Violent Attack on US Capitol Devastates A Divided Nation

The violent, riotous events of 06 January 2021 that took place in our nation’s Capitol sent shockwaves through the United States and the rest of the world. As star athlete LeBron James noted in a sad but not-surprised tone, “We live in two Americas and a prime example of that was yesterday. If you don’t understand or see that then you need to take a step back. Not just one step but four or five or even 10 steps backward.”
In a surreal scene, an angry group of mostly white males separated from thousands of Trump supporters who had gathered in Washington, DC to protest the election of Joseph Biden, and stormed the US Capitol building. Inside, the United States Senate was finalizing Electoral College votes, normally a simple political formality. These attackers were intent, still, on challenging election results. Spurred on by the mob behind them, and by the President’s own words of encouragement, they were able to gain entry to the

photo taken from abcnews.go.com

Capitol, creating a chaotic, violent, and deadly scene, one that few thought even remotely possible. They wore clothing with racially hateful epithets; they threatened violent acts against peaceful people including public servants; they carried racially prejudicial symbols including the Confederate flag; and most tragically, they claimed inspiration from Trump as they left 5 people dead in their wake, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

The attack on our own Federal US Capitol was not only despicable, not to mention illegal, but most shocking of all, responsibility for inciting it rests at some level with the very Federal

photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

government officials who are pledged to keep it, and us, safe. Many conclusions could be drawn from this jarring event, and it is still too raw to examine it with proper historical perspective. However, the active editorial staff at the History of News Class feels strongly that now, more than ever, it is vital for all people, young people especially, to read and engage with this event, and with the news in general. We need to document this. This may sound simple, but it is not. We all need to work to understand and appreciate all the complexities that come with our digitally-driven media world, one that contains innumerable sources; some reputable, reliable, and honest, some that are willfully misleading, and some that seek to sow discord through active deception and hate.

You are entitled to your own law-abiding opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Engage with the news to further your education; think critically, and above all else, make judgments based on hard evidence. Avoid rumor and false premises. It is vital for this community, and our entire country, to respect each other and use fact-based evidence to debate issues, and to work hard to get it right.

We invite all Severn School community members to send in their thoughts.  If you’d like to write a response, scroll down to the very bottom of this page and you will find a comment box. Alternatively, please feel free to contact us directly to add your thoughts to this article.

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EMMA CAMPBELL, ’21

I heard about it through my stepbrother. I was actually working on another History of News assignment when I heard him run up the stairs, on the phone with a friend, and utter the words “shots fired at the Capitol.”

Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli (C), a QAnon supporter known for his painted face and horned hat, enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Naturally, I asked, “Shots fired where?” because it seemed unthinkable. Who would do that? Why? To be honest, I still don’t think I’ve fully processed the event. Because how do you make sense of everything that’s happened in the last four years? How do you compute all of the events that led to this one – the protests, campaigns, tweets, lawsuits, signs, and stats – and still feel present?

Everyone keeps saying, “you’re living through history right now,” but I haven’t finished living through today – as if I’m stuck in a past that hasn’t even happened yet. “This is just like the Spanish Flu of 1918.” “This is the first defamation of the Capitol since the 1800s.” I didn’t ask to live through some kid’s APUSH DBQ. At any rate, can I at least get the rubric? How do I react to all of this and get a perfect score? How do I end up on the right side of history?

There’s this pressure to be active, to be able to tell your children that you marched or protested or participated in some meaningful way because otherwise, you’re just another bystander. You’re the person that future generations will look back on and say, “well why didn’t they do anything?” So we learn, and we try, and we fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-year-old kids do our best to avoid the mistakes our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents made, because we want to be good people.

The events on January 6th: flying the Confederate flag through the building, our congressmen sheltering in place, people stealing and raiding and making a fool out of this country… it is so tiring to try to be a good person and feel like your work amounts to so little. We see opportunity, we see potential, and we watch it mocked by some shirtless man in a weird fur-horn-hat thing.

Sometimes it’s just hard to not be tired.

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MR. BUCKLEY

Thank you to the Anchor for starting this conversation on reactions to the events of last Wednesday.

