On January 6, 2021, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from my phone as I watched live footage of rioters breaching the United States Capitol. I saw messages flooding in from friends of mine on the Hill who were ordered to evacuate or shelter in place. The violence and intimidation in hopes of stopping members of Congress from counting electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election horrified me. This attack exemplified what it looks like when authoritarians pose as freedom fighters.
Violence and aggression are evil. Period. We should all hold this belief, regardless of whether the violence is coming from the left, the right, or anyone else.
The argument that storming the Capitol was a principled act of resistance against government-sanctioned violence is ludicrous, particularly given that the government activity the rioters were there to oppose — counting states’ electoral votes — is nonviolent and important to the peaceful transition of power in our republic.
Some of the rioters broke windows, vandalized the building, accessed private mail and online messages, chanted murder threats, brought zip ties, placed pipe bombs around Capitol Hill, and killed a Capitol Police officer. The actions of these individuals posed a clear threat to the life, liberty, and property of members of Congress and their staff.
Flawed logic in attempted justifications
The common refrain I’ve heard from #StopTheSteal supporters who justify the violence at the Capitol was that the rioters had exhausted all other options and were merely attempting to make their voices heard.
From their perspective, they were forcing Congress and Vice President Pence to listen to “the people.”
Apparently it escaped them that they are far from the only people their elected officials represent. In a republic, legislators have a duty to consider all their constituents’ concerns and priorities, and then use their best judgment to make a decision.
When a small group of constituents uses violence to intimidate legislators into adopting policies, those constituents not only rob legislators of the ability to perform their duty, they also unjustly deny equal consideration to other constituents whose opinions were voiced peacefully.
The Gadsden Flag: hijacked by an authoritarian movement
It was particularly disturbing to see the level of hypocrisy among the rioters, many of whom flew the Gadsden Flag at the U.S. Capitol. The Gadsden Flag originated during the American Revolution, a time in our history during which our nation’s Founders envisioned a groundbreaking system of limited government that has stood the test of time for over 200 years.
Waving the Gadsden Flag while undermining the values espoused by the Founders, along with the republican processes they designed, is a moment of cruel, cruel irony.
That irony is not always a product of ignorance. It can also result from a deep cynicism, wherein manipulative, authoritarian people co-opt symbols and movements that don’t truly align with their values in order to achieve their goals.
The hypocrisy of the reactionary right
Beyond the Gadsden Flag, I think it also important to consider the reactionary right’s reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. Right-wing figures like Candace Owens implied that Black Americans could avoid police brutality by simply listening to officers’ commands, while at the same time encouraging people to violate lockdown orders.
Last summer, President Trump tweeted, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” but only told last week’s looters and criminals to go home, in between sweet nothings like “I love you, you’re very special.”
The far-right is conflicted on law enforcement
Far-right provocateur Nick Fuentes demanded that the federal government “shut down” BLM because, among other reasons, it was “anti-cop.” If that is how the fringe right genuinely feels, then Fuentes’ recent anti-police tweet following what he calls the “Capitol Siege” certainly seems contradictory.
Why is there video footage of rioters pushing an officer down the stairs and brutally beating him? Living in the D.C. area, I was able to speak undercover with some #StopTheSteal supporters who were at the U.S. Capitol that day.
One told me directly that, “‘Back the Blue’ is definitely no more,” and that, “there’s a consensus — we don’t support the police.”
He also shared an eyewitness account of rioters physically dragging a police officer and isolating him away from his squad. Needless to say, these are not the words and actions of people with a principled pro-law enforcement stance, but rather, of people who wish to use law enforcement to repress their political opponents while remaining exempt from the same treatment themselves.
Deflecting criticism through whataboutery
I have seen more than a few snarky comments along the lines of, “I guess they learned from BLM” or, “maybe they were sick of sitting back while Antifa got away with it.”
No rational human being should use that reasoning to justify violent crime. Good, honest people viewed incidents of left-wing violence last year with disgust and felt no desire to ever emulate such ugly scenes.
If someone was sufficiently manipulative and amoral to see that violence and wonder if they could get away with leveraging similar tactics for their own gain, they alone are to blame for the destructive choices they make. Their lack of integrity is to blame.
Initiating violence shows a disregard for liberty
It is sickening to see cynical, duplicitous people borrow popular political movements’ language when it serves their own goals and then throw it away like a worn-out toy as soon as it’s no longer convenient. It is sickening to see aggressive people fly the Gadsden Flag — a symbol that I embrace as a libertarian — when they show no respect for the rights and liberties of anyone but themselves. More than anything, it is sickening to see people resort to horrific violence and pretend that they had no choice.
Initiating violence is always a choice. It’s the wrong one. And those who excuse it are ushering in a terrifying new era in which there can be no winners.
To read more about equal treatment under the law, be sure to check out our cluster page by clicking on the button below.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.