What happened at the U.S. Capitol is frightening and shameful. But we shouldn’t be surprised.
Among the Confederate flags, MAGA hats, and other symbols of white nationalism, the violent mob included members of the QAnon movement, including one of its most prominent figures, known as the “QAnon Shaman.”
According to the scholar Marc-André Argentino, QAnon is a “decentralized, ideologically motivated and violent extremist movement rooted in an unfounded conspiracy theory that a global ‘Deep State’ cabal of satanic pedophile elites is responsible for all the evil in the world.”
This “Deep State,” the movement alleges, is made up of government officials and other elite figures calling the shots behind closed doors, beyond democratic control.
It’s easy to dismiss QAnon as a bunch of “crazy” people. What’s harder—and necessary—is acknowledging that the violence we just saw is the result of a decades-long assault on public institutions. An assault led by corporate figures, right-wing organizations, conservative politicians, and, most shamelessly, outgoing president Donald Trump.
Trump has long coddled the movement, alongside Nazis and other white supremacists. Since November, he’s pushed false QAnon conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and fake ballots.
When asked last year if there was a deep state working against the president, his now-former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said, “Absolutely, 100 percent true.”
What’s even harder—and more necessary—is for us to own up to the fact that this assault comes on the heels of our country’s long history of racist violence and systemic racism.
From slavery to Jim Crow and now in the era of mass incarceration, many in power have undermined the democracy, public services, much-needed regulation, and progressive taxation they argue is “big government” or “government overreach.”
Racism has always been central to this project. As Ian Hanley Lopez has argued, in the post-Civil Rights era, political and economic elites have exploited fear of people of color, immigrants, Muslims—anyone they deem as Other—to “hijack government for their own benefit.”
“Welfare queen.” “The silent majority.” “Make America great again.” The right wing has used these racist tropes to undermine mass support for public institutions and the progressive taxation needed to fund them.
At the same time, systemic racism has continued almost unabated in housing policy, employment, criminal justice, education, and other institutions.
In other words, yesterday was more a revealing of how things have long been than it was anything new.
As the writer and activist adrienne maree brown wrote, “Things are not getting worse / they are getting uncovered.”
The silver lining is that knowing this history gives us a road map for getting out of this mess. The path forward is difficult but clear.
We need government that works for all of us, not the wealthy, connected few.
We need public safety that actually keeps everyone safe.
We need to wield all the public power necessary to fight the pandemic.
We need to adequately fund public schools, libraries, and other public institutions, especially in communities that have been historically underfunded.
We need to make sure everyone has clean water, good health care, and somewhere to live.
We need to raise taxes on those who can afford it.
We need to take climate change head on, especially for our most vulnerable communities.
We need regulations that prevent the concentration of economic and political power by the wealthy few.
Or how Lauren Jacobs, executive director of Partnership for Working Families, puts it: “The violence … cannot, must not deter us nor our elected leaders from doing all within our power to build an economy, society where we are all housed and fed and where Black, Brown, Indigenous, people of color, women, LGBTQ people move freely, live loudly, and breathe easily.”
Photo by Blink O’fanaye.