The Capitol siege proves it's finally time to take Trump and other politicians' violent rhetoric both seriously and literally.

Anthony L. Fisher
capitol siege riot ladder
Rioters clash with police using big ladder trying to enter Capitol building through the front doors. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • Capitol rioters shouted "Hang Pence!" and "Where's Nancy?" and scrawled "Murder the Media" on a door.

  • The Capitol siege showed that it's no longer reasonable to treat venomous words which have defined the Trump experience are merely impassioned hyperbole.

  • The rioters were convinced they were revolutionaries, and they came to hurt their "enemies."

  • We need to, at long last, take Trump's violent words — and the incendiary words of Republican lawmakers that contributed to the incitement — both seriously and literally.

  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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They shouted "Hang Pence!" as they beat police officers within an inch of their lives.

They screamed "Where's Nancy?" as they pounded on a locked door in the Speaker of the House's office.

And, for good measure, someone scrawled "Murder the Media" on a door at the Capitol.

The Capitol siege showed that it's no longer reasonable to contend that the venomous words which have defined the Trump experience are merely impassioned hyperbole. We saw all too clearly how the threats posed by disgruntled Trump supporters who sincerely believe the fiction of a massive conspiracy to steal the election can manifest in the real world.

We need to, at long last, take their violent words - and the incendiary words of the president and Republican lawmakers that incited them - both seriously and literally.

The scope of the violence was astonishing, and could have been so much worse

With each passing day since Trump supporters' violently invaded the Capitol - the depravity of the insurrectionists has become more pronounced.

A New York Times video analysis of footage from the siege makes plain the savagery brought on the cops guarding one of the Capitol's entrances.

The mob didn't just beat them with blunt objects and flagpoles, they grabbed them by the helmet and dragged down stairs and into the mob. In some cases, they beat cops while they were injured, prone, and face down.

One of the rioters seen carrying zip-tie handcuffs in the Senate chamber said he brought the restraints as "a kind of flexing of the muscles" and invoked 1776, comparing himself to the "founders" who fought the American Revolution.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that a truck belonging to one of the alleged rioters was found with bombs, guns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. But just as disturbing was the man's list of "good guys" and "bad guys" - including a note referring to Democratic Rep. Andre Carson as a "bad guy" and "one of two Muslims in the House of Reps."

Consider for a moment how long, and how viciously, the right-wing media ecosphere has talked about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She's arguably as frightening a boogeyman to the far-right as Hillary Clinton or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now consider what would have happened had a radicalized rioter caught sight of Pelosi in the Capitol.

It strains credulity to believe that a man participating in a mob siege, jacked up on adrenaline and brain-poisoned by fake conspiracy theories, wouldn't seize on the opportunity to commit violence against the 80-year-old House Speaker.

Capitol siege kekistan flag
Supporters of President Trump storm the United States Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington DC Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

When leaders use violent rhetoric, take them literally and seriously - because their followers do

To preemptively address the whataboutism over Democrats and the mainstream media's reactions to the violence that marred the protests against racism and police brutality over the summer: you've got a point.

There was a conventional wisdom throughout much of the news media that downplayed looting and rioting as either occasionally justifiable or so rare it wasn't worth mentioning. Neither of those is correct, as I wrote in several columns contemporaneously. Political violence by the mob is unjustifiable, regardless of ideology.

But the idea that elected Democrats - from Joe Biden to Ilhan Omar - didn't forcefully and repeatedly denounce the violence is simply untrue.

And no elected Democrat used the kind of violent rhetoric so commonly deployed by President Donald Trump and his most strident allies in Congress.

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas said earlier this month, after a federal judge rejected his last ditch lawsuit against Vice President Mike Pence to keep him from certifying the election results that the court was denying people a "remedy." And thus, Gohmert mused, "you've got to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa and BLM."

On the morning of the insurrection, freshman Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado - who recently broke onto the scene by insisting that she be able to carry a gun on the floor of Congress - tweeted: "Today is 1776," a sentiment echoed by several other congressional Republicans, while Rudy Giuliani called for "trial by combat."

And although Trump's speech unquestionably incited the mob - despite sprinkling the word "peaceful" once in a 73-minute slurry of overtly threatening rhetoric - it was Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama who said to that same crowd: "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass."

They weren't there to "own the libs" or "troll the snowflakes." A number of the rioters said they were ready to die for the cause of overturning the election.

They took internet conspiracy theories seriously. They took Republican lawmakers' words seriously. They took Trump's words seriously.

We need to start taking them literally.

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