February 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

Hundreds of insurrectionists prod­­ded by President Donald Trump swarmed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and pushed their way into the building, forcing members of Congress to flee. It took police several hours to regain control of the facility; several people were arrested, and one woman (one of the intruders) was killed. A police officer later died of injuries he sustained during the attack.

Earlier that day, Trump delivered an incendiary speech urging his supporters to head to the Capitol. Members of Congress were scheduled to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, state by state in alphabetical order, that day in an act that is normally perfunctory.

During his speech, Trump continued to insist, against all evidence, that the election had been stolen from him. He told the crowd, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

Trump did not accompany the throng, but many of them, fueled by this rhetoric, marched to the Capitol, pushed through police and broke into the building, committing acts of vandalism and theft.

Americans United issued a statement denouncing the violence.

“As an organization founded to guard the rights enumerated by the Constitution, we at Americans United join millions of Americans in expressing our horror and outrage at the violent invasion of our nation’s Capitol today by Trump supporters,” the statement read. “The threat to our democracy and to the results of a free and fair election has never been more evident in our country’s recent history. We call on every Member of Congress to reject both the spirit and actions of today’s riot and immediately certify that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be our next president and vice president.”

It continued, “Make no mistake: These rioters threaten every freedom we claim, including religious freedom. The noose hung on the West Lawn of our Capitol and the signs calling on Jesus only re-emphasize the unholy alliance of this president with white Christian nationalists. The same people who profaned Black churches in Washington, D.C., three weeks ago are responsible for today’s abhorrent actions with the blatant backing of the president they support.”

Christian nationalist groups responded by trying to pin the blame for the attack on antifa, a loosely organized left-wing movement that opposes fascism.

Evangelist Franklin Graham issued a statement reading, “The people who broke the windows in the Capital [sic] did not look like the people out there demonstrating. Most likely it was antifa.”

Sandy Rios of American Family Radio asserted that 1.5 million people came to the D.C. event. (Media outlets put the number in the thousands.) She saluted attendees as people “who love the country,” said they enjoyed Trump’s “inspiring speech” and were angry over “the fraud that took place in their states.”

Rios acknowledged that there were some Trump supporters in the crowd that stormed the Capitol but quickly added, “[I]n their midst were members of antifa.” She claims to have seen a tweet, since deleted, that instructed people to dress up like Trump supporters and cause trouble.

Said Rios, “I’m telling you, it was incitement. … They were dressed in black with Trump hats.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, didn’t cite antifa by name, but speculated during a radio broadcast that it is “still uncertain as to the full composition of the group that breached security and made their way into the Capitol.”

In fact, it’s very clear that the assault on the Capitol was led by Trump supporters. As Steve Benen of “The Maddow Blog” pointed out, during the attack many of them took selfies, recorded videos and posted to social media.

“To see this as some kind of ‘masquerade’ is to think antifa ne’er-do-wells had reconstructive plastic surgery to make themselves look like people we already know to be right-wing activists,” Benen observed.

The FBI later reported that there was no antifa presence during the assault.  Several people have since been arrested; all of them are Trump supporters.