There's a world of difference between the events of summer 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021. Over three days of testimony, current and former leaders in law enforcement, the federal government and the National Guard have been called to the Hill to answer questions about the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
And yet, listening to only Republican senators' questions would lead you to believe that last year's nationwide protests against police brutality were just as violent and riotous as the attempt to overturn the election. Wednesday was 30 years to the day since Los Angeles police beat Rodney King during a traffic stop, setting off protests that engulfed the city and riveted the country. It feels at times like we're no closer to ending police brutality than we were then. For these senators to draw lines of comparison between people seeking justice and a mob set on hurting their colleagues is a shameful deflection from these members, no matter how much they try to mask their intentions.
Well, to be fair, it wasn't much of a mask. Did any of these GOP senators actually say the name "Black Lives Matter" during their questioning? No. But in most cases, what they meant in their repeated references to "last spring" and "last summer" was perfectly clear.
"In the past year, we have seen massive rioting and violence as extremists, many of them leftist extremists, took to the streets across the country," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said during FBI Director Christopher Wray's testimony Wednesday. He then asked Wray what the FBI is "doing to counter this ongoing pattern of domestic terrorism."
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., upped the stakes Wednesday during a hearing with the head of the D.C. National Guard and officials from the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security. Bouncing off one witness's answer, Hawley referred to "the events of the spring, which we're all familiar with."
"I mean, we had the attack on the White House, where 60 Secret Service officers were injured, the president had to be evacuated into a bunker, the church across the street was lit on fire," Hawley said. To echo The Washington Post's Philip Bump, calling what happened in late May 2020 an "attack on the White House" is a real bit of historical revisionism.
That's especially the case when you consider what former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told Congress on Feb. 23. When asked about the difference in preparations for Jan. 6 compared to last summer, Sund was unequivocal:
I will tell you, we handled 15 major demonstrations involving Black Lives Matters groups following the death of George Floyd over the summer. We had a total of six arrests, six arrests, no use of less lethal capabilities, no use of lethal force capabilities. The events, the everything that we put into place for January 6th far exceeded any planning that we did for any events in 2020.
To repeat: The Capitol Police were way more worried about the gathering of former President Donald Trump's supporters than about any Black Lives Matters protest that took place last year. And even with that extra preparation, it was the mob that Trump whipped into a frenzy that stormed the Capitol and sought to harm the people inside.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have tried to make it clear that despite the conspiracies floating around the conservative and far-right infospheres, the Jan. 6 attack wasn't a scheme to make Trump look bad.
"Is there any evidence at all that it was organized or planned or carried out by groups like antifa or Black Lives Matter?" Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asked Wray. "We have not seen any evidence to that effect thus far in the investigation," Wray responded.
Now, knowing all that, let's give the senators the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let's assume that they really are just asking these questions to form their own baselines for comparison. After all, these are two major events that involved massive deployments of law enforcement. That would be understandable, to a degree.
What I don't get, though, is being unwilling to say — on Twitter, in an op-ed, somewhere — that you've been told that Jan. 6 was different from the Black Lives Matter protests, even if you don't agree with those protests' aims. That yes, these are the people who the FBI says took part in the riot, and there's no reason to doubt that assessment.
And if you're honestly seeking more information about how law enforcement treats the far left, why is this forum — a set of hearings about a specific attack — the right place to raise those points if not to diminish the severity of the right-wing attack?
Like I said last week, when it comes down to brass tacks, the two events aren't comparable — not in terms of the threat that they posed to the country and not in terms of the police response. The temptation to use the fight for Black equality as a punching bag must be a strong one, especially as a way to shield your compatriots from their role in inciting mob violence.
It's truly outrageous, though, how disrespectful it is to draw this false equivalency between the two again and again, even as the Capitol girds itself for a possible repeat of the violence of Jan. 6 and the police brutality denounced in the streets in 2020 continues to this day. Meanwhile, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on Wednesday night. If it passes in the Senate and onto President Joe Biden's desk would be a big step towards making the Black Lives Matter protests obsolete. And isn't that what these Republicans want? For the protests to end?I look forward to reading about their newfound support.