The disappointment was palpable. As the one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot approached, the Department of Homeland Security had warned state and local law enforcement officials that “domestic violent extremists” could strike again. Security forces were on guard and many people were on edge, reported the New York Times. Yet, as a CNN anchor morosely observed during the network’s saturation coverage of the anniversary celebration: “There’s been no violence at the Capitol today.”

The letdown was all the greater, coming after so many similar disappointments. Early in 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security predicted that white supremacists and militias would stage January 6-inspired attacks throughout the year. Fencing and bollards ringed the Capitol through July, protecting against the alleged white-supremacist threat. The Biden administration budgeted for attacks from domestic terrorists embedded within the military and law enforcement. In late spring, DHS issued an intelligence bulletin about coming domestic extremist attacks during the summer of 2021. A flurry of excitement broke out about possible violence in August 2021 from Trump plotters. College campuses were also at risk from those who feel “hostility toward higher education, intellectualism, and societal sectors seen as elite,” according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Barricades went back up around the Capitol in September 2021 and law enforcement was put on high alert, in preparation for unrest from right-wingers protesting the treatment of the January 6 rioters. The FBI doubled its investigations of white supremacists and militias, since extremists “advocating for the superiority of the white race” pose the greatest threat of mass-civilian attacks, the bureau has concluded.

None of those expected attacks materialized—not last week, on the one-year anniversary of January 6, or during the preceding year. The media’s Capitol riot anniversary celebration, however, was choreographed to underscore the fictional claim that white supremacy is the biggest impediment to civil order in the U.S. today. “White supremacy is a clear and present threat, and must be rooted out,” Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said on MSNBC. If that threat was not realized at the Capitol over the last year, we are told, that is only because it has migrated elsewhere. “Domestic extremists are glomming on to other issues,” Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism, told CNN on Thursday. “They need to focus locally to keep extremism going,” so they’re showing up at school board meetings, Segal said. MSNBC host Joy Reid seconded that assessment: The “MAGA insurrectionists have travelled to school boards” to fight the teaching of history. Those insurrectionists are worried that their “kids will identify with abolitionists,” Reid explained.

In truth, last year’s January 6 riot was bad enough without the Democrats’ “white supremacist” spin. The rioters tried to impede the constitutional transfer of power, an essential element of civil peace. If uprisings from losing parties become the norm in the U.S., Americans will forfeit the blessings conferred by the Anglo-American political tradition. The vandals boorishly violated the respect due to our national monuments. The rioters who assaulted police officers undermined conservatives’ claim to be the party of law and order and aligned themselves with the thugs who have been killing or attempting to kill cops since the George Floyd race riots.

So far, however, the most concrete fallout from the January 6 tantrum is not a “dagger at the throat of democracy,” as President Joe Biden put it in a speech from the U.S. Capitol on Thursday. There was no chance that that clownish crew of disorganized, deluded Trump acolytes would reverse the election outcome or permanently halt the vote certification. The real consequence of January 6 is rather the excuse that the riot gives the Left to go after conservative causes and conservative speech, all in the name of fighting an imaginary white-supremacist threat. And to ensure that the pretext remains vital, leaders from Biden on down are peddling distortions and unctuous, newly found patriotism.

Biden’s Capitol homily was at many points on the mark. As he argued, none of the “rigged election” claims has been substantiated, despite numerous opportunities for their proponents to do so. Advocates of the stolen-election claim accept the victories of Republicans who appeared on the same ballot that was allegedly disappeared or doctored by the election conspiracists. The January 6 riot is a dangerous precedent for our democracy if it ends up being more than just a one-off.

But Biden’s promise to present “God’s truth about January 6, 2021” was a mirage. Biden recounted how he and First Lady Jill Biden “mourned police officers in this Capitol Rotunda not once but twice in the wake of January 6th. Once to honor Officer Brian Sicknick, who lost his life the day after the attack, and a second time to honor Officer Billy Evans, who lost his life defending this Capitol as well.” Biden implies that Sicknick and Evans were killed by the January 6 unrest. But Officer Sicknick (he of the lethal fire-extinguisher myth) returned to his office after the riot and reported that he was fine, despite having been pepper-sprayed. He died the next day of natural causes, according to the coroner, who did not attribute his death to any January 6 rioter. The Justice Department’s investigations and indictments of the January 6 vandals have charged no one in Sicknick’s death.

