Last month, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the formation of a Congressional investigative committee to investigate the underlying causes of the January 6th, 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, which continues to be a prominent talking point in the media. In an interview marking the sixth month anniversary since the Capitol riots, Political strategist Matthew Dowd (who served as chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign) used intense rhetoric to describe the riot, telling Joy Reid of MSNBC that “January 6th was worse than 9/11 because it’s continued to rip our country apart and give permission for people to pursue autocratic means … I think we’re in the most perilous point in time since 1861 and the advent of the Civil War.”
Not to be outdone, President Joe Biden marked the somber half-year anniversary with a statement arguing that the events of January 6th were, in some ways, worse than the American Civil War:
Not even during the Civil War did insurrectionists breach our Capitol, the citadel of our democracy. But six months ago today, insurrectionists did. They launched a violent and deadly assault on the people’s house, on the people’s representatives, and on the Capitol police sworn to protect them, as our duly elected Congress carried out the sacred ritual of our republic and certified the Electoral College vote … It posed an existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive—a sad reminder that there is nothing guaranteed about our democracy.
Left-wing politicians and pundits who condemned the Capitol riots have completely refused to criticize the violent Black Lives Matter (and Antifa protests of the previous summer.
To be clear, there is some merit to these viewpoints: it is naive to expect that an angry mob forcibly entering one of the most high-profile power centers in the world would not traumatize the nation and draw condemnation. Indeed, the events of January 6th have been almost universally condemned with equal veracity by the political right. “I condemn any of this violence that is happening in the Capitol right now. I could not be sadder or more disappointed at the way our country looks at this very moment,” noted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol breach. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) echoed similar sentiments, arguing that “Violence is always unacceptable. Even when passions run high. Anyone engaged in violence—especially against law enforcement—should be fully prosecuted.” Conservative pundit Sean Hannity emphatically stated during his January 6th, 2021 broadcast, that “[a]ll of today’s perpetrators must be arrested and prosecuted.”
Unlike their Democratic counterparts, however, the GOP has been quick to add a caveat to their criticism of the January 6th breach: the same left-wing politicians and pundits who condemned the Capitol riots have completely refused to criticize the violent Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa protests of the previous summer.
Sen. Cruz pointed out in a February 2021 interview with Sean Hannity that “If you engage in violence whether you’re left-wing or right-wing, that’s unacceptable. The difference is, the Democrats have been complete hypocrites on this, cheering on BLM and Antifa and apologizing for their violence.” Similar sentiments were echoed in a January 8th, 2021 video released by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), in which he stated “The events that we saw this week should sicken every single one of us … Riots should be rejected by everyone, every single time. Now, are the left hypocrites? Absolutely. I remember what they now are calling ‘insurrection,’ they were justifying just this summer.”
In a letter sent last month to the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) expressed concern that the BLM and Antifa rioters were not being punished with the same severity as the January 6th rioters. Johnson noted how the Department of Justice’s “apparent unwillingness to punish these individuals who allegedly committed crimes during the spring and summer 2020 protests stands in stark contrast to the harsher treatment of the individuals charged in connection with the January 6th, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.”
Despite the best efforts of the mainstream media to downplay any comparisons between the January 6th and BLM/Antifa riots, the GOP argument has merit. The riots following the death of George Floyd last summer led to up to $2 billion in damages from looting, arson, and property damage, across at least 20 states. At least 19 people were killed in the first two weeks of protesting, the majority of whom were black. Over 2,000 members of law enforcement were injured. Tens of thousands of arrests were made.
Some have argued that this treatment is partisan. That, as Adam Ellwanger recently argued for Human Events, protests by the right and left are simply treated differently. “[W]hile the efforts of the mobs on the left are valorized by the media, funded and commodified by corporations, and accommodated by public officials … Right-wing popular uprisings are mocked and attacked by the media, and (on the whole) state officials and agencies aggressively work to undermine public demonstrations by the right,” Ellwanger writes.
Though this view certainly has merit, there’s something else happening here, too: a closer look at some of the statements made by leftwing politicians indicate that they were willing to condemn the riots—once the rioting became a threat to them. Across the nation, far-left mayors who often marched arm-in-arm with protestors quickly changed their tune as the violence and destruction moved to their posh neighborhoods.
WHEN THE LEFT CONDEMNS RIOTING
In late May of 2020, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was hit with several violent protests over the death of George Floyd, which led to the imposition of a curfew. Multiple police vehicles were badly damaged, along with rampant vandalism in Pittsburgh’s downtown. In response, the city’s Democratic mayor, Mayor Bill Peduto, released a statement two weeks later that read, “George Floyd is more than a moment. He was a man with family and loved ones. His inexcusable death has motivated our communities to demonstrate the grief, trauma and pain that our black communities are consistently exposed to. We must listen … Black Lives Matter.”
While Peduto did call for an end to violence and vandalism during the initial protests, no mention of the damage was made in his two-page statement. However, his tune became significantly harsher when peaceful protestors gathered outside his house two months later. In a statement released to the press and public, Peduto said:
What I cannot defend is any neighborhood in our city—and their residents and families—being disturbed through the night and morning, and a peaceful protest devolving into unacceptable conduct in which residents are being harassed and threatened. This crosses a line that cannot be allowed to continue, causing those committing crimes against residents to face possible legal consequences for their actions. Using protests to create conflict and division, as some are doing, only impacts the ability of others to exercise their constitutional rights safely.
Chicago, Illinois, similarly devolved into a series of violent and destructive protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. While Mayor Lori Lightfoot strongly condemned the violence, going as far as to call in the national guard, she faced harsh criticism for her aggressive action against anti-lockdown protests while allowing the BLM marches, which the mayor claimed were simply too large to disperse.
