Capitol Hill Riot Echoes Wilmington Coup Of 1898 : Consider This from NPR In 1898, white supremacists in Wilmington, N.C., led what is known as the only successful coup ever to take place on American soil. They overthrew the government because Black leaders there had recently been elected by Black voters, explains Vann Newkirk, who wrote about that day for The Atlantic.

In some important ways, the attack on the U.S. Capitol this week was also about race.

NPR's Audie Cornish speaks to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton. Vann Newkirk spoke to producer Brianna Scott.

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Race And The Capitol Riot: An American Story We've Heard Before

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You have to go back 122 years to find the story of America's only successful attempt at a coup.

VANN NEWKIRK: Yeah, so on November 10, 1898, there was a race riot and coup in the city of Wilmington, N.C.

CORNISH: Vann Newkirk of The Atlantic has written about that day. In Wilmington, which was seen as a relatively progressive place, recently enfranchised Black voters had elected Black city leaders.

NEWKIRK: And the newspaper there - a Black newspaper called The Daily Record, run by Alexander Manly - had run a couple of editorials speaking out against lynching and speaking out against the myth that Black men were sexually violent and deviant against white women...

CORNISH: Following those editorials, which were published in the runup to an election, white supremacists targeted the newspaper.

NEWKIRK: ...And used that as a pretext to burn down The Daily Record. And then they continued to burn down and lynch Black folks' homes and Black people in the city of Wilmington. And it culminated in them actually overthrowing the local government and installing a white supremacist government in the city, which was in the largest city in North Carolina.

CORNISH: What happened in Wilmington, N.C., with white Americans moved to violence at the notion their country was being taken from them, was seen as a harbinger for the ensuing decades of Jim Crow. Vann Newkirk thought about that coup this week, watching a mostly white crowd storm the U.S. Capitol, trash the place, and for the most part, walk right out the same door as they came in.

NEWKIRK: It's easy to let our guard down and say this was failed, that the insurrection didn't work, that now this particular brand of Trumpism will recede into the darkness. But there were enough things that were resonant with 1898 to make it very uncomfortable. And I'm not sure exactly how future generations will look at what happened this week because I'm not sure who the victors are yet.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - there's been only one successful coup on American soil, and it was about race. In some important ways, this week's attack on the U.S. Capitol was as well.


CORNISH: From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Friday, January 8.

CORNISH: It's CONSIDER THIS from NPR. One of the more striking videos to emerge from the insurrection of January 6 was taken by a reporter for the Huffington Post.


CORNISH: A single officer stands in a doorway in the U.S. Capitol facing off with a mob of rioters. He has one arm outstretched. He's gesturing for them not to come through the door. And with his other arm, he can be seen reaching for but not drawing his gun.


CORNISH: The officer is Black. The mob he's attempting to prevent from entering is mostly male and appears to be mostly white. They advance slowly, and the officer backs away. He picks up a baton from the ground, swats it in their direction a few times, but they keep coming, backing him up several flights of stairs. Then he turns around and takes the stairs, two at a time, shouting his location into his radio.



CORNISH: As they advance towards him up the stairs, he turns around a couple of times, hand on his weapon, but keeping it holstered.


CORNISH: This was the moment, according to the reporter who shot the video, Igor Bobic, when the mob first entered the Capitol building near the Senate chamber. And when this video emerged online, a lot of people who saw it wondered, what if the racial roles here had been reversed? What if a white officer was being backed up several flights of stairs by a mob of Black men?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is our America. This is our America. (Unintelligible).


JOE BIDEN: No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, there wouldn't have been - they would have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true. And it is unacceptable, totally unacceptable.

CORNISH: That was President-elect Biden speaking on Thursday. Also on Thursday, former first lady Michelle Obama released a statement in which she said, quote, "what if these rioters had looked like the folks who go to Ebenezer Baptist Church every Sunday? What would have been different? I think we all know the answer."


JEH JOHNSON: I have to say the images are - will be burned into my memory for the rest of my life.

CORNISH: Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose great-grandfather was born a slave in southwest Virginia, spoke to NPR on Friday about what stuck with him from the events of January 6.


JOHNSON: The two most shocking images were a hangman's noose on the western front of the Capitol - a hangman's noose - and the Confederate flag flying on the U.S. Capitol. We fought an entire civil war to prevent exactly that.

