Though the actions of President Donald Trump’s most foolish supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday were disgraceful, I can’t help but compare the news coverage of this event with the coverage of the Black Lives Matter/Antifa protesters in cities across the country last year. In my home state of Ohio, those protesting the death of the career criminal George Floyd in Minneapolis broke into our statehouse in Columbus and set fires. Invariably called “mostly peaceful protesters” by the media, they left behind a swath of destruction throughout our downtown, which still has not recovered.
Washington media and politicians are wringing their hands about the occupation of the national capitol building by the nation’s people yesterday—with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ridiculously comparing this mostly peaceful protest by the right with the attack on Pearl Harbor. They seem willfully oblivious to the fact they denied anything at all troubling or unacceptable was happening out in the American provinces, where whole sections of cities were allowed to burn and federal and state buildings were under siege by leftist protestors for weeks on end. When President Trump called in the National Guard to protect federal property, the move was denounced as fascist. As American cities went up in flames, leaders in the Democratic Party denied that it was happening, when they were not actively encouraging it.
Now those Americans whose cities were allowed to burn throughout 2020 have expressed some of their understandable frustration with our politicians at the capitol. Yet I have not once heard the protesters described as mostly peaceful (even though they actually were), nor has any official denounced the Capitol Police law-enforcement response as unlawfully militarized or fascist. Though one protester was tragically and brutally shot and killed, a young female Air Force veteran named Ashli Babbitt, no anti-police pundit has denounced law enforcement, let alone demanded defunding police departments.
Just as astounding has been the media’s repeated emphasis on debunking the protesters’ concerns about the legitimacy of the presidential election, though they have totally ignored misrepresentations peddled by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. The media incessantly corrects assertions of voting irregularities, but last year allowed Black Lives Matter’s allegations that police had declared open season on black bodies to go unchallenged, despite obvious statistical data to the contrary.
Blacks and black-clad leftist radicals, unlike the rest of us apparently, have a “lived experience,” which is uncontradictable and justifies their lashing out. No one is allowed to pierce their illusions, no matter how absurd or self-destructive. Now mostly white protesters on the right have asserted their lived experience, but to a completely different reaction from our media and political class. If any good is to come from the chaos of the last year, it might be that the electorate will insist on a single standard of law-abiding behavior for all protesters.
(Correction: The third paragraph of an earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Babbitt's last name with only one "t," based on initial press reports.)
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Betsy Clarke is a retired law clerk who lives in Columbus, Ohio.