On Jan. 6, we saw white privilege and white supremacy in action, but the biases that fueled the terrorism on the Capitol have been growing over the course of 2020.
For almost a year now, America has been going through some growing pains.
Growing COVID infection rates. Growing poverty. Growing political unrest. Growing tired of not knowing whether they will survive through it all—financially, mentally, or otherwise. Born of a seemingly perfect storm of circumstances, what we have also seen growing is the number of demonstrators taking to the streets to make their voices heard.
There were only a few at first. The numbers barely reached the dozens. Yet, each time they gathered, the speeches intensified, and their message spread farther and louder. With each week that passed, the crowds jumped from dozens to hundreds to thousands. Collective voices were coming together under the unified front of “standing against oppression.”
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Actions began springing up across the country, with Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC acting as favorite targets. Their poster board signs proclaimed their politics—bold lettering with phrases like “Let My People Go,” technicolor signs housing complicated messages detailing America’s transgressions against their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Though the actions began as peaceful, tensions rose as time went on—escalating from rallies to marches to intermittent destruction of property and random acts of violence.
Needless to say, the variations of Trump-related protests have made for an interesting time in our nation’s history.
Did you think I was talking about a different set of protests?
An active movement fighting for social justice has been playing out on our screens for years. For some of us, myself included, it’s been playing out in our streets before our very eyes. Various political actions centering around Black lives, police brutality, LGBT+ rights, and basic human needs such as food, water, shelter, and a living wage have taken place from city to city in countries around the world.
Yet, in the last 10 months since the first COVID-related shutdown, the United States has seen a new “movement” playing out—a movement intertwining various groups. Trump supporters, Proud Boys, anti-maskers, and self-proclaimed patriots took up arms both literally and figuratively to fight for their cause (whatever that cause was). It shifted from being against the shutdown and masks (and pro-Trump) to being against Black Lives Matter or ANTIFA (and pro-Trump) to being about stealing the vote (and definitely pro-Trump). Through the undulating tapestry of reasons, there was woven one underlying thread connecting it all. Interestingly enough, it’s the same thread that tied together so many of the actions that had been taking place weeks, months, and years before the Trumpers ever arrived: fear.
Fear of the loss of life. Fear for your safety. For your families. Fear of our government. Fear for the next meal. Fear is at the root of it all.
It is how our fear plays into those biases, however, that can make all the difference in our actions.
“There are two different versions of bias that come into play when it comes to the Trump side,” Dr. Corrine McIntosh Sako, a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive dissonance therapy, told COURIER. “There is affinity bias and confirmation bias.”
According to McIntosh-Sako, affinity bias is our tendency to get along with others who are like us and, in doing so, evaluate them more positively than those who are different from us. It is a bias that allows us to pinpoint the important similarities between ideologies. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out, favor, and use information that confirms what you already believe. One of the byproducts of confirmation bias is the tendency to ignore any information, whether truth or fact, that goes against those preconceived notions. Combining those two, it makes understanding or empathizing with a counter belief nearly impossible.
From the first reopen protest to the outright insurrection that played out on the steps of the Capitol of the United States of America days ago, that downright danger has shown itself in ways so many never thought possible.
“There’s a lot of entrenched and distorted thinking inherent in the population of people like the Proud Boys, the Trumpsters, etcetera,” McIntosh-Sako explained. “This thinking leads to biases that are often unconscious, and when coupled with a mob or socially supportive environment, gets downright dangerous.”
While our biases can make all the difference in our actions, it is also our biases that can make all the difference in how those actions are perceived.
As a journalist, I chose to go undercover during the Trump protests. I stood embedded among the unmasked masses in Sacramento, dressed undercover in American flag regalia, listening, watching, and documenting. I stood among Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Trump supporters, and anti-vaxxers. I listened as they stood on the California Capitol steps screaming that Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted them to march (yes, this is real; I saved the video for the annals of history). I watched as they pledged allegiance to the flag and sang the National Anthem with enough passion for the spit to fly from their lips as they belted out each word. For weeks, I watched as they carried out the exact same tactics they admonish Black Lives Matter consistently. They protested. They marched. They blocked traffic. Each time I went, I watched them become more and more zealous about their ideals, and I grew terrified.
I was terrified for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because they were getting away with it. There were cops that did nothing but stand by and watch. There were media outlets doing nothing more than calling them “rallies” and “parades” as if they were something peppy and happy that people should be excited over—and I watched as that empowered them even further.
As the election loomed on the horizon, tensions grew, and so did the levels of aggression at the right’s demonstrations. Proud Boys targeted those who counter-protested them. Independent press was monitored and hunted in the streets when spotted, often threatened with violence. Many of the right began coming out with weapons: hunting knives attached to their belts, bear mace hanging from their hips. When the final results came in and Trump lost the election, the Proud Boys elevated to wanton acts of violence, attacking counter-protesters. They patrolled communities predominantly made up of BIPOC residents with the specific intent of creating a feeling of fear and terror for residents, doxxing activists they deemed a danger to their cause and making open threats of violence against any who stood in opposition of them.
During that entire time, I watched as those same protesters who screamed that BLM (or ANTIFA to some) protesters should be arrested, hung for treason, shot on sight for opposing the US of A suffered no consequences. There were no rubber bullets shot into the faces of protesters. No National Guard was called in to reinforce the protection of the nation’s Capitol. I watched as those biases McIntosh-Sako discussed played out in the treatment of the right versus those who countered them.
Through it all, I watched as the right’s vitriolic rage gradually grew towards the government, which culminated in the actions carried out on the Capitol building in Washington, DC. Their anger spilled over the Capitol lawn, scaled the stone walls, broke the windows, and effectively held hostage an Electoral College vote—halting the very process that this country was supposedly founded on.
Almost a week after the failed insurrection, we have been able to step back and see the full extent of the damages done. Five people died, including a Capitol Police Officer who sustained fatal head injuries after being attacked by an insurrectionist wielding a fire extinguisher. A noose was found hanging from a makeshift gallow that was erected on the West Front of the US Capitol. An as yet unestimated amount of property damage was done, from broken windows to stolen lecterns and laptops.
While it happened, exiting President Donald J. Trump released a video telling his cult-like following that “they were very special” and that “he loved them.” Reminding us all of the very real differences that exist—the very real and very dangerous biases.
On Jan. 6, the right inadvertently showed the world exactly how those biases play out as millions tuned in across multiple platforms watched white privilege, white nationalism, and white supremacy manage to take siege of the United States of America with no push back. They inadvertently drew a line in the sand.
How we as a nation respond will show whether it is possible for biases ever to change.
As a journalist and a Latina covering these protests, I watch all the people that show up to these pro-Trump protests, and I get it. They’re scared the biases that have allowed them to feel safe are becoming too evident to ignore. They are afraid their time as the majority is running out—and it is.
It has been.