CORNISH: And on the question of how rioters were allowed to infiltrate the Capitol in the first place, Johnson told NPR that could have and should have been prevented.


JOHNSON: Four years ago, I had overall responsibility for the security of President Trump's inauguration. It does seem clear to me that this could have been prevented if properly anticipated. You can secure the grounds of the U.S. Capitol if you know what to expect and anticipate.


CORNISH: We still don't know everything about what kind of expectations security officials had for January 6 or why certain plans were or were not made. Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters told LA Magazine that her office spoke to the Capitol Police chief ahead of the Save America rally, and they were told that security needs had been anticipated and that everything was under control. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said her office was told the same thing. Police Chief Steven Sund is resigning effective January 16.


KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I think that is obvious, that if the protesters were Black or if the protesters were, you know, protesting police brutality, a U.S. war or something like that, that they never would have been in the position to siege - lay siege to the Capitol in the first place.

CORNISH: That's Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton. We spoke this week about what she was thinking, watching the events of the week unfold.


CORNISH: So this violent insurrection fell on the same day that a Black man was elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate. So how did you process that happening at the same time?

TAYLOR: Well, I think it's a demonstration of what has continued to happen in this country, which is there is a deep political polarization. And what that looks like is that you have the growth and confidence of the right that was sort of culminated yesterday. But you also have the growth and confidence of the left, which we saw the culmination of really in the summer's protests that Joe Biden benefited from by winning the presidency. But we saw it reactivated again in the Georgia Senate election. And so both things are happening simultaneously. And I think part of that is because there is an enormous political vacuum in this country. And in some ways, there's a race - there's a race to fill it. And I think the left has a problem in that we lack the kind of political apparatus that the hard right has through the Republican Party.

CORNISH: In what way? I mean, when you look at this past election, someone might say that the Democratic Party has a really strong apparatus right now.

TAYLOR: Well, it remains to be seen because the - electing these two people and flipping the Senate to the Democrats doesn't in and of itself change these dynamics. What matters is what they do with it. Are the Democrats going to continue down this road of bipartisanship, of trying to work with an almost openly white supremacist Republican Party, or are they going to actually assert their new authority is the big question, not just can they win the election. Democrats have shown that they can win elections, but what they do with the political power that has been bestowed to them is always the question.

CORNISH: Some of the fallout from this week will be a lot of hand-wringing about why people behave the way they did and how to move forward. What's the response to the instinct by many to say, look, in order for the country to heal, it's going to mean having conversations, having conversations where you don't call the Republican Party white supremacists? What's your response to that?

TAYLOR: There can be no moving forward or healing without the truth. And we have got to stop playing this game of this - these are just random individuals. There's no culpability. There's personal responsibility. And we have to recognize the truth for what it is. Donald Trump incited a riot at the Capitol of the United States, all but went to the Capitol himself and engaged in this kind of violence. At some point, those who are responsible for this concentrated within the Republican Party and concentrated around its periphery must be forced to accept responsibility for this.

There needs to be some level of political punishment delivered to these people through expulsion or whatever the mechanism is, because this is the classic definition of terrorism - using violence to produce a political outcome that you desire. And so to just say we need to turn the page or we need to, you know, shift the focus somewhere other than the parties responsible for this contributes to the problem that we are witnessing right now.

CORNISH: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American studies at Princeton.

Speaking of political punishment, it seems increasingly likely that the president will be impeached by the House of Representatives.


KATHERINE CLARK: We know that we have limited time, but every day that Donald Trump is president of the United States is a day of grave danger.

CORNISH: Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, the assistant House speaker, told CNN Friday that the House could take up articles of impeachment as soon as next week. That comes after The Wall Street Journal editorial page, a place where the president has enjoyed a lot of support over the years, called for him to step down.


CLARK: So we can use procedural tools to get articles of impeachment to the floor for a House vote quickly.

CORNISH: The House is under Democratic control. They would start the impeachment process. It's the Senate, under Republican control, where the president's last impeachment died, with less than the required two-thirds of senators voting to remove him. As we record this on Friday afternoon, no Republicans in the Senate have made any public statements expressing opposition to the president's impeachment for a second time.


CORNISH: You are listening to CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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