two: It is an opportunity to recognize the true problem: dogmatic extremism.

Since Joe Biden won the election, the President and many of supporters have claimed the elections are fraudulent. These are extremely grave accusations to make, and they cast a very dark shadow on our democratic process.

Someone who makes such accusations should only do so after thorough investigation and careful thought. Unfortunately, the President and people making these accusations base such allegations on little more than unexamined feeling, whim, and unchecked bias.

For example . . .

People promoting election fraud theories regularly ignore the safety measure both Republican and Democratic states have long put in place to prevent election fraud. They also ignore research from non-partisan research groups showing that election fraud is not widespread enough to swing a national election. You can read about this here, here, here, and here.

Republican and Democratic election officials regularly refute supposed election fraud evidence as lacking credibility.

Even President Trump’s own conservative Supreme Court has rejected the President’s claims of election fraud, as have many Republican politicians, including Vice President Pence and majority leader Mitch McConnell, two bastions of conservatism.

Because of this, when people persist in election fraud claims, the do not do so because of a careful examination of the evidence (including a careful examination of evidence that could refuse their claims). They do so because of ignorance, strong and unchecked emotions, careless thinking, or dogmatic extremism.

Photo by Marcus Winkler, courtesy of Unsplash

Dogmatism is a mindset that causes people to cling to a theory despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. By the way, if you think you might struggle with dogmatism, I sympathize. I have been there before, too.

We are more likely to be dogmatic when a certain theory makes us feel safe and helps us make sense of the world, which can be scary. And we are more likely to believe a theory when the people we like are the heroes of the theory and the people we don’t like are the villains.

Unfortunately, real life is much more complicated than this. Sometimes the groups we don’t like are the good guys, and sometimes the people we like are the ones doing mischief.

I assure you: As painful as it is to give up dogmatic beliefs, the truth is always eventually safer, more beautiful, and good.

And dogmatism will only make your world narrower, more frightening, and more lonely. Dogmatism eventually leads you to trust only a very small group of people who think exactly like you do.

Photo by Paul Skorupskas, courtesy of Unsplash

This cuts you off from a lot of love, friendship, and wisdom life has to offer you. It also often leads you to hate the people outside your little group or tribe. And it leads you to excuse or deny wrong-doing in your own group.

For example, some people like the President and conservative leaders or politicians like Eric Metaxas, Candace Owens, and Sarah Palin have blamed Antifa for the capitol riot. Such accusations refuse to acknowledge the way Trump is complicit in the Capitol attacks.

It should be no surprise to Trump, Metaxas, Owens, Palin, or anyone else that some of Trump supporters behave the way they did at the Capitol. Throughout his entire presidency, President Trump has implicitly or explicitly encouraged people to act violently against his opponents.

You can watch a video here that includes scenes from President Trump’s rallies, as well as his own words and Tweets that encourage violence.

Here are two of his most memorable statements that either condone or encourage violence.

During his campaign he said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

At one of his rallies in February 2016, he said, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. There won’t be so much of them because the courts agree with us.”

As recently as the Presidential debates, Joe Biden asked President Trump to condemn the Proud Boys, a group regularly linked with racism and violent messages (and actions). President Trump told them to “Stand down and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”

Not Surprising

It should be no surprise to anyone that people listened to President Trumps words and some acted violently. In fact, several well-known far-right leaders have both praised and supported the Capitol violence online.

And homeland security experts, both liberal and conservative, raised concerns about the danger Trump posed to national security months ago. This article from Newsweek is about a conservative counter-terrorism and homeland security advisor who warned about possible violence from Trump supporters over the elections.

This article is about seventy-three Republican former security advisors who endorsed Joe Biden because they believed Trump was dangerously unfit to serve.

Photo by Jon Tyson, courtesy of Unsplash

Please Don’t Be Short-Sighted

To blame Antifa for this week’s capitol violence is unwise, shortsighted, and self-destructive[2]. A responsible person recognizes that words matter and certain words encourage violence.

A person suffering from dogmatic extremism cannot accept responsibility or recognize wrongdoing in his or her favored group and must blame other people.

Yesterday’s protests gives us the opportunity to remember that Republicans and Democrats are not the enemy. Dogmatic extremism is the enemy, and we have the opportunity to address it in our personal and political lives.

Three: We have the opportunity to remember that anyone committed to truth, justice, and goodness is on our side, even if they have different politics than we do.

Let me tell you two things that both you and I know already but we forget sometimes.

One: You and I are both passionate about certain subjects, and we think our viewpoints are correct.

Two: You and I are both fallible and finite human beings, which means that some of what we believe is certainly mistaken or only a partial view of things.

How do we know both #1 and #2 are true? Take a minute and think of at least two things you used to believe—perhaps passionately—that you either now know are wrong. Or, you realize that the truth of the matter is bigger and more complex than you previously realized.

I’ve Been There Before

I can think of several things like this in my own life. I bet you can, too. It is completely normal to believe things passionately and then later to realize you were partially or completely mistaken.

This is the natural result of being a human being.

Unfortunately, we tend to believe that the more passionate we are, the more right we are. This is not necessarily true. And, in fact, if our passion is not checked by moral standards, clear thinking, and consideration of others, passion can lead to extreme dogmatism.

Here’s my point.

We need each other.

Photo by Aaron Blanco Tejedor, courtesy of Unsplash

I can guarantee you that some of the political things both you and I believe right now are either partly or completely misguided. The way we figure this out is by listening to and working with people who think differently from us who are committed to truth, justice, and goodness for everyone.

It is hard to negotiate, communicate, and forge creative solutions with people who view the world differently than we do. We must learn how to do it. If we don’t, we act as though our view of the world is the only one that matters. And we act like it is everyone else’s job to get on board with our program.

In doing so, we move away from the truth and towards dogmatic extremism.

Yesterday, many Democratic and Republican politicians stood together to denounce the actions at the Capitol.

Because of this, we have the opportunity to remember that anyone committed to truth, justice, and goodness is on our side, even if they have different politics than we do.

*****

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Footnotes

[1] The police shot and killed one woman.

[2] It is self-destructive because it is disconnected from reality and is rooted in bad conspiracy thinking. Such thinking is fueled by fear, paranoia, hate, and a refusal to hold one’s own thinking accountable to consistent standards. Such habits poison our hearts and mind.

You can read more about bad conspiracy thinking here.

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