Group of Professors Makes Statement: The Capitol Insurrection Was Not ‘Unprecedented’ #everythinghasahistory
January 15, 2021
We, the undersigned faculty and staff of the University of Oregon’s History Department, stand with activists, politicians, concerned citizens, and the larger community of historians in the United States and around the world who have condemned the mob that stormed the halls of Congress on January 6, seeking to violently prevent politicians from doing their constitutionally-mandated duty to certify the results of a democratic election. We also stand alongside those who have condemned the words and actions of President Donald Trump, who encouraged and condoned the mob. Like many, we were particularly troubled by the white supremacist rhetoric and imagery present at the rally and riot. The image of mobs wearing clothing calling for the murder of Jews and gathered around a makeshift noose—a horrific and undeniable symbol of racial violence—will forever stain our era and undoubtedly appear in future history textbooks documenting the rise of white nationalism in our time.
While many commentators have helpfully looked abroad to learn lessons for how to restore democratic norms after violent attempts to subvert election results, last week’s insurrection was the product of a much longer history of white supremacy and mob violence right here in America. Since the early-nineteenth century, populist politicians, some of whom Donald Trump has used as a model, have regularly directed peoples’ economic anxieties and social frustrations towards immigrants and communities of color. Racist populist rhetoric has then inspired conspiratorial thinkers, similar to today’s QAnon supporters who participated in the assault on the capitol, who imagine that a mysterious and non-white and/or non-Christian “they” are colluding to undermine American values and institutions. Expulsion of Native Americans from their lands, racial violence in the post-Reconstruction South, the “driving out” of Chinese immigrants on the Pacific Coast, the rise of vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, xenophobic movements, the lynching of thousands of Black and Mexican Americans, violent resistance to racial integration, and anti-Muslim hate crimes after 9/11 are just a few examples of the belief, shared by many white Americans, that non-white, foreign, and non-Christian peoples were conspiring to undermine American democracy.
We hope that the events of last week will force a reckoning with this history.