Why the Washington riot mattered in North Carolina

Why the Washington riot mattered in North Carolina

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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As the mob broke into the U.S. Capitol Wednesday afternoon, I got a message from a historian friend who happens to be a descendant of George Henry White, the North Carolina native who was the last Black congressman before Jim Crow laws rigged the system in 1901.

Luke Alexander, who lives in eastern North Carolina, shared a video that came with a caption that read, “It took 159 years, but a mob marching behind a confederate flag has stormed the U.S. Capitol.”

Why it matters: It’s undeniable that what happened yesterday in Washington — what former president George W. Bush called an “insurrection at the U.S. Capitol” — was one of the most consequential moments in history. And like in any such event, people received the images and reports in different ways in the moment.

  • For Luke and others in eastern North Carolina, the scenes were a grim reminder of the only successful coup in U.S. history, the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, when armed white supremacists burned down homes and a newspaper and overthrew the local government.
  • To others, especially the North Carolinians who were in the Capitol yesterday, it was more immediate than that.

The elected leaders from Mecklenburg County who serve in Washington now — Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, and Republican Rep. Dan Bishop — were all in the building. All three disavowed the rioters:

  • Tillis, the Cornelius Republican who just a few hours earlier announced that he would support the certification of Biden’s election, said: “It’s a national disgrace to have a mob attacking Capitol Police and engaging in anarchy. This is not what America stands for.” 
  • Adams, the Democrat who represents the 12th district, said: “I’m safe, our staff is safe, and we are sheltering in place. … As soon as the situation at the Capitol passes, I stand ready to do my duty, certify the vote, and return to the business of working #ForThePeople.”
  • Bishop, the Republican 9th district congressman who later voted to object the certification of Biden, said: “Violence is always unacceptable and must stop NOW. We solve our problems through debate and peaceful protests, not violence. Thank God for the brave men and women of Capitol Police.”
trump mob capitol

Capitol Police, with guns drawn, guard the doors to House chambers in the U.S. Capitol. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Other local leaders and businesspeople with local ties had strong words:

  • Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan called the events, “appalling.”
  • County commissioner Leigh Altman said, “Today’s lawlessness is not who we are.”
  • City council member Malcolm Graham said, “If these protectors were Black, we’d be seeing a very different behavior in terms of response. I thought I had seen it all over the past four years of Trump’s presidency. But every single time, he surprises me with his actions. There’s no bottom to his behavior, and I’m speechless. Sick to my stomach. And honestly – on the verge of tears.”
  • Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias called the events “a blatant display of the inequality between how black and white protesters are treated in our country.” He continued to say, “We must condemn injustice & actively work toward the dream of what we can & should be together.”

The strongest condemnation came from Richard Burr, the senior senator from North Carolina, and a Republican:

  • “The President bears responsibility for today’s events by promoting the unfounded conspiracy theories that have led to this point. It is past time to accept the will of American voters and to allow our nation to move forward.”

The bottom line: It’s not partisan to say that a mob storming the U.S. Capitol is disgraceful, and at least most of our leaders can agree on that.

Go deeper: Trump mob overruns Capitol

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the late-night certification vote and additional statements from local leaders.

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