A justice system that protects whiteness not democracy

The Capitol insurrection: what law enforcement’s refusal to protect Democracy tells us, first published in 2020

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

We first published this piece last January following the insurrection.

The bitter taste that continues to linger in my mouth after bearing witness to Wednesday’s violence, fascism and chaos, is the utter failure of law enforcement to address the situation beforehand and as it unfolded. And on the tail of a year filled with multiracial resistance to entrenched white supremacy and American police and state violence, the contrast of law enforcement’s response to the Capitol mob versus the overall peaceful 2020 Black Lives Matter protests is even more stark. 

A predictable but nauseating difference

Credit: ACLED

Capitol police leadership left their employees tragically unprepared despite well known intel that the insurrection was coming according to this Buzzfeed article:


“The first glimpse of the deadly tragedy that was about to unfold came at 9 a.m. on the morning of the insurrection for one Black veteran of the US Capitol Police. But it didn’t come from his superiors — instead the officer had to rely on a screenshot from Instagram sent to him by a friend.”

INSTAGRAAMMMMM!!!!! Colorado police used livestreams to arrest antiracist leaders last fall in a targeted operation (Denver Post), and BLM protesters in Denver were arrested for “donning helmets and other gear meant to protect them should they be attacked by officers suited up for battle,” is one example of how summer protesters were targeted (Westword). I myself watched peaceful protesters met with police projectiles, flash bangs and tear gas for marching in the streets in June 2020.


“There’s quite a big difference when the Black Lives Matter protests come up to the capitol […]. [On Wednesday], some officers were catering to the rioters,” the officer told Buzzfeed.


The two Black Capitol police interviewed in this article said they were told to leave their gas masks at home and fought off a militarized attack for over two hours sometimes outnumbered 10 to one and were called the n-word numerous times. Is anyone else surprised only one officer died?

In contrast, this summer’s BLM protests were largely peaceful according to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project which tracks conflict across the world. Many of the shooting deaths were non-related nearby crime or white extremists like 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse who shot and killed two people in Kenosha.


Trump attempted to make Antifa a terrorist group much to the chagrin of true antifascists this summer (it’s a term not a group and Antifa is notoriously organized without hierarchy). He called BLM protesters thugs (racist language) and mobilized the Department of Justice to pursue them.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrators crowd outside the White House on 1 June was a block away from the building and made no attempt to breach its security. It was a mostly Black crowd, and it was charged by a force made up of Washington police, US Park police, over 5,000 national guard troops and federal agencies like the Bureau of Prisons. An army helicopter swooped low over the heads of the protesters. Teargas, batons and horses were used to clear a block so that Donald Trump could stage a photo op outside a church across the road. A national guard commander later admitted there had been “excessive use of force”.

Capitol police have a rich history of arresting peaceful protesters from disabled activists to rape survivors.


Coup or not, law enforcement’s treatment of the “Stop the Steal” protesters, militia and extremists whether subverted at the top or by individual officers resembled a fucking doormat compared to the tactical militarization and surveillance aimed at BLM protesters this summer.


Arrests of the Capitol mob are trickling in from Iowa to Florida, but where were the vans and riot police that greeted curfew violators engaged in BLM protesters across the country this summer? Less than 20 people were immediately arrested and less than 100 were arrested that day. I honestly think they didn’t have the numbers to arrest anyone without losing complete control of the capitol. “Yea steal some shit from Nancy as long as you don’t hang her up.” Fair choice if you ask me.

TO BE CLEAR: all mass gatherings of people include bad actors and those who take advantage of chaos. This summer bad actors took advantage of peaceful protests that at times turned to riots, often in response to police militarization, to destroy businesses. Remember Minneapolis’s umbrella man — a white supremacist. We’ll get into how destroying property like the Minneapolis police precinct is an act of resistance in another newsletter.


But Wednesday was different. It wasn’t bad actors, but large currents pushing the “Stop the Steal” efforts toward a violent insurrection.

It was a continued WILLFUL ignorance by MAGA supporters, including politicians and Trump, to the reality of proud boys and militia and nazis that have adopted the republican party as somewhat of a trojan horse.


I don’t have a crystal ball to know if Trump is really a closeted nazi who knows the power he wields or just an egomaniac who wants to hold onto power by whatever means no matter the impact, including using white supremacy to rally people around him. 


