Which definition best describes what occurred at the US Capitol on January 6:
A. An act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government
B. Needless or willful damage or violence
C. A sudden decisive exercise of force in politics especially: the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group
These are three definitions from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary of words that express various forms of unrest.
If you selected ‘B’ you are in agreement with The Boston Globe’s recent headline, which describes the actions of January 6 as ‘mayhem.’ (‘A’ is the definition of insurrection; ‘C’ is a coup.)
True, what happened on January 6 was willful damage and violence. But it was so much more. It was a revolt against civil authority. It was a sudden exercise of force in the service of altering an existing government by a small group. It was beyond mayhem. It was insurrection. It was an attempted coup.
Why would The Boston Globe, not exactly a right-wing rag, headline such a misleading word less than a month after the most serious attack on our Capitol? The answer, I fear, is the same old, same old. Giving a pass to white guys.
When Black or Brown people take to the street, we are accustomed to their ‘demonstrations’ being rebranded as ‘protests,’ even ‘riots.’ We use words that escalate, even criminalize, their action. No one would use the word ‘mayhem’ to describe the 100 nights of protest in Portland, OR after George Floyd was killed.
But when white people storm the Capitol and successfully shut down the national government, the terror/insurrection/sedition they incite is downplayed by the label ‘mayhem.’
Let’s be clear. Mayhem is fun with an edge. Mayhem is WWF. Mayhem is a comic character hawking Allstate Insurance during NFL games. Mayhem is letting “boys be boys,” with a wink and nod and an acknowledgement that their silly antics are ultimately harmless. After all, these boys are our future, and we’re still proud of them.
Justice for the Capitol attack will only come when everyone involved, directly and indirectly, is held to account. Not because of the color of their skin. Because of the gravity of their acts. We the People have to keep the pressure on, because everyone in a position of influence and power, from Congress down to The Boston Globe, will find reason to backpedal the trespasses of these white attackers (who were disproportionately law enforcement officers and veterans as well). They will cast them as benign figures. Let’s be clear and insistent. Let’s call them out for what they are: domestic terrorists. Let’s call then out for what they did: sedition.