The first amendment of the U.S constitution goes as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Americans have long boasted the rights granted to them by the first amendment, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to peacefully protest. By enacting these privileges, in particular the right to peacefully protest, American citizens have gained additional imperative rights such as racial equality under the law and preventive labor exploitation laws.
Oftentimes, however, legal peaceful protests turn into unconstitutionally defended violent riots; violence can be and has been instigated by either protestors or the police force.
On Jan. 6, 2021, this violent misuse of the first amendment was enacted by a group of pro-Trump insurrectionists raiding the U.S Capitol.
In an interview with ABC News, historian Aram Goudsouzian describes how the event was something unseen at such a scale in American history.
“What makes today’s instance so unique and so distressing is that it is foreseeable, armed into Congress itself and it’s encouraged by the President of the United States. This is unprecedented in American history,” Goudsouzian said.
Citizens are comparing this event to the attack on the U.S Capitol in 1814, in which British forces burned down parts of the White House and Congress during the War of 1812. The calamity, despite the similar progression of events, has been deemed incomparable by historians to the attack on Jan. 6.
“That (the 1814 British attack on the U.S capitol) was a military measure by a foreign power against the United States,” Goudsouzian said.
This is where the disparities chime in; the British attack in 1814 was incited by the fury of war, while the most recent riots were led by a refusal to accept unsatisfactory, yet democratically yeilded, results.
“Perhaps the most similar internal attack was Shays’ Rebellion in 1786, in Massachusetts under the Articles of Confederation. However, that armed rebellion was about debt, property, and taxation, not the results of a free and fair election,” Historian and MC’s AP US History and Sociology teacher Meghan Ellsworth said.
The only time such violence is anticipated is in the midst of a war. Yet, both events, despite the difference in motives and historical setting, share a common trait of predictability. Except, this time, the raid on the capitol was not anticipated as an act of war, but rather due to a questionable leadership that has proven their lack of boundaries in the attainment of victory. With the approval of the President himself, the recent raid of the capitol was executively endorsed domestic terrorism driven by a refusal to uphold the constitution.
“What happened today was domestic terrorism,” GOP spokesman Michael Ahrens tweeted. “Our soldiers have died carrying the American flag into battle for our freedom. To see that flag used in the name of unfounded conspiracy theories is a disgrace to the nation, and every decent American should be disgusted by it.”
Additionally, the size and power of the U.S. defense forces between now and 1814, is dramatically different. With a capitol police budget of 460 million dollars and a DC metro police budget of 568 million dollars, according to the Department of Defence, critics argue the police were capable of preventing and halting such an attack on democracy. Speculators believe a lack of preparedness was due to the racial privilege of the predominately white individuals who took part in the riots. Despite the large mass of people involved, only 82 arrests were made so far, according to D.C. police. Compared to the estimated 14,000 nationwide arrests of Black Lives Matter protestors since May 27, 2020, the American people are questioning the underlying motives of the American defense forces.
“The fact that the planning to assault the Capitol happened in public shows the bankruptcy of the intelligence apparatus that has been built since 9/11,” Michael German, a former FBI special agent and Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program fellow, said in an interview with The Post.
Many are beginning to view the events that transpired on Jan. 6, 2021, as a historic one that will forever be referenced and remembered as a failure in the American democratic system.