Lynching: An Alternate Interpretation of 1/6/2021

Professional historian of lynching and mob violence Guy Lancaster has an article up at that interprets the mob violence of 1/6/2021 not through the lens of rebellion, insurrection, sedition, and treason, but through the lens of lynching. I think it’s a great read, although I would caution that I don’t think it’s appropriate to ignore the currently-dominant interpretive framework of 1/6/2021 as an insurrection. Lancaster’s work (at least according to me) should be additive rather than substitutive.

Why does Lancaster see lynching in the events of 1/6? Well, some aspects are easy: they were looking for people to publicly execute, AOC, Nancy Pelosi, and (not least!) Mike Pence to name just three. They had set up a makeshift gallows (which may not have been sturdy enough for actual executions, though the mob clearly had effective means for murdering others at their disposal). They were white as fuck. But there’s much more than that.

I will excerpt a few bits of his insight & reasoning, but really the whole article is worthwhile and my summary cannot replace Lancaster’s work. If you’re not immediately following the link, then consider these parallels between 1/6 and the American tradition of lynching:

[C]onsider the impunity with which they operated. …despite the fact that members of the mob were described as “generally known” by the press, the coroner’s jury nonetheless concluded that Allwhite “came to his death at the hands of an unknown mob.” … [T]he greatest manifestation of the mob’s impunity was taking pictures of themselves with the lynching victim, knowing full well that documenting their crimes would not affect their lives at all. And so did we see the terrorists of January 6 extensively document their attacks upon police and their acts of property damage…

[B]oth groups, those older lynch mobs and these more modern terrorists, collected souvenirs of their deeds. [This ellipsis will cover the omission of some of the most repulsive behavior I’ve ever read described. Be prepared for that when you read the full article.]

Finally, we must consider the relationship between the mob and law enforcement. Lynch mobs actually had a very good relationship with the police. … On January 6, 2021, we saw federal law enforcement follow many of these same patterns for the Trump-supporting terrorists in Washington DC. We saw a diminished mobilization of Capitol Police in the face of well-planned mob violence. We saw those police essentially open the gates to the terrorists, take selfies with them, help them down the stairs, and only make a handful of arrests. Just as with the case of John Carter, the National Guard was deployed only when the mob in Washington DC had achieved their goal.

Lancaster builds to a heartbreakingly powerful conclusion. It takes a great deal of effort on my part not to quote it here, but I really do believe his article deserves to be read in full so that you can feel the full impact and import of Lancaster’s writing.

Go. Read. And remember the value that academia provides to us when you do. This article is just one reason why we should fully fund strong systems of higher education.





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