A day’s passed since a mob invaded Washington DC’s Capitol Building, at the express direction and continuing approval of the newly-banned-from-Facebook President of the United States (who still has access to the nuclear launch codes). No, they’re not protestors: they’re terrorists who tried to overthrow an election through violent intimidation. This is a case study of the distinction between a protest and a riot, between direct action and an attempted coup; and it doesn’t matter how successful or incompetent the attempted coup might be, it’s still an attempt.
Let there be no doubt that had Black Lives Matter protestors gathered outside the capitol, they would have been met with heavily armed riot police covering their faces so as to hide their identity. Oh wait, that already happened, both literally and in similar cases right across the country. Arbitrarily arresting peaceful protestors and beating journalists? Check. Brutalising the vigil of a teenage violinist, Elijah McClain, murdered by police? Check. Tear-gassing demonstrators to make way for the public preening of a wannabe dictator? You know the answer.
For those expressing surprise, we’ve been telling you this all along – he’s a fascist, an authoritarian, a man literally capable of standing in the pouring rain and claiming that the sun is shining. Remember Charlottesville’s neo-Nazis and “very fine people?” And for the alleviation of misunderstanding, I say this with unrepentant disdain and contempt for those who would previously decry such allegations as exaggeration born out of hubris, that it can’t happen in a ‘civilised’ country, that he’ll accept the result and leave peacefully; though, I do not assert this with adulation or pride. So far, there are reports of between one and four people dying, let alone the journalists, Capitol staff and politicians traumatised by the experience.
Fellow opponents of Trump do not gratuitously oppose for the sake of lionisation (although there are certainly egotists who do): we oppose the guy and everything he stands for because he and his enablers present a clear and present danger to the ongoing struggle for accountability, for fairness and equality, and for the fundamental ideals of democracy. For many, it is an existential threat.
Despite barely a day having passed and as nauseating as the scenes were, there’s a simultaneous feeling of numbness, of insouciance, that it’s just another day in the extreme right-wing dystopia we’ve been living in for some time now.
I don’t mean to speak with hyperbole as I type away in a rather comfortable armchair in the Staffordshire countryside, observing the happenings in DC some 3,665 miles away. Perhaps one of the reasons this feels so close to home, even for someone who’s never had the pleasure of visiting the supposedly United States, is that the sentiments and events that inspired such unshackled lawlessness could credibly occur in the United Kingdom. In fact, I’d argue that a resemblance, a foreshadow exists here, when MP, humanitarian and mother of two Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right activist who, when asked to confirm his name in court, said, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
Though the separate cases occurred years and thousands of miles apart, they are undeniably connected, as a strand of the ever-growing and self-sustaining web of right-wing malcontent and refusal to see the wood for trees.
Political scientists and career historians will no doubt explain far more eloquently than I the reasons behind yesterday’s insurrection, and I shan’t pretend to their authority on such matters. What can be recognised by even casual observers, however, is the state of play: that this was not a uniquely spontaneous incident, rather a culmination – albeit far from a final one – of years of fermenting discontent, hatred and refusal of reality that is shamefully not exclusive to America. In America, the likes of Breitbart, OAN and Fox News scream “GAY RIGHTS HAVE MADE US DUMBER, IT’S TIME TO GET BACK IN THE CLOSET” and “EUROPE’S RAPE EPIDEMIC: WESTERN WOMEN WILL BE SACRIFICED AT THE ALTAR OF MASS MIGRATION.” In the UK, publications like the Daily Mail and The Sun, cry “ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE” in reference to judges doing their job, “APOLOGISTS FOR TERROR” directed at the UK’s first black female MP and “DRAW A RED LINE ON IMMIGRATION OR ELSE!” in totally non-threatening language to the then Prime Minister.
Fox News, Breitbart, the Daily Mail and The Sun are not fringe media, they instead claim some of the highest engaged audiences across their respective nations. They are, if anything, mainstream, simultaneously growing feeding, tapping into and weaponising extreme frustration and anger. It’s not just public audiences they attract either: Steve Bannon, formerly Executive Chair of Breitbart News, was appointed as Chief Strategist to President Donald Trump; James Slack, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson, was headhunted from his post as Political Editor of the Daily Mail. These colours don’t run.
Failure to reject such extreme attitudes is bad enough; constant reinforcement and absorption into mainstream culture that immigrants are coming to replace your race, that black people want to destroy your heritage, that anyone vaguely politically left of centre is a Communist, reshapes reality where there remain only enemies rather than legitimate opposition, where cultural battles are treated as physical wars. Existential threat indeed.
Somewhat depressingly, the Overton Window has been widened, and worryingly perhaps irrevocably. No longer is it unfathomable that a man would wear a hoodie emblazoned with “Auschwitz Camp”, let alone breaking in and proudly displaying it in the office of the Speaker of the House. No longer is it unimaginable that a sitting President of the United States would refuse to concede a secure election, let alone proactively orchestrate a laughably inept yet violent and ultimately deadly coup against his political opponents to preserve his brittle ego and recast America as a fascist state. Those who have enabled and empowered blatant hatred have a lot to answer for – and their opponents must never let them, their voters and their supporters forget. Yet perhaps more pertinently, at least to us in the UK, or other European countries like Italy, Greece or The Netherlands, those watching and shaking their heads from afar must not be so complacent as to believe that it cannot happen here, especially while the likes of Belarus’ Lukashenko and Hungary’s Orbàn remain in power.