Lincoln Memorial during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest vs. the Capitol building yesterday

Police complicity with nationalist mob in stark contrast to BLM crackdown

Instead of tear gas, rubber bullets and military force, police opened gates and posed for selfies yesterday.

Police and security forces in Washington, D.C. simply had no plan to handle the pro-Trump demonstrators who stormed the Capitol building in the afternoon. Relatively easy street-level access by protesters, up the 365 steps to the U.S. Congress, illustrates some key points about the political culture of police and law enforcement institutions. 

Yesterday’s events spotlight the fact that both police departments and intelligence services do not accurately view the populist political right, which includes many neo-Nazi networks and groups, that Trump has propelled, as a serious political or even physical threat. This systemic blindspot by state authorities toward the nationalist right resulted in the escalation of the deadly armed protest that successfully invaded the Congress.

This is an important point to focus on, not only in the U.S. context but also here in Quebec, as an example of political contrast. On the flipside, protests and actions by progressive activists calling for social, racial, economic and climate justice, which are never armed, protesting in D.C. and elsewhere, are often faced with serious police violence and also larger systemic repression and surveillance. Police brutality against the Black Lives Matter movement over the past year, for example, has been documented as disproportionately violent and brutal, while law enforcement has been notably soft with the nationalist right-wing, as outlined in an important investigation explored in The Guardian: “Nineteen incidents show police being permissive to far-right members and treating white supremacists favourably at protests.”

In the first key hours of yesterday’s nationalist right protest in D.C., there was a visible absence of many key elements of policing that anyone reading the news over the past decade would recognize as routine tools of state repression toward progressive protests. In D.C. yesterday, there was no widespread use of “chemical crowd control weapons” like teargas, as seen extensively in Portland; there was no widespread use of rubber bullets, there were no unmarked police vans riding around staching protesters; there were no lines of militarized riot police holding back demonstrators, who simply pushed into the capitol building, who eventually were confidently strolling past security personnel, as live NBC video illustrates.

All this went down yesterday despite the fact that the pro-Trump nationalist right network labeled “Stop the Steal” — now banned on most major social media platforms for hate speech — announced clear intentions to physically disrupt the Congress many days in advance, even specifying various doors and entrances that would be targeted, all clearly detailed in a Politico article early this week: “WildProtest, a subgroup of Stop the Steal, is asking attendees to gather by the north entrance of the Capitol Building.”

All this is important in the long term because that discrepancy in police tactics creates a great deal of political space and legitimacy for nationalist right protests that are increasingly turning deadly, as seen in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, progressive movements that are trying to advance social justice causes face serious police violence all the time. On this point it is critical to not look toward more police and surveillance as a long-term solution. The nationalist right-wing must be condemned clearly, yes, but this discrepancy of disproportionate use of force by police toward the left and leniency toward the right must be acknowledged as systemic to policing. 

In recent years, intelligence services around the world have been systemically reluctant to address the rising racist nationalist right, which has led to deadly consequences in Quebec City and in New Zealand, where state security was often more focused on racial profiling and tracking progressive movements rather than catching wind of extreme right-wing plots to murder. This issue of surveillance is linked to police tactics as it illustrates that the state, due to the colonial frameworks of state security and police forces, is not acknowledging the profound, dangerous and deadly violence that the political right represents and how that force is also protected by the right-wing within the halls of power. 

The result of this massive and systemic blindness toward nationalist-right violence results in the kind of death and destruction that the world witnessed in D.C. yesterday. ■

For the latest news updates, please visit the News section.