The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Jose Luis Magana for the Associated Press.

Democracy Threatened: What Led to the Storming of the US Capitol Building?

The United States’ democracy was challenged with the storming of the Capitol building located in Washington D.C. on January 6th, 2021. The insurrection caused a total of five fatalities; four being rioters and the other a Capitol Police Officer. 

Dr. Bruce Thompson, professor of history and honors coordinator at Frederick Community College, recently discussed the raid in an interview to help examine its historical ties. 

With every historical event, there is always context, and this story has deep roots in America’s past. This includes white supremacy, a belief system, which had originated in Western Europe then led to the establishment of systemic racism in the U.S.

This systemic racism showed itself prominently with Bacon’s Rebellion, which institutionalized white supremacy through law in 1675. At the time, racial hatred unified the white population against the Native-American population and sparked the transition from indentured servitude to slavery. Dr. Thompson pointed out that these ideas are encapsulated in a book by Edmond Morgan called “American Slavery, American Freedom,” which argues that the nation’s freedom is built on slavery.

Worth noting are U.S.’s three main racial policies: the 13th Amendment in 1865 with the abolishment of slavery and involuntary servitude, the court case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 with the doctrine of “separate but equal”, and the Civil Rights Act in 1964 which was intended to implement equal opportunity and fix some of our horribly unjust policies.

In recent times, political polarization has been rampant throughout the nation, Dr. Thompson said. There has been an increasing divide between both major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, over race. This was evident with the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama in 2008. 

Following this, numerous high-profile killings beginning in 2012 with Trayvon Martin then led to a new civil rights movement of the era, known as the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020, the movement took the world by storm with its influential protests in D.C. and around the world. 

Then came President Donald Trump, who was part of the “resistance” in Washington, according to Dr. Thompson. Trump appeared to be openly against political correctness, and was willing to challenge political convention and push its limits. This was especially attractive to people living in rural areas, or as Trump’s administration deemed them, “the forgotten Americans”. 

Trump was also willing to do whatever he needed in order to get elected and maintain power. As a result, he tapped into an existing belief in our society that can be described as white supremacy. Dr. Thompson described this as “an ongoing tug-of-war as millions of people support the belief.” 

Following Trump’s second impeachment and his loss in the 2020 Presidential Election, he did not want to relinquish power. Trump then tossed around conspiracy theories regarding the results of the election and the future of the U.S. under a democratic administration. However, Joe Biden fairly won by over 7 million votes with ample opportunity for recounts. At one of his rallies, Trump then encouraged his supporters to march to the Capitol.

It can be dangerous when one in power feeds the fire of an existing issue, instead of trying to mend that issue, Dr. Thompson noted. This act helped to stoke the insurrection at the Capitol, which he added cannot be accepted, as it was an act of domestic terrorism.

Dr. Thompson brought to light Amanda Gorman’s poem, ‘The Hill We Climb,’ which she read at the 2020 Presidential Inauguration. It directly refers to the event that took place on Jan. 6, “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy, and this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated in this truth, in this faith, we trust.” 

Dr. Thompson further analyzed her words in that, “The idea of democracy is that the power rests within the people, not with one person or party.” This was challenged by the raid, which makes this event so uniquely different from others and a direct assault on American democracy.

As Dr. Thompson said, “In a democracy we as citizens have to be able to agree to disagree and find common ground.” By serving with the public’s best interest at heart, faith will be restored in the U.S. government.

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