The Jan. 6 insurrection is yet another reminder that the storyteller matters.
Too many descriptions by political pundits about last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol Building are played down.
Some would say the people involved were merely trespassing. They came for a tour and picked up a few items from the building because the gift shop was closed.
They were afraid of losing the America they know. Blame it on nostalgia. They just wanted to go back to a time when everyone didn’t have voting rights.
They didn’t know how the political process works. They’re not thugs, criminals, terrorists or insurrectionists. No, they are victims of the political system, pawns of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
But the insurrection needs to be taken seriously, beginning with the way we talk about it. The day should go down in history not as a riot or a protest but as sedition, as high treason, as disloyalty.
History books should include the names and faces of the insurrectionists, full-color photos of them scaling the building, looting the offices of elected officials and assaulting police officers. They should also include their leader, then President Donald Trump, who issued a charge and sent them on their way.
This was war for them, so let’s treat it that way. It was televised, and we saw it happening in real time. Perhaps we should have seen it coming, as we counted Trump’s lies.
Comedians gave him funny names and treated his presidency as a joke. But after Jan. 6, we must use the strongest terms possible to describe those who would attack the democratic process, who would attempt to overrule the will of millions of American citizens.
America advertises itself as a democracy. Consequently, the mob that stormed the seat of the U.S. government should not be allowed any aid or comfort — not even in the way we speak about them.
The violent assault that prompted government leaders to shelter in place is said to be the result of a few misguided souls. But this is not true, and this is not a new direction.
Attempts to suppress the vote and shape election results to benefit certain groups has a long, tragic history in the U.S. European Americans, most notably in the South, have gone down this road of voter suppression before.
This presumption that they can take the electoral process into their own hands has always been deadly. African Americans have more than a few stories of being targeted, threatened, harassed and murdered for exercising their right to vote.
Thirty-seven-year-old World War II veteran Maceo Snipes was the only African American to cast a ballot for governor on July 17, 1946, in Georgia’s Taylor county. According to Smith v. Allright, he had the right to do so.
A few days later, Snipes was shot on his front porch by members of the Ku Klux Klan. He walked about three miles to the hospital with the help of his mother and died in need of a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, the hospital had run out of “black blood.”
According to his family, Snipes was later buried in an unknown location by his uncle Felix and the funeral director of McDougald Funeral Home. Mourners were too afraid to attend the funeral, having been threatened with meeting the same fate, and after word of two African American couples being kidnapped, beaten and lynched by a “white mob” made the news.
Martin Luther King Jr., then a Morehouse student, even wrote a letter to the editor of The Atlanta Constitution thought to be in response to the events.
Snipes’ killer, Edward Williamson, told “the coroner’s jury” that Snipes brandished a knife after the two argued about $10 Snipes allegedly owed him. Williamson said that he felt threatened and, consequently, shot Snipes twice. Snipes’ family said he neither owed money to Williamson nor owned a knife.
The stereotype of African Americans as threatening, aggressive and intimidating is gaslighting and victim-blaming. It also protects the stereotype of whiteness as normative and people who identify by the color as somehow incapable of committing a crime.
Snipes’ case gained renewed attention after a documentary on voter suppression, “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” was released last year.
To ensure that they got their way, people like Edmonson destroyed families and terrorized communities. This behavior was too often left unchecked by the legal system and, last year, there was an eerily similar attempt to destroy American democracy.
They brought a noose to hang then Vice President Mike Pence and that rope comes with a long history of mob violence against African Americans.
This is not the underbelly, the hidden criminal element of American society. Members of minoritized and marginalized communities have seen this side before. It comes as no surprise to them that some of the alleged insurrectionists are members of militia groups, business owners, doctors and lawyers.
Though Seamus Hughes, deputy director of The George Washington University Program on Extremism, called them “knuckleheads”, that simplistic reduction is dangerous and far from the truth. I’m sure the descendants of Maceo Snipes would tell a different story.