by Sadé Smith
The committee hearings prove the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack was thorough and well-resourced. The reoccurring rhetoric at the hearings praises “American Democracy and Patriotism,” and claims Trump and his supporters’ actions were un-American. The hearings are a performative production of an undemocratic, imperialist, police state.
Multiple Capitol Police officers testified in detail how they were attacked with pepper spray and other weapons at the Capitol, recounting the trauma they suffered and continue to suffer. Based on the testimony, one must deduce pepper spray and beatings are extreme acts of terror no one should be subjected to.
Ironically, Black and Indigenous communities have articulated that reality for decades, only the complaints were ignored, as the perpetrators were the police. Less than six months before Jan. 6, 2021, throughout the summer of 2020, the harm of pepper spray, beatings, and attacks were on full display as police across the nation used tear gas, pepper spray, batons, rubber bullets, and arrests; disappeared people in unmarked vehicles; and made false statements in police reports to crush a movement for Black lives. Police violence was so indiscriminate children and media were even attacked. The U.S. Department of Justice even expanded federal jurisdiction to prosecute protesters, seeking longer sentences for many associated with the movement, continuing the legacy of the Counter-Intelligence Program.
Through all the well-documented acts of violence, and direct threat to a core tenet of democracy, the Right to Protest, there was no well-funded, monthslong investigation, and public accounting for the police violence. 2020 was not the first time this brutality was publicly exposed. Police violence and corruption was investigated in detail in 1929 by the Wickersham Commission. Police destroyed unionized labor movements and undermined LGBTQ rights. Despite the well-documented history of over a century of police terrorism of marginalized peoples, there is no action.
THE PERFORMANCE OF CIVILITY and OUTRAGE
What has not been discussed at the Jan. 6 committee hearings is how Congress, and the entire U.S. government, historically and presently, has instated hundreds of years of white supremacy, racialized violence, economic exploitation, imperialism and genocide of numerous peoples and sovereign nations. The Committee is not discussing how the constant degradation, dehumanization, and exploitation of marginalized communities, domestically and abroad, has always been the practice of the U.S. and that Jan. 6 was a comparatively tame reflection of that history. The outrage at the actions of the attackers on Jan. 6, when those same members of Congress vote and fund genocidal and resource exploitive wars and coups, cannot be taken seriously.
The U.S. has been militarily involved with every nation on the planet except three. There are at least 750 U.S. military bases around the globe. All on foreign soil. Yet we are to believe the attack on the Capitol was the threat to democracy.
The U.S. has consistently undermined democracy and overthrown democratically elected leaders in Indigenous nations of Turtle Island, Hawaiʻi in 1893, the Philippines and Puerto Rico in 1898, Nicaragua in 1909, Honduras in 1911, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, South Vietnam in 1963, Chile in 1973, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and attempted in Syria. The U.S. is also responsible for the political instability in Central America, fueling mass migration, while unabashedly claiming to be the victim of a border crisis it created. The U.S. spends nearly $800 billion on war and drops an average of 46 bombs a day. The U.S. and allied forces have dropped more than 337,000 bombs over the last 20 years. These are actions by Congress.
Domestically, communities are intentionally deprived of health care, jobs, education, and housing but subjected to police violence, mass incarceration, and medical neglect. The International Tribunal on U.S. Human Rights Abuses against Black, Brown, and Indigenous Peoples found the U.S. guilty of genocide in October 2021.
THE UNITED STATES IS NOT A DEMOCRACY
Trump is the focus of the hearings — as if one man is the threat to democracy, and the Jan. 6 attack was the epitome of violence against it. Democracy is defined as a system of government where the common people are the primary source of political power, and one vote does not have more than another. A look at U.S. history reveals the U.S. has never been a democracy. At the formation of the U.S., only white property-owning men could vote. That is an oligarchy, not a democracy. Despite ratification of the 15th and 19th Amendments giving Black men and women the right to vote, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (before 2013)1, democracy has yet to be achieved.
Contrary to the popular mythos, undemocratic practices are the norm in the U.S. as evidenced by the Electoral College, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Those three examples demonstrate the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government are controlled by undemocratic processes. One U.S. senator from California represents nearly 20 million people. Their Alaskan counterpart represents only 400,000 people. The Senate has prevented the passing of popular people-centered policies, including voting rights and abortion rights.
The highest voter turnout in 30 years occurred in the 2020 election, even then, only 60% of “eligible” voters participated. As verified by a 2014 Princeton study, even when we vote, popular policies are not passed. The U.S. is controlled by corporate interests:
“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”
The U.S. refuses to acknowledge the systemic nature of its violence, capitalist exploitation, militarism, and white supremacy. The U.S. is so committed to denying reality, 36 states have introduced legislation to ban accurate history being taught in schools, renaming anything involving Black history as “Critical Race Theory,” to avoid undermining the myth of American exceptionalism.
As discussed by Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong, the myth of American exceptionalism and innocence has global implications that thwart critical analysis of U.S. policies and destroy progress toward a more equitable existence. The myth relies on the ahistorical assertion that America is a righteous, moral nation, at the forefront of progress, despite the small missteps of the past like genocide, land theft, and enslavement. It operates in a delusion of individual unconnected incidents. Trump and the attack on Jan. 6 are deemed as a deviation from “American Ideals” when they are, in fact, a continuation of those ideals. Jan 6 directly reflects how the U.S. treats the rest of the world and its own marginalized communities: as something to be seized and pillaged.
It’s no coincidence Confederate flags, an emblem of racialized terror and violence, flew during the attack. It’s no coincidence there were lynching threats — racialized terror is as American as it gets. So, what is Jan. 6 to the exploited? To the survivors of genocide, enslavement, and racial capitalism? What democracy was protected? No popular policies will be passed. No wars will be avoided. No one with any substantial power will be held accountable. Like the police and U.S. military, Trump will never be held accountable. The hearings are performative, but never address the underlying issue. The limited rights we had are being taken by an undemocratic Supreme Court rife with corruption.
Jan. 6 attackers were not aberrations in defiance of American democracy. They were a mirror exposing the reality of America, and the charade of democracy. The reality is white people will organize across class, in clear violation of laws disparately applied to everyone else, and use violence to seize power. They will face little consequences relative to the conduct. What is being posited as un-American and undemocratic is actually an American tradition, and Jan. 6 was not the first incident, nor will it be the last.
1 Key provisions of the VRA were stricken in 2013 in Shelby v. Holder.
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Sadé A. Smith, aka John’s sister, is a criminal defense attorney in Seattle, Washington. She was a public defender for seven years. Her focus is litigation and equity work. She supports Black liberation; land back; Indigenous sovereignty; trans rights; the abolition of the U.S. military, prisons, and police; and the destruction of white supremacist patriarchy and all settler colonial states.
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