In the aftermath of the Capitol’s siege by a Trump-supporting mob, some on the right have chosen to focus on hypocrisy on the left. Democrats and others who supported the Black Lives Matter protests, so the argument goes, have no right to be horrified because they normalized theft and violent crime throughout the summer. Senator Marco Rubio suggested as much when he asked “left hypocrites” why they justified insurrectionist behavior months ago.
Republicans have bigger problems to solve than the hypocrisy of BLM supporters, but that doesn’t make the red herring any less false.
First, most BLM activity was not criminal, while every person who stormed the Capitol committed a federal crime.
Of the roughly 8,100 BLM protests from May 24 to August 22, 570 involved at least one case of violence or property damage. In other words, 93 percent of protests had zero crime or violence. If a 7 percent sounds like a lot, consider that the civil rights protests from 1954 to 1975 had a rate of 12 percent. BLM protests with at least one instance of violent crime or theft were especially concentrated in Portland and Seattle. Take these cases away, and the number of protests with criminal activity drops substantially.
Advocates for criminal justice reform did not focus on that 7 percent of protests because that violent crime is already illegal. Police brutality is often not illegal, and where it is illegal, it is broadly unenforced. Policies to keep arsonists accountable already exist; we do not yet have a system to keep the criminal justice system accountable. Supporting the Black Lives Matter protests does not equate to supporting violence.
Second, contrast the St. John’s church photo-op with Trump’s non-response to the Capitol attack.
On June 1, 2020, protesters gathered near the White House, distanced from the fenced area protecting White House grounds. No one attempted to advance past the area intended for public pedestrians. Despite the civility, the protesters were tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets so the president could take a photo at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
On January 6, 2021, protesters walked from Trump’s rally to the Capitol and somehow overwhelmed security forces there. Unlike the BLM protesters, who occupied public sidewalks, and streets, every Trump supporter who trespassed the Capitol committed a federal crime.
Trump’s guilt in the storming of the Capitol is not just his encouragement. He knew Capitol Police were overwhelmed and that lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence were forced to hide in a secret secure location, yet refused to call in the National Guard to get the situation under control. Capitol Police only got the help they needed thanks to the governors of Virginia and Maryland calling upon their National Guards. Eventually, VP Pence called in the Washington, D.C. National Guard after it was clear the president would not.
The president abandoned his post. Most of Trump’s closest staff, who watched him react to the news, were horrified by his response, prompting mass resignations and other distancing behavior. Even for those who stuck with Trump through hundreds of scandals, his behavior was unacceptable.
Third, a better comparison to the Capitol disaster is the Benghazi scandal. Hillary Clinton was accused of deleting emails relating to the tragedy, and the investigation inhibited her efforts to win over Republican voters disillusioned with Trump. For many of those voters, Clinton’s scandal made her the worse option.
If Clinton’s Benghazi scandal disqualified her in these voters’ minds, they must reject Trump if they wish to be consistent. While Clinton had no control over the threat in Benghazi, Trump played an active role in instigating the storming of the Capitol. Investigation of Clinton’s role was hampered by her lack of email professionalism. Investigating Trump’s neglect is unnecessary due to accounts by the D.C. National Ground and his staff. The storming of the Capitol even had a higher body count than the Benghazi attack. Trump supporters cannot ignore his crimes without also conceding their greatest criticism of Hillary Clinton.
Invoking the BLM protests to avoid responding to Trump’s behavior is an inappropriate red herring and encourages further anti-American conduct from the country’s highest elected office. If one is angrier about hypocrisy in the other team than about crimes in the White House, that anger is based on competitiveness, not principles. Republicans must demand more from their president.