Multiple Washington Post articles published in the days following the pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill ignored key details in an effort to cast the day’s events as the inevitable consequence of racially disparate policing.
One such article — titled “Kid glove treatment of pro-Trump mob contrasts with strong-arm police tactics against Black Lives Matter, activists say” — was published Wednesday evening, just hours after the chaos subsided. It quotes a number of Black Lives Matter activists who misrepresent the day’s events to suggest that the police went easy on the pro-Trump rioters because they were predominantly white. The four reporters whose bylines are listed on the article didn’t bother to fact-check any of the false claims.
The article ignores, among other pertinent facts, that a Trump supporter was fatally shot by police and that the D.C. mayor initially requested that National Guard on the scene have a “narrow, unarmed mission.”
“There was no shooting, no rubber bullets, no tear gas,” Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, told the paper. “It was nothing like what we have seen. Nothing like what we have seen.”
DeRay Mckesson, described in the Post as “a leading voice of the Black Lives Matter movement” told the paper that “Black and Brown people have been shot and arrested for far less.”
“Black people would not have even gotten into the building. They would have started shooting at them the minute they started to rush at the police,” he said.
In reality, police used tear gas, flash bang grenades, and deadly force in a struggle to defend the Capitol from the mob, though footage has emerged of some cops giving up after their lines had been breached, taking selfies with and allowing the flood of Trump supporters intent on stopping the certification of Electoral College votes to enter the Capitol.
However, a small group of Capitol Police officers made a stand to protect lawmakers who were hiding in the Speaker’s Lobby outside the House Chamber. One Trump supporter — U.S. Air Force veteran turned conspiracy theorist Ashli Babbitt — was shot by Capitol Police while trying to enter the lobby. Three other Trump supporters died of apparent medical emergencies suffered during the riot, while a Capitol police officer died in the hospital Thursday after being reportedly hit in the head with a fire extinguisher.
Capitol Police are using flashbangs to try to get the Trump crowd to disperse. pic.twitter.com/IHAtc1dsJ5
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) January 6, 2021
“Make no mistake: If the protesters were black, they would have been tear-gassed, battered, and perhaps shot.” pic.twitter.com/LSm3Y4WiVk
— tsar becket adams (@BecketAdams) January 8, 2021
The Post article goes on to describe rioters as “breaking down barricades, smashing windows and striking police officers — without obvious consequence.” The piece also mentions “images of men and women wearing red Trump 2020 hats and clutching American and Confederate flags walking through the Capitol largely unmolested.” It made no mention of those killed in the chaos. It has not been updated to reflect Babbitt’s death nor the arrests of dozens of Trump supporters for their roles in the riot.
On Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris used similar racial framing in public comments. Biden argued that “no one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, there wouldn’t — they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently,” while Harris said, “We witnessed two systems of justice when we saw one that let extremists storm the United States Capitol, and another that released tear gas on peaceful protesters last summer.”
In the buildup to the unrest that was expected on Wednesday, the Post published a story noting that D.C. mayor Muriel E. Bowser had activated every city police officer to be on duty Tuesday and Wednesday, along with over 300 members of the D.C. National Guard. The article noted that the officials had “limited the size and scope” of the National Guard’s role “after a deployment during racial justice protests in June raised questions about whether the Trump administration was trying to use the military as a political club.”
Bowser said as much in a Tuesday press release, which clarified that the Metropolitan Police Department “has additional logistical support of unarmed members of the DC National Guard, who will work under the direction of, and in coordination with, MPD.”
But after the chaos at the Capitol, the Post — which first reported incorrectly that the Pentagon had “denied” National Guard reinforcements — ran an additional story titled “Pentagon placed limits on D.C. Guard ahead of pro-Trump protests due to narrow mission,” the implication being Trump appointees decided to slow-walk reinforcements to overwhelmed police forces.
The story was subsequently updated to reflect that the restraints were placed on the National Guard “in response to a request from the D.C. mayor,” which complicated the initial political angle.
A defense official told the Post that city officials had initially asked for “the deployment of only a small contingent of some 340 guardsmen, primarily to control traffic and monitor Metro stations.”
“All commanders have left and right limits,” the official said. “There is no such thing as carte blanche.”
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