The impetus behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is systemic racism.
People join and support BLM to protest a system of justice in America that treats people of color differently than white people. From that perspective, the BLM movement comes from noble place – the desire to right a wrong in our society.
This past Summer, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer sparked outrage and widespread protests, deservedly so.
Rising up and taking to the streets to protest that murder was an entirely appropriate response by Americans. And, if I remember correctly, when some of those protests turned violent, that violence was condemned by democrats and republicans alike.
Most Americans agree that violent protests cannot, and should not be tolerated. That said, it’s important to understand the psychology of a riot.
Marin Luther King said:
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.
And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”
The BLM riots were the result of America failing to acknowledge the mistreatment of black and brown citizens by our justice system, which has been going on for years. Prolonged injustice needs but a spark to lead to protests and riots, and the George Floyd murder was that spark.
Contrast that with the January 6th “stop the steal” protest, which turned into a violent riot.
The January 6th protest had nothing to do with prolonged injustice. It was not borne out of years of systemic racism. Instead, the January 6th protest was a planned and calculated attempt by our president to disrupt the certification the 2020 presidential election.
The impetus for the January 6th protest was the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged. There is not a shred of truth to that claim. But, as we all know; Donald Trump does not care about the truth. So, he pushed the false claim of a rigged and stolen election to millions of Americans in the weeks leading up to the January 6th rally. And on that day, he again lied to the thousands in attendance.
None of this is in dispute. We know that President Trump spread lies and false claims about the election, and we know that he assembled the rally on January 6th to disrupt the certification of the election by congress.
The primary difference between the BLM protests and the Stop the Steal protest is the legitimacy of the issue being protested.
Systemic racism is a real and legitimate problem in America. We have data showing black and brown citizens are treated more harshly than white citizens by both the police and by the courts. In short, for BLM protesters there’s a genuine issue at hand and a real reason to be angry, and George Floyd’s life being extinguished under the knee of a white racist cop, brought an ugly and graphic clarity about racial injustice, to millions of Americans.
In contrast, what Trump supporters were protesting on January 6th was not justified. The very foundation of the Stop the Steal protest was built on lies. There was no widespread voter fraud. The election was not stolen.President Trump did not win in a landslide.
How do we know that the issues being protested on January 6th were not legitimate?
We know this because:
The votes were tabulated and Joe Biden had 7 million more of them.
The votes were recounted several times, and Joe Biden still had 7 million more of them.
Every challenge that the president’s legal team brought to the courts was defeated in resounding fashion.
The Trump Administration’s Attorney General reviewed the claims of widespread fraud and said there was none.
The indisputable truth is that President Trump lost the 2020 election.
Now, if the candidate that I supported and trusted lost an election, and then went on to tell me every single day for weeks at a time, that the election was stolen, and that the consequence of that stolen election was that my country was going to be destroyed, I might have stormed the US Capitol as well.
Take what Doctor King said about riots and apply it to what happened on January 6th:
I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear?
They failed to hear that my vote was stolen – that the election was rigged, that I won’t have a country anymore if the election is certified
I honestly believe that millions of Americans believed what Trump told them every day for weeks before and after the election – that it was rigged and stolen. And for the thousands that showed up on January 6th, the only way to stop the steal was to stop the certification, and that meant storming the Capitol building. So that’s what they did, at the behest of our lying president.
The issue many of us are grappling with today is how did we get to the point where millions of Americans are resistant to facts and immune to the truth?
How did this happen on such a mass scale?
I believe it was the perfect storm of the browning of America, globalization, religiosity, and an opportunistic and depraved leader.
More than any other President in our history, Trump understood the value of other people’s fear. He understood that he could use that fear to his own advantage.
Trump understood that connecting with people over fears about our changing demographics, what it means to “be American”, growing secularism, and loss of manufacturing jobs, would override everything else – including truth and facts — because fear, national identity, and religion resonate at an emotional level.
Trump knew the quickest and easiest way to get people to vote for, and support him (no matter what), was to connect with them over fear.
Trump’s connecting with voters over fear didn’t involve engaging in meaningful dialog or the difficult task addressing our changing world – instead he commiserated – not because he was genuinely empathetic, but because he knew both the power and expediency of commiseration.
Trump saw early on that if he could get the disenfranchised to believe he was with them in terms of their fears around abortion, immigration, and globalization – he would have them in his pocket. Once he achieved that, he could “shoot someone in the middle of 5th avenue” and it wouldn’t make a difference to supporters.
Trump’s fake commiseration around religious issues, immigration, and globalization led to a fact-resistant base of supporters, and emboldened the President to embark on his Hitleresque desire to rule a nation.
Trump knew that once he connected with people over fear, he could lie to them with impunity, and that they would follow him off a cliff, or to the doors of the US Capitol.