I, too, watched in horror as rioters stormed the US Capitol.  I remember all too clearly being a speech writer for a Congresswoman in early 1990s.  There was limited internet back then and I constantly had to run across Constitution Avenue, through a ground level opening in the Capitol, run down corridors and ask a capital policeman or woman if they could please summon the Congresswoman from a sitting room outside the floor of the House of Representatives.  There we would confer on the content of speeches and then I would take her input, run back across the street to the Cannon House Office Building, make revisions, and run back over to make sure Rep. Johnson received the speech in time to argue for or against a bill on the floor of the House.  It never occurred to me in the time I was there that my safety was in jeopardy.  Although partisanship ran rampant, members from both parties still maintained cordial if not professional relationships with each other.  The Capitol Police provided a constant, visible presence; you just didn’t mess with them.  Working 10-12 hours a day, sometimes 6-7 days a week, I took their presence for granted and certainly never felt threatened by the American people.  In fact, constituents would visit the Congresswoman’s office every day and part of my job was to meet with them and discuss their concerns or passions.  After all, this was the peoples’ House. This, then, will be the disturbing legacy from the riots.

While security was enhanced after September 11th, much to my frustration as it made it more difficult to meet with elected representatives, after this calamity, Members and Senators will grow even more distant from their constituents.  Schools may have a more difficult time accessing their elected representatives as well, eliminating a springtime ritual.  Members and Senators may grow more suspicious of each other, affecting their ability to govern.  And while representatives will erect more barriers between themselves and their constituents, some may think twice before serving as staffers.  As exciting as my time was as a speech writer in the 1990s, it is a very different climate now.  I don’t think I would want to be cordoned off in an office building on the Capitol grounds with only the occasional meeting with people from outside.  Part of the dynamism of working on the Hill is the constant interaction one has with constituents and people representing groups who are passionate about a cause.  It keeps the job real and reminds you that you are there to serve the American People, as corny as that sounds.  It would be a shame if that were lost due to the misguided passion and fury of a mob that digested lies about election results.

Here’s hoping that sanity reigns and that things return to a state of normalcy over time.  My time on Capitol Hill provided me with memories I will never forget.

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MS. SOTIROPOLOUS

In the days leading up to January 6th, a curious thing was happening on the cable news programs and on the Sunday morning network shows. Senator Ted Cruz was making the rounds talking about the Election of 1876, of all things. So of course, my ears perked up. How great was this?  A sitting US Senator was referencing a relatively obscure moment in history that I regularly teach. However, it did not take long after I started following the discussion that I realized that Senator Cruz was taking what he wanted from that event in US History, leaving out important facts and failing to give the historical significance.

Speaking to Sean Hannity, on January 5, 2021, Senator Cruz laid out his case for objecting to the certification of the electoral ballots by a Joint Session of Congress on January 6th, an event that typically and almost without exception, takes less than an hour and one which earns little, if any, media attention. Why? Because our leaders have known (and still know) that it is simply a pro forma event that puts in bold the faith we have in our system of government and to the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next.  Because of this, Senator Cruz knew that he needed to justify this extraordinary move. So, he went to history:

Senator Cruz said:

“What I did is I scoured history and scoured precedents. And I think the most apt precedent is the presidential election of 1876. That was the election between Rutherford B. Hayes the Republican and Samuel Tilden the Democrat. In that election there were, just like this election, serious allegations of voter fraud in three states: Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. And what did Congress do in 1877? Congress didn’t throw up its hands and say, ‘We have no solution here we can’t do anything, we’ve got to ignore these allegations of voter fraud.’ No, what they did is they appointed an Electoral Commission. It consisted of five House members, five senators, and five U.S. Supreme Court justices. That commission was charged with reviewing the evidence and making a determination about the disputed ballots. What I’m urging is we should follow the 1877 precedent. When I made that pitch to my colleagues, at the end of the day, 10 other senators agreed with me.”

What Senator Cruz did not say was the rest of the story.  The Election of 1876 landed in the middle of one of the darkest periods of American history, one which was witness to the Civil War and its aftermath, the rise of a powerful domestic terror organization that we know better as the KKK, the struggle to guarantee Black Americans their rights as citizens, and the attempt to subvert those rights by Southern states and their allies in the federal government. The Election of 1876 happened as the Southern states were working tirelessly to resist the Grant Administration’s attempts to end violence against Black Southerners by sending federal troops to the South enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments.  When Congress had to decide which set of electors to recognize from the disputed states- those pledged to Tilden or those pledged to Hayes- it most assuredly was not working in a good faith effort to get to the bottom of election fraud in those states, as Senator Cruz wants us to believe. Northerners in Congress were simply being held hostage by groups looking to reassert white supremacy in the South and objecting to the electoral votes was merely the mechanism by which to do that.

