Now we know who the real thugs are, and they are not just the ones who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. President Trump publicly condoned the use of the term “thug” when he referenced Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists whose disdain for the more recent negligent and unwarranted police shootings of Black people led them to protest. Despite seeking some redress and accountability from law enforcement, Trump and his administration have ignored and politicized their calls for police reform. He also regularly referred to them as thugs before and after an incident where he plowed through BLM activists outside of the White House with the National Guard and Bible in his hand to show his rebuke.
But the true “thugs” were revealed during and after fervent Trump supporters and far-right, white supremacist, and Neo-Nazis factions took over the U.S. Capitol.
The thugs on that day were not just the rebellious, lawless, Confederate-flag-toting Trump supporters turned domestic terrorists who took over the building. They were directed by the leading thugs—Donald J. Trump and his co-agitators, Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani, to wreak havoc on our democracy. The four-year trance of Trump’s misinformation about stolen elections, the denial of COVID-19 as a public health threat, among other un-related online conspiracy theories, led his supporters to storm the heart of official national business, vandalize memorials, ransack private offices, position pipe bombs near DNC and RNC headquarters, and attempt to break into the congressional chamber with force, leaving five people dead when it was all over.
But on this same day, other individuals joined the list of thugs, like a U.S. Capitol police officer who was recorded taking selfies with insurgents, and another video appearing to show a soft breach of the security gate, allowing hundreds of protestors to walk into federal property. The day following the incident, the Capitol police chief, and two security officers resigned in response to the criticism of their lax handling of the coup and the double standard treatment when confronting peaceful BLM protestors.
The day-of visuals of this uncontrolled mob were the highest level of contemporary thuggery done by Americans. With one exception. Because they were not Black, Latino, or Native American, there were no visible arrests, riot gear, dogs, or batons until District of Columbia police stepped in to curb the melee and make arrests. Trump’s thugs were destroying and trespassing on Capitol property. They were not fighting for the inalienable right to vote, walk safely in their community without being profiled by neighbors and the police, or have full accessibility to the rights of citizenship mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
The decision by some Capitol police officers to be less confrontational before groups of angry, predominantly white mobsters that were trying to break into the nation’s most important building with members of Congress inside showed the persistent irony of equitable treatment in the United States. Angry Black Americans have been attacked, bullied, lynched, and killed by police for exercising their civil rights, like attempting to vote, enter a public school building, or ride on a public bus, starting after slavery’s abolition.
The activities that America and the world witnessed did not happen in a vacuum or overnight. Trump’s thugs reacted to the cumulative build-up of rhetoric from a long list of more powerful thugs who have leaned heavily into Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric over the last four years. A few of them are in Congress, like Trump-enablers Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who refused to concede to their pronouncements of election fraud hours after a failed coup of Congress orchestrated by their leader. There are Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and other Republican leaders who sided often with Trump’s insatiable appetite for power and lack of empathy for America’s more vulnerable populations, especially people of color. Many of these Republican legislators and administration staff thwarted the appropriate and rapid response to COVID-19, stalled delivery of the necessary economic relief to struggling citizens, fed into the campaign to invalidate the 2020 presidential election, blocked legislation for police reform, supported cuts to federal safety-net programs and universal health care, and rejected proposals to remove Confederate monuments of slave owners and other oppressors who are the stimuli for current day right-wing aggression.
On the thug list are also non-elected officials, including some owners of professional sports teams who initially banned NFL players from “taking a knee” in support of Colin Kaepernick’s demonstration of solidarity with efforts to reduce Black racism. Some CEOs of major corporations also make the list, especially the leaders who increased their contributions to the Trump campaign, despite his misleading claims and policy assaults on communities of color. Many of these companies would later seek redemption after watching the reckless murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer by contributing millions of dollars to racial equity organizations.
The bad apples in local law enforcement departments join the list of thugs due to their lack of empathy for the communities that they serve, which for decades have led to countless shootings, murders, and home invasions, including the one that killed Breanna Taylor. But these deaths under Trump were more likely to go unpunished because of protective police unions and the lack of federal legislation establishing more accountability in policing.
Let us not forget those people across the nation, also known as the “Karens” or “Kens”, who have come to epitomize white privilege because they find it acceptable to call the police on Blacks walking, dining, shopping, smoking, talking, birdwatching, and sometimes just minding their own business. Their explicit racism and cowardice make them eligible for the thug list.
Finally, there are the nameless thugs whose unconscious bias allowed them to sit silent and numb to the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies that separated immigrant children from their parents or refuse to wear face masks even though minorities are more likely to get and die from COVID-19.
These are all the real thugs. Some of them carry loaded guns and others spew loaded rhetoric under the protection of white privilege.
Our society will always have a population of irreconcilables who do not respect the law and engage in intentional acts of malfeasance. But contrary to the skewed realities of Trump and his allies, not all thugs are people of color. In fact, the people who rushed the Capitol and the ones that contributed to Trump’s four years of upheaval come from all educational and income levels. While some people can make the case that the coup was reminiscent of the Civil War period, I would tend to disagree. Thankfully, Black people have been granted full citizenship since then, at least on paper. We just found out that thugs are everywhere, and white privilege allows for anonymity and validation.