Following one BLM protest in July 2020, Mayor Lightfoot noted in a statement that:
Hundreds took to the streets yesterday to express their First Amendment right to protest. I unequivocally support and will always fight for the rights of individuals to peacefully protest on any issue. The history and stories of the lives of Indigenous People here in Chicago need to be lifted up and celebrated. There is a dialogue that must be had to honestly confront the deeply ingrained history of racism and discrimination that has subjected Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color in our city and our nation for too long.
Lightfoot’s enthusiasm for protest and dialogue does have a limit, it turns out: the right to protest in Chicago, peacefully or otherwise, is geography-dependent. Protests outside of Lightfoot’s home were banned last summer. Local news reports that “A stretch of Wrightwood Avenue between Kimball Avenue and St. Louis Avenue has been barricaded and blocked by police to keep out protesters after multiple demonstrations directed at the mayor took place near her home in recent weeks. Officers are reportedly under orders to arrest anyone attempting to protest there.”
Then there is Portland, Oregon, the site of over 100 days of violent protests last year, the murder of a Trump supporter, and protest-related damages costing tens of millions of dollars. Mayor Ted Wheeler at one point joined the protestors, banned the police from using any deterrents such as tear gas on the rioters, and demanded that federal law enforcement leave the city. His tune quickly changed when rioters began attacking his condominium, forcing him to move. Following the rioting, arson, and property destruction, Wheeler released a statement noting:
[L]ast night saw more senseless violence in Portland … the building where I live, along with dozens of other families, was violently attacked. These acts range from stupid, to dangerous, to criminal. The violence must stop. None of this should sit well with any thinking Portlander. Arson and terrorizing families with children does nothing except steal, and distract from, the important message of the racial justice movement. Organizations in the community who encouraged or condoned these actions are complicit.
Last June, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, taking inspiration no doubt from his Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate, took a knee with BLM protestors. Two months later, his house was vandalized, after which Liccardo, too, turned his back on the very protesters with whom he kneeled. He noted:
I’m tremendously heartened by the response of dozens of my neighbors who dropped everything late last night to spend a couple of hours scrubbing graffiti from Jessica’s and my home. Many of these same neighbors’ homes bear ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs, and they represent the true spirit of the movement, and of our San Jose community. They contrast sharply with the roughly hundred so-called ‘protesters’ who stood by silently—or even cheered—as a flag was burned and while ‘f*ck you’ and other messages were scrawled on our home.
If the past four paragraphs seem redundant, it is because the same pattern continues to repeat itself across the country: left-wing mayors turning a blind eye towards violent rioting until they are personally impacted. Elected leaders tolerate (or even support) destructive movements as long as they are politically aligned with the rioters and are far removed from the negative consequences of the protests. For Democratic politicians, violent rioting is only bad when it literally comes right to their doorstep.
ELITE LIVES MATTER
The reality is that most of the BLM/Antifa riots last year took place in low-income neighborhoods with predominantly minority populations. Our politicians, particularly at the national level, typically have no connections to such places and are far removed from the violence and destruction that ensue. In fact, the average net worth of a member of Congress is over $1 million, and they remain out of touch with, for example, black business owners who have suffered the most from looting, or neighborhoods facing record crime surges in the face of the “defund the police” movement.
Our representatives have little to do with the types of communities that suffered the most during the riots last summer.
This is not right-wing hyperbole; the leftists, amazingly, willingly admit this. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), in an August 5th interview with CBS News, acknowledged as much when pressed about her advocacy of defunding the police while spending $70,000 on private security: “I’m going to make sure I have security because I know I have had attempts on my life, and I have too much work to do. There are too many people that need help right now for me to allow that. So, if I end up spending $200,000, if I spend $10 more dollars on it, you know what, I get to be here to do the work. So, suck it up, and defunding the police has to happen.”
In other words, she deserves protection because she is important, one of the elites. But security for, for example, two teenage kids in Philadelphia murdered last month in broad daylight? Not so much. No, our representatives have little to do with the types of communities that suffered the most during the riots last summer.
Unlike the BLM/Antifa protests, however, the January 6th riots occurred in the halls of our nation’s Capitol, forcing our Representatives and Senators to hurriedly evacuate. The event was traumatic, and many inside the Capitol understandably feared for their lives: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), for example, told supporters that “I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive, and not just in a general sense but also in a very, very specific sense” during the Capitol breach. Indeed, we should feel nothing but sympathy for everyone trapped in the Capitol building on January 6th and—as we on the right have done on countless occasions already—continue to unequivocally condemn the riots.
However, this does not excuse the unwillingness of many on the political left to similarly condemn violence from BLM and Antifa. The same fear that our elected officials felt on January 6th was experienced last summer by David Dorn, the black retired police officer murdered during the BLM riots. And by David Patrick Underwood, a 53-year-old courthouse guard who was fatally wounded last May. And by the many others killed during the riots last year, and by those whose stores and homes were looted, and by the police officers attempting to restore order. Their lives and well-being are no less important than those of our elected officials, but they won’t be honored with statues. Schools and public parks won’t be named after them.
To our political elite, their lives do not matter. More broadly, nor do the lives of the estimated 13,927 people murdered in 2019 alone, almost 7,500 of whom were black. Their lives don’t matter because most of those 13,927 people aren’t in the same social circles as our elected officials, and their deaths cannot be exploited like pawns on a chessboard for political gain. Violence should be condemned across the board, whether it is initiated by the political right or left, and regardless of whether it occurs in wealthy or poor neighborhoods. The terrible reality is that, for the left, only Politically Convenient Lives Matter.