As 1876 turned into 1877 and electors were still not recognized, Congress established an electoral commission of 15 members to decide the outcome- not because of fraud but because those three states sent two different sets of electors. The rest, as we say, is history.  What historians now call the Convention of 1877 was a backroom deal in which the Northern Republicans capitulated to the demands of Southern Democrats. The North got their president and the South saw the federal presence in their states, and thus the enforcement of federal law, evaporated.  And so ended Reconstruction, ushering in the Jim Crow era, segregation, voter suppression, and nine decades of inequality in the South, all under banner of states’ rights and due to the objection of electoral votes.

Senator Cruz left all this important information out.  Now why would he, or anyone for that matter, do that?  History is powerful. To understand the past is to give context to the present.  And when one does that, one can reframe events in any way one sees fit.

It is worth noting, and I do find some solace in the fact that not everyone bought Senator Cruz’s attempt to propagandize history for his own ends.  Senator Lindsey Graham, fellow Republican and close ally of President Trump, called him on it on the Senate floor late on the night of January 6th, and said of Cruz’s reference to the Election of 1876:

“If you’re looking for historical guidance, this is not the one to pick, so it’s not going to do any good, it’s going to delay, and it gives credibility to a dark chapter of our history.”

What to take from this?  Learning history is important.  Learning history is not just so one can past a test or write a solid paper.  Learning history give us armor against men and women who would seek to exploit ignorance to advance a meritless agenda. Knowing history is one of the most critical things that each of us can do to ensure the continuation of this Republic, to honor the legacy of the Founding Fathers, and to honor the legacy of ALL Americans who have given their blood sweat and tears. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, knowing history is one way to ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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CASEY HE, ’22

I woke up on the morning of January 7th and grabbed my phone from the bedside table. It is, for sure, not a very healthy way to start a day, but when I opened Twitter, what I saw made the start of my day even worse. Instead of pictures of cute pets, I saw people wearing red caps marched through the streets of Washington D.C. Scroll to the next, a man holding a Confederate flag. And the next, senators hiding themselves under the desk.

However, my suffering did not end there. It peaked when I saw a news article posted by CGTN, a China state-affiliated media, on Twitter (I know, a China state-affiliated media producing English contents on a social media platform blocked by the Chinese government, great idea, right?). The article is short. It reads:

“Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, pointed out the “sharp contrast” between Washington’s response to the chaos at the U.S. Capitol and the Hong Kong anti-government protests in 2019. At a press conference on Thursday, she said that some U.S. media used to describe riots in Hong Kong as “beautiful scenes” while now associate those Trump’s supporters with extremists and infamy. The reason behind the contrast is worth thinking about.”

Some useful hint: the “Hong Kong anti-government protests” that took place in 2019 were against China’s continued entrenchment of rights and autonomy it promised to people of Hong Kong when the city reunited with mainland China in 1997 after Great Britain colonized it for 153 years. As a response, the police met the protesters with force, applying the same weapons: tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets. There were people on both sides severely injured. Now, are these protests the same as a group of mobs breaking into the Capitol, the House of People, in a desperate attempt led by Donald Trump to overturn the result of a democratic election he clearly lost? I will leave it up to you readers to determine.

Later that day, I saw this news article being shared on Weibo, the Twitter-equivalent for Chinese people. In the comment section, people were applauding the author, saying it is a brilliant comeback, a slap to the face to those media who negatively portrayed the Chinese government’s interference in the protests. When I read these comments, I recalled a quote from Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy.

“People have always had different opinions. Now they have different facts.”

For the Trump supporters in the United States, the “facts” they received are about voter fraud, about the “evil” politicians and their masterplan: the first step is stealing the presidential election, and the ultimate goal is to bring socialism to the States. For Chinese people on the internet, the “facts” they received are about violence and terror in the United States due to the presidential election. Alongside the “facts,” these people are kindly reminded that a democratic system does not always make the best decision for its people. Instead, it generates hypocrisy and encourages conflicts and violence between people with different opinions on how their government should be run.

So, what’s going to happen next? Well, we either return to our sanity, think about the significance of this event, and act accordingly. Or we, by we I really mean you, can keep going this path, doing nothing and comforting yourself with “unity”, “forgiveness”, and “First Amendment protects people so they could say whatever they want,” until one day you are caught off guard by that monster with the name “authoritarianism”, hiding under some appealing slogan, creeping in the dark, making no sound, until it’s too late.

We invite all Severn School community members to send in their thoughts.  If you’d like to write a response, scroll down to the very bottom of this page and you will find a comment box. Alternatively, please feel free to contact us directly to add your thoughts to this article.

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