Biden’s linking of Officer Billy Evans to January 6 is an outright fabrication. Evans’s death had nothing to do with January 6: he was killed by a black nationalist follower of Elijah Muhammad who drove his car into Evans and other Capitol police officers on April 2, 2021. It is a mark of how desperate the Democrats are to elevate the January 6 death toll that they are willing to undermine their white supremacist story by including in that toll a black nationalist murder of a police officer nearly three months later.

But Biden’s sleight of hand worked, as evidenced by the New York Times’s fawning and hilariously gratuitous annotations of Biden’s January 6 speech. The Times glossed Biden’s invocation of Evans with a comment about officers who responded to the January 6 attacks, reinforcing the impression that Evans was a casualty of the violence that day.

Only one person was killed during or as a result of the January 6 riot: Capitol trespasser Ashli Babbitt. The media blackout on that killing is one of the most stunning examples of political double standards in recent memory. Babbitt was shot at short range by Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, in what appears to be a patently unjustified use of force. Byrd had zero reason to think that Babbitt was armed or posed an imminent threat of lethal danger to himself or bystanders. Had Byrd been white and Babbitt black, even if Babbitt’s political sympathies were otherwise unchanged, the media would have called racism on him. And had a white-on-black shooting occurred outside the Trumpist context—had a white police officer shot an unarmed black trespasser breaking into a public building, say—the resulting mayhem would dwarf by magnitudes the January 6 riot.

Yet the media and Democratic politicians showed no interest in the Babbitt shooting. The homicide went down the memory hole. Byrd was accorded anonymity for months until he emerged for a long, sympathetic interview on NBC. By comparison, the press and activists routinely publicize the names and addresses of white police officers charged with killing black suspects, jeopardizing the safety of those officers and their families. No criminal charges have been brought against Byrd; he has been subject to no departmental discipline.

In light of the crocodile tears shed over the trauma experienced by the Capitol’s defenders on January 6, you would think that the Democrats’ post-George Floyd denunciations of systemic police racism never happened. In his speech, Biden lauded the “brave law enforcement officials [who] saved the rule of law.” In the immediate aftermath of January 6, CNN anchor Don Lemon cried while watching video of an officer being squished in a door. Newspapers ran multipage spreads on the cops’ post-traumatic stress; the networks devoted entire specials to their stories.

This outpouring of grief and gratitude contrasts with the silence regarding quotidian anti-cop violence. Through November 30, 2021, 67 police officers had been feloniously murdered by criminals, a 56 percent increase over 2020. That toll rose in December 2021. Ambush assaults on officers were up 91 percent in the first six months of 2021. Those victims elicited no tears from the media or tributes from national politicians. In almost every case, their passing went unacknowledged.

For the first three days of the George Floyd riots in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct came under increasing attack. Rocks and bottles were hurled at officers; the precinct’s parking lot fence was torn down; cruisers were vandalized. On the third night of anarchy, as the rioters breached the precinct’s defenses, officers trapped inside the building and on the roof were warned to put on their gas masks in case a bomb were detonated. The defenders were running low on ammunition. Desperate calls went out over the police radio: “They’re coming in. They’re coming in the back.” “We need to move. We need to move.” A few officers still guarded the roof, but then withdrew. The Minneapolis mayor had ordered that the precinct be ceded to the mob, in the hope of dissuading the vandals from further violence. In the final moments of evacuation, a cruiser barreled through a precinct gate, followed by a motorcade from the parking lot. The crowd threw fireworks and boulders at officers fleeing on foot. Moments later, the precinct went up in flames. The arsonists prevented firefighters from approaching the building and it burned to the ground. Appeasement failed. The next night’s riots were the most violent yet.

The Minneapolis officers received no sympathy from the national Democratic establishment. No media outlet ran profiles on them. Similar silence greeted the hundreds of officers across the country who have been injured during each successive wave of George Floyd riots.

