Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Twenty years ago, when protests erupted over the contested election between George Bush and Al Gore, Pat Davis was a rookie officer with the U.S. Capitol Police Department.
He remembers freezing on the cold streets as disgruntled voters from both sides poured into Washington, D.C., for rallies and marches.
Needless to say, the scene on Wednesday as mobs stormed the Capitol was very different.
“(Back then) we didn’t have the president of the United States encouraging people to fight, and take over and move forward to stop an election,” said Davis, now an Albuquerque city councilor. “People respected the process, they just wanted their voice to be heard. Nobody clashed with police, no one thought violence was the answer.”
For days, President Donald Trump has urged supporters to hold a massive rally in the nation’s capital Wednesday to protest what he continues to claim are fraudulent election results.
Davis said he was surprised that the Capitol Police Department, which he described as full of “some of the best trained officers when it comes to protests and demonstrations,” didn’t prepare for rioting or to keep protesters from rushing into the building.
“In six months of training, we never trained for armed American citizens storming the Capitol to stop the election or a session of congress,” Davis said. “We worried more about airplane terrorists.”
For more than two months now, President Trump has fomented dissent by claiming the election was stolen from him.
Several Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., said they would object to the counting of electoral votes, citing concerns over election fraud. The House and Senate were in the midst of debating over an objection to Arizona’s electoral votes when the mob entered the Capitol, breaking windows and roaming the halls and chambers. The proceedings were delayed for hours.
Former Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, blasted the president, calling him “dangerous to our democracy and unfit for the presidency” and laying blame for the day’s events on him and his administration and supporters in Congress.
“Today’s tragic and horrific events will go down in infamy in American history,” Udall wrote in a statement. “President Trump and his enablers in his cabinet and Congress bear the blame for inflaming hateful and baseless conspiracy theories that have led to predictable violence and blood being shed in the U.S. Capitol. Our nation’s shared safety and prosperity rely on the rule of law and peaceful transfer of power – and the president’s incitement to insurrection puts that all at risk for all Americans today and for future generations.”
Before the riots, state Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, said Wednesday morning that she planned to introduce legislation during the coming 60-day legislative session that would decertify New Mexico’s five electoral votes for Joe Biden. The long-shot bill could be largely symbolic, as Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated as president the day after the session’s Jan. 19 start date.
Biden defeated President Trump in New Mexico by 11 percentage points in the November general election, marking the fourth consecutive election cycle in which a Democratic presidential candidate has triumphed in the state.
However, Brown alluded to claims of unspecified voting irregularities in New Mexico, “specifically in Doña Ana County,” as the motivation for her bill.
Hundreds of protesters, several of whom were armed, also gathered in New Mexico’s capital, converging on the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, in reaction to the unfounded claims of voter fraud. The state Capitol building was evacuated, and courts in Santa Fe and Albuquerque were closed for the day.
Santa Fe’s demonstration was largely peaceful, although a small fight broke out between Trump supporters and counterprotesters holding a pride flag. Dozens of police officers were soon on the scene, but both sides declined to press charges.
Protest effort doomed
Although some Republicans on the national stage earlier objected to electoral votes, Michael Rocca, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, said the effort was doomed because there wasn’t enough support to continue investigating the unfounded claims.
Calling the situation a “classic chicken-and-egg issue,” Rocca pointed out that the reason so many citizens are concerned about the legitimacy of the election is that those in power are casting doubt on it.
“Now what’s happening is members of Congress, objectors, are saying ‘I wouldn’t be doing my job if I weren’t objecting, because so many people believe that the election was fraudulent,'” Rocca said. “The problem is the reason so many people believe the election was fraudulent is so many political leaders are claiming it’s fraudulent without any evidence that it was fraudulent.”
Although Rocca is quick to say that he sees those who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday as a fringe element of the Republican Party, and not representative of all those who voted for Trump, he also said the scene is a reflection of the animosity and polarization of the country.
“Depending on who you’re listening to, what TV station you’re watching, who is on your Twitter feed, you have a completely different understanding of what world we’re living in,” Rocca said. “It’s also a function, I think, of the president’s own rhetoric. In some ways he’s a product of that environment, but he’s also an instigator in some ways too.”
For UNM Professor Finnie Coleman, who teaches English and Africana Studies, the response by law enforcement and Republican leaders to the scene in Washington, D.C., stood in sharp contrast to how largely peaceful protests in support of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement were treated.
“The hypocrisy of it,” Coleman said. “Any person who is a MAGA person who said anytime in the past, ‘Oh Black Lives Matter is a bunch of hoodlums and thugs. Look what they’re doing in the streets,’ they don’t have a leg to stand on. Unless you’re right now speaking out against what happened in our nation’s capitol today, you’re a hypocrite.”
Furthermore, he said, the mob overshadowed the historic election of a Black man and a Jewish man to the senate from Georgia.
But it gives him some reason for optimism that the country might be a more progressive, cohesive nation in the future.
“This is the tipping point,” Coleman said. “We’ll still have political rancor. But those senators and congressmen who are hunkered down together today they have to realize in ways that they might not otherwise that we are all in this together, independent of our political stripes, and we have to be careful of our rhetoric.”
s Dan Boyd, Kyle Land, and Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.