To be sure, as I walked through the crowd there was a tailgating, celebratory atmosphere of a true rally of like minded people who all drink the Kool-aid and love Trump and the liberty and the success he represents to them. There was weed smoke wafting and liquor pouring and trucks outfitted like floats. There were Jesus thumping preachers and people taking selfies while militia walked by.

Those weren’t the people at the front storming the Capitol. Many of those people were asking traffic cops directions to Union Station when the first crowd deterrents were detonated by police at 4 p.m. But there were also two white men from Minnesota I talked with who though not part of a militia were in the thick of the Capitol breach and planned to die for democracy later that night. 


Side note: The line between the two is small and fading. Trump unites the Karen and Chad suburban family and the anti-government white militia. As alternate reality ecosystems grow on Parler and other social media alternatives, the Karens and Chads are easily sucked into rhetoric that is radicalizing them. Watch this if you need a reminder. 

There were people I talked with who might not be involved with the Proud Boys or the Three percenters or “The American Milita” as one Nevada women put it to me while her team helped break into the Capitol.

But these people where riding the current of the crowd and that current was pushing them to violence and terrorism in the name of patriotism. AND the boat was being steered by extremists. And despite ample warning, law enforcement did nothing to stop it.

“Can I take your coat” hospitality

Capitol police were seen taking selfies and opening gates for the Capitol mob. There was a lack of national guard thanks to Trump’s initial refusal to deploy them despite the D.C. mayor’s requests. Police officers showed up to participate in the crowd. Blue line flags proliferated among MAGA and yellow “Do Not Tread on Me” flags. I myself ran into a smiling white man wearing a “Cops for Trump” hat and a trailing Blue line flag as a cape.

A current D.C. Metro Police said in a public Facebook post that “off-duty police officers and members of the military, who were among the rioters, flashed their badges and I.D. cards as they attempted to overrun the building.” Democrats are asking if there was inside help.


At least three officers from Washington to Pennsylvania are being investigated after photos showed them at the insurrection. Law enforcement did not show up in force to prevent an insurrection, coup or violent interruption of the electoral count. Ashli Babbitt the only person killed by police while invading the Capitol, was a former law enforcement officer herself.

The law enforcement presence on Wednesday showed up to shut down streets and manage crowds like it was just another protest or rally. That mistake led to the death of a police officer and a protester brainwashed on conspiracies. That mistake allowed protesters turned violent mobsters to breach the Capitol. 

It wasn’t that they couldn’t. They chose not to.

Two days after the riots, I drove through the Capitol. New concrete blockades sat where people flowed freely on Wednesday. Law enforcement vehicles covered the parking spots around the Capitol where protesters and militia and buses carrying them freely parked days before.


It seemed like a picnic compared to the streets of Denver which seemed like a war zone with SWAT teams and tanks this summer. That militarized response to BLM protests was mimicked across the country. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that clearly shows America’s bias. There were warnings.

A group of Oath Keepers who are former military and law enforcement and the “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the U.S. today.”

Militia and fascists have overtaken state Capitols before even aided by politicians like in this video. Michigan, invaded by armed protesters in April, 2020 is being pointed to as a “dress rehearsal” for last Wednesday. Six people from the state have been arrested in connection as of this weekend.


Leah Sottile has been writing on white extremists for YEARS. Read her “All Bets are Off” on last week here: The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it. People warned January 6 could be violent last month. I talked with family that morning about how I had no clue if the rally would be bigger than previous MAGA rallies since the election. A police officer I talked with Wednesday said it was thousands larger than those rallies, but he added it was way smaller than the summer’s protests. If it was smaller, why did it get out of control?

Yet nothing was done. And in the aftermath some republicans, MAGA supporters and neo-nazi’s are attempting to warp reality to blame “Antifa” for the violence and destruction. The FBI says there is no evidence to support those claims. As someone who wandered the crowd and has attend protests, I saw no counterprotesters much less antifa.

At 5:10 p.m., I listened to a man on a megaphone yell:

“This is the first time in two hundred years that we've taken an American building, but Trump is asking us not to be Antifa.” Go home he said.

But they aren’t going home. That’s the mistake Republicans made. They tapped into a anti-democratic source of power focused on preserving white power to hold onto their own political power. Now they are looking down the monster’s mouth. Now we all are looking down the monsters mouth. It is far from over.

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Founder of The Des and freelance criminal justice reporter based in Washington, D.C.