The insurrection on Capitol Hill directly descends from the legacy of the Brooks Brothers riot and Bush v. Gore

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Florida protest
Supporters of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush protest outside the Palm Beach County Governmental Center against further vote counting of presidential election ballots in the state of Florida. Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images
  • The January 6 insurrection on the Capitol had some familiar echoes of the November 2000 uprising on Miami-Dade County's presidential recount, an incident known as the Brooks Brothers riot.

  • Both uprisings took place on a Wednesday and were, in large part, attended by well-off, educated professionals who could afford to riot against vote-counting on a weekday.

  • The Capitol insurrection was both far more far more violent and had more serious physical consequences for the place where the attack occurred.

  • Although unlike the Brooks Brothers rioters, this group failed to stop the counting of votes.

  • Republican political operative Roger Stone, who was involved in the 2000 riot (the extent of his role is disputed), later went on to help engineer President Donald Trump's 2016 win.

  • The experience of Bush v. Gore resulted in higher levels of election litigation and political operatives pushing false assertions of fraud for political gain, but the events pushed the US "far beyond" that legacy, one expert told Insider.

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On November 22, 2000, a group of well-dressed Republican protesters descended on a government office building in Miami. They were there to protest the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board's recount in the disputed presidential race between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush. They wanted to stop what they regarded as a steal, and they were prepared to resort to violence to do it.

The Brooks Brothers riot revived a new blueprint for electoral disputes, one that openly deployed violence and intimidation to frighten officials into discarding legitimate votes. Like the January 6 pro-Trump siege on the US Capitol, it was sought to replace the rule of law with mob rule.

And like the most recent brazen assault on democracy, it was orchestrated at the top levels of the GOP. The weapon-toting, MAGA hat-clad insurrectionists of 2021 directly descend from the buttoned-down, stop-the-steal rioters of 2000.

The participants of the demonstration, primarily organized by senior Bush campaign official Brad Blakeman, became irate that the three-member canvassing board had gone to an upstairs room out of the public view and entered the building to vocally protest the process.

When local Democratic official Joe Geller went downstairs to