U Students and Professors React to Jan. 6 Protests at the U.S. and Utah State Capitol Buildings

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Trump supporters stand with other protesters at the intersection of 1300 E and 200 S in Salt Lake City, UT on October 7, 2020.(Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

On Jan. 6, while the House and Senate met to affirm president-elect Joe Biden’s victory, hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters gathered on Capitol Hill, with some forcing their way into the building. The protest resulted in five deaths and some damage to the building itself.

The Utah State Capitol saw its own pro-Trump gathering, which was mostly peaceful with the exception of some conflict with counter-protesters and Salt Lake Tribune photojournalist Rick Egan being pepper-sprayed for covering the event.

The media was also a target in Washington, D.C. where news equipment was smashed, a photographer was punched and “murder the media” was etched into the Capitol door.

James Curry, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, said members of the media are often caught in the middle of political violence, it just has not been seen in a domestic sense in a while.

“That’s something we usually see and experience in war zones in other countries where we see journalists kind of caught in the middle. Maybe you listen to a radio story where you can hear bombs going off in the background,” Curry said. 

After Trump’s video addressing the nation was deleted from Twitter and his account was permanently banned due to a risk of further violence, the power of social media and its relationship to freedom of speech began to be called into question. 

“You don’t have to be an extremist group, but even for hardcore partisans like people who have really strong opinions, social media serves as a place where they can not only organize but also sort of work themselves up into a frenzy,” Curry said. 

Curry said social media works to show individuals what they want to see, thus removing any dissenting views and creating an echo chamber. 

Responses to the Protest

Before Curry came to the U, he worked on Capitol Hill, and he couldn’t help but worry for his friends who still work there when he heard the news. 

“I think for anyone who has worked in the Capitol complex and who knows people who still work there it was just very surreal, and scary because you can picture yourself there,” Curry said. 

After his initial shock, Curry was sad to see force being used to try to protest the election results. 

“How sad it is to see that sort of attempt on our democratic processes and our democratic system of elections — to try to overturn an election via force, which is antithetical to how civil government is supposed to work,” he said. 

However, the vice president of the College Republicans at the U, Tyler Boyles, said the protest was about much more than an election.

“This is about years of people on the right being slandered, being lied to, and they’re sick and tired of the corruption that’s been going on,” he said. “So this was kind of a breaking point.”

While Boyles supports the protests that occurred, he condemns the violent actions at both the Utah State and U.S. Capitol buildings.

“There’s troublemakers in every group of people, and they should be held accountable for that, but for the most part, it was peaceful. And these are Americans who were very angry at the system,” he said. “When you have over one-third of the population who believes that the election is rigged there needs to be more investigation into that.”

As far as what the protest at the Capitol means for democracy moving forward, Curry said his perspective tends to be a lot different than other people’s.

“I don’t see a good democracy or a strong constitutional system as requiring that nobody ever tries to behave poorly, or ever tries to undermine it or ever tries to subvert it, but to me what makes a strong democratic system, a strong constitutional system, is that when those attempts happen, they fail,” he said.

Curry believes the strength of the U.S. political and legal systems was revealed through the failed attempts of Trump to overturn the election and his refusal to concede power peacefully.

“Our system is pretty strong and able to withstand a real test like that, of a president of the most powerful office in the federal government trying to undermine the rule of law, and ultimately failing, even if it was messy and scary along the way,” he said. 

However, Stephanie Rosiles, the secretary of communications for the College Democrats at the U, thinks President Trump has ruined democracy for centuries.

“Donald Trump has deeply divided this nation, his rhetoric directly attacking and tarnishing the very ideals that this nation was created on,” she said in a written statement to the Chronicle. “He is directly responsible for inciting damage to our democracy that will take decades, if not centuries, to fix.”

Rosiles said she was not surprised by the events of Jan. 6.

“The events were a culmination of Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the media, the justice system, years of attacks on democratic institutions and the flirtation, condoning and encouraging of white supremacists and extremists,” she said.

Although he found the events disturbing, Curry was able to retain a positive outlook.

“I was also heartened by the fact that the insurgents or protesters or whatever term you want to use for them were turned back, cleared of the Capitol, arrested and Congress was able to be resilient enough to continue its work and finish certifying the vote count for Joe Biden,” he said.

News organizations like CNN have noted a difference between the force used against Black Lives Matter protesters and the reaction to the Capitol protesters. However, Curry said the U.S. Capitol security force does not have much practice dealing with protesters.

“There’s something of an ethos of it being the people’s building or the people’s chambers or the people’s complex, and that by design makes it less secure than it could be in the first place, which I think is something that Congress will be revisiting over the next couple of years,” he said. 

However, Rosiles disagrees and thinks the Capitol police are trained for moments like these, and even helped a woman down the steps of the Capitol, which she believes would not have happened at a BLM protest.

“Over the summer, across the nation, protestors were met with rubber bullets, tear gas, and were maced. This crowd was not met with the same force,” she said. “It is ridiculous to even insinuate that U.S.C.P. were not properly trained for crowds like these when they are directly responsible for protecting the United States Congress.”

Boyles thinks the comparison between the BLM protests and the protest at the Capitol only serves to further divide the country.

“You saw what happened with the protesters for BLM. They were burning and looting places and they felt the forces, and they should have yesterday when they were entering the Capitol,” he said.

Boyles said police should only use violence when necessary, and it was needed at the Capitol.

“Obviously you saw a Trump supporter get shot in the back by Capitol Police and you saw tear gas and you saw a lot of the same thing. Were they delayed? Yeah, and that needs to be investigated,” he said.

Impeach or Invoke the 25th?

The Capitol protest followed a Trump rally where the president told his supporters to protest the stolen election at the Capitol, causing some to believe Trump incited the violence and should be removed from power via impeachment or the 25th amendment.

Curry said the fact the conversations about invoking the 25th amendment are even happening is historic. The amendment has previously been used to transfer power to the vice president when the president is physically incapable of fulfilling their duties.

For Trump to be removed via the 25th amendment, Vice President Mike Pence would have to be on board with a majority of Trump’s cabinet, which is complicated by the recent resignations of several cabinet members and the impending inauguration.

Rosiles said the 25th amendment should be invoked because President Trump can cause irreparable damage in his remaining days in office.

“Donald Trump is a danger to this nation, as has been proven by his encouraging of white supremacists and extremists as well as his attacks on our democracy and democratic processes throughout the last five years,” she said.

While the conversation is significant, Curry does not believe the amendment will be invoked due to the unlikelihood of every necessary step occurring within the time frame. 

“Even if they did it, Trump would almost certainly object to having his power stripped and Congress almost certainly would not have the votes or the time to uphold it before January 20,” he said.

Impeachment, however, could be more likely according to Curry. 

“What will be interesting to watch is how many, if any, House Republicans support any of the articles of impeachment that House Democrats drop because that would be quite consequential,” he said.

 

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