Members of Washington, D.C.’s law enforcement community, by contrast, have been serviced by trauma experts and wellness dogs to help them recuperate from their January 6 emotional scars. The petting dogs showed up again for the January 6 anniversary, wandering the halls of Congress to provide comfort if the ceremonies triggered flashbacks in Democratic elected officials. In further mimicry of the therapeutic campus, House Democrats shared their experiences in a two-hour therapy session, hugging and clapping after each testimonial, reports the Times.

The maudlin displays of patriotism during the January 6 festivities were as hard to take as the newfound respect for law enforcement. “Deep in the heart of America burns a flame lit almost 250 years ago—of liberty, freedom and equality,” Biden said in his Thursday speech. This is the same Biden who in his first address as president found something else “deep in the heart of America:” “systemic racism.” Our “darkest impulses,” he said then, were engaged in a “constant battle” to deny “racial justice” to millions of Americans.

On January 6, though, Biden praised the “promise of America.” This version of America was barely recognizable in light of Democratic policymaking and philosophy. “Yes, in America, all people . . . reject a view that if you succeed, I fail,” Biden said. “If you get ahead, I fall behind. If I hold you down, I somehow lift myself.” Such a zero-sum mentality, however, drives the Democrats’ redistributionist agenda, which is based on the belief that one man’s wealth is indeed another man’s poverty. Likewise, the progressive attack on academic standards is based on the belief that “if I hold you down, I somehow lift myself.” If we cancel gifted-and-talented school programs, according to progressive education dogma, we will raise the achievement of low-performing students. If not all students can master algebra and calculus in high school, then no student should. Algebra classes should be replaced by low-demand “data science” courses.

Biden was positively stoic compared with congressional Democrats, who concluded the January 6 anniversary with a candlelight vigil on the Capitol steps, “murmuring softly to ‘God bless America’ in the cold night,” as the Times put it.

The significance of the January 6 riot should be neither dismissed nor exaggerated. For sheer destructive force, it pales in comparison with the street anarchy that began in May 2020 and that has continued relentlessly in the form of shootings, savage beatings and robberies, carjackings, and looting. Physical damage at the Capitol was minimal, especially compared with the infernos that burned businesses to the ground and destroyed thousands of livelihoods. Members of Congress were in no real danger; Mike Pence was not going to be lynched, regardless of the Democrats’ dumb literalism and willful inability to recognize political hyperbole.

But while quantitatively less destructive, the January 6 riot is qualitatively different from much of the race riots and from sometimes racially motivated street crime. Attacking the processes and symbols of democratic government has the potential to crater all of American society. If the juvenile vandalism of January 6 was far from realizing that potential, it nevertheless represents a dangerous impulse. It is not inconceivable that that impulse will play out again, especially given the persistent belief of many Republican voters that the 2020 election was stolen. It is also not inconceivable that Democrats will be next to use force in the hope of reversing an election. They have already threatened elected officials in their homes and used mob tactics to protest unwanted Supreme Court confirmations.

The epistemological problem complicating any analysis of January 6 is that the participants sincerely believed that the election was stolen. That belief changes one’s judgment of who is defending democracy and who is threatening it. Republican leaders who know better should rebut the rigged election claims. Their silence in the face of Trump’s continuing demagoguery on the topic only contributes to the country’s fissures.

But the crime and riots that the Democrats alternately tolerate and justify also have the potential to unravel democracy. If law enforcement is delegitimated and hindered from doing its job, if property is not secure, if civilians fear being held up at gunpoint, pistol-whipped, or shot when they enter the public square or even in their homes, then there is no more security and no conditions for prosperity. The George Floyd riots also took aim at the symbols of government—courthouses, prosecutors’ offices, police stations, City Halls, and squad cars. The cop hatred that they amplified has proved far more lethal than the January 6 convulsion. Far more people have participated in the George Floyd riots and in the ongoing assault on law and order than breached the Capitol. The events of January 6, 2021, do not meet any legal definition of “insurrection.” But if Democrats and the mainstream media insist on the term, then the violence of the last two years has also been an insurrectionary force.

Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next