After spending more than four years spewing blatant falsehoods, glorifying violence, and dangerous misinformation, it seems President Trump is finally seeing the tangible consequences of his reckless actions, as right-wing protesters have stormed the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., a moment that will likely be remembered as one of the most terrifying and surreal moments in our nation's history.
Amid the madness, other cops have even allegedly stopped to take selfies with the insurrectionists terrorizing our nation's capitol. Because who doesn't want an Instagram-able snap with individuals described as 'domestic terrorists?"
As the dust settles, leaving us to grapple with this rage, confusion, and fear, we'll start to rationalize the events of this gut-wrenching day as yet another event in the American story. Tomorrow morning, papers across the nation -- and perhaps even the world -- will publish countless think pieces, not too much unlike this one, questioning how our nation found itself at this terrifying crossroads, how we could have possibly prevented such a tragedy, and asking who, exactly is to blame.
The answer to all three of these seemingly deep, existential questions of our nation's history is pretty damn clear. Since announcing his 2015 White House bid, President Donald Trump has created a platform on bold-faced lies, inciting language, and eerie invincibility. It seems he truly took his assertion that "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," to heart, speaking with reckless abandon, including advising the "neo-fascist" Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" during a presidential debate ...
... Condoning violence against journalists ...
... Dubbing Mexicans "rapists" ...
... and even downplaying the threat of Covid-19, which has now killed more than 350,000 Americans after receiving the white-glove treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, when being treated for the virus.
But reader, you're smart. You know all of these already and can probably even name several other instances of our President's divisive language off the top of your head. Often shrugged off after dominating the headlines and our cultural conversation for a day or two, these types of statements have tangible consequences, like what we saw today in Washington D.C. They anger disenfranchised Americans, leading to outbursts of violence and acts of domestic terrorism.
Yet even as our nation's capitol was desecrated by the exact individuals the president seemingly singlehandedly radicalized, he refused to take action for quite some time, reportedly watching the violence continue as a spectator in the oval office, as Army deployed the D.C. National Guard to the scene. Only hours later, he released a video urging the protesters to go home, in which he doubled down on his baseless claim of a fraudulent election and reminded the perpetrators that he loved them and that they're "very special." Classy.
Trump is not the only leader to use inflammatory statements to divide and incite violence, nor are these protesters aren't the first to be radicalized by this type of agenda. A recent example of how rhetoric can lead to real-life consequences is the story of Tim McVeigh, the perpetrator of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, which killed 168 people, injuring more than 500. In the final years of Tim McVeigh's life before he committed one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in United States history, he was radicalized by gun show culture, the radical right (a.k.a the alt-right of yesteryear) racist literature, and the Waco siege.
After first learning of these motivations while interning on a documentary covering the subject in 2016, I feared Donald Trump's rhetoric could spark a similar reaction. Even when it was projected Hillary Clinton would win on November 8, 2016, I feared for a right-wing backlash with potentially violent consequences, an anxiety that lingered through the 2020 election cycle.
Today, those fears came to fruition.
Now, this isn't an instance of me saying "I told you so," but a concern of historical patterns. We've seen instances like these occur countless times throughout history and have a decent idea to prevent them. Invest in education. Teach news media literacy in schools. Employ fact-checking. Take steps to dismantle systemic racism. Do everything we can to dispel false, inflammatory information, even from the highest office in the nation.
We can't change what happened today, but we can learn our lesson. We can be better than this, America.