In the aftermath of the last US presidential election, pro-Trump protests had become routine in Washington. Every month, his supporters arrived in the American capital to denounce an electoral fraud that none of them knew how to substantiate. But that day, January 6, 2021, the atmosphere was different. Anger in the eyes, rage in the belly, the sympathizers of the outgoing president turned into seditious. And the city, its residents, politicians and reporters watched them storm the U.S. Capitol in widespread shock.
They landed in Washington by the tens of thousands. As always, waving their election flags of the Republican candidate or his slogan, ” Make America Great Again “. And as always, without masks in the midst of a pandemic.
At the start of the year, as Congress was preparing to confirm Joe Biden’s electoral victory, new slogans were added to the usual lot: ” Fight for Trump », « Pro-Life. Pro-gun. Pro-God. Pro-Trump “, or ” Fuck Biden. And fuck you for voting for him ».
Republican voters dressed in cowboy hats or sequined jackets ready to roam the streets in a good-natured atmosphere were no longer there. Donald Trump’s red campaign caps still were. But that crowd had now joined members of the Proud Boys and other white supremacist groups, outfitted for war with bulletproof vests, helmets, body cameras, and plastic ties that could turn into handcuffs.
A few greeted each other discreetly with a wave of the hand advocating white supremacy.
All they seemed to lack were guns. That some had warned that they would hide on their person, despite the ban in force for the demonstration.
My partner, who was stationed in Afghanistan for two years and was now in the US capital with me, confessed to me that he had not seen such hatred in the eyes of others from the streets of Kabul. .
The tone was set. And he was in a confrontation.
“It’s a fraud”
Covering the Trumpists on the ground, it was incidentally being shouted ” Fake News And other insults by the head. Getting heckled is nothing out of the ordinary. But to be attacked by men of nearly two meters inflated to the block, even by a small number of them, could not leave ice. The strategy among colleagues – and I thank them for that – was to try to talk to them as much as possible in pairs or in small groups.
In this sea of protesters, on the National Mall facing the White House, the speech was always the same. To be mistaken, even, and to believe that they were all drinking from the same sources of disinformation. “The election was stolen” and “it is a fraud”, they hammered in turn.
On January 6, they were now going even further. They warned that their compatriots were “angry”, that they “had had enough”, and that they would do “whatever it took”.
Donald Trump’s hour-long speech went in the same direction, calling on his followers to “get rid of the weak in Congress” and “fight like devils”, otherwise they would no longer have a country.
Even before he finished his speech, thousands of rioters took the road to the Capitol. In less than half an hour, they penetrated by the thousands in the security perimeter of the Capitol, then by the hundreds in the building.
The scene is completely chaotic. The police are overwhelmed, journalists are being pushed around and their equipment destroyed (under the watchful eye of their helpless bodyguards), a woman is shot.
For the next few hours, I will watch, stunned, the images of the Capitol of the United States of America invaded by insurgents. I’ll run around the corner to get my supper before the city-imposed 6 p.m. curfew. I will update my article for the umpteenth time in the evening to the sound of helicopters flying over the city continuously.
And in the following days, this city that I had adopted for three months will become besieged, its city center cordoned off, invaded by military tanks and soldiers equipped with assault weapons.
In November, it was through song, dance and with bottles of sparkling wine in hand that hundreds of people celebrated Joe Biden’s victory in the streets. At the beginning of January, the opposing camp had now taken their place in this deeply divided country. A polarity that remains firmly anchored in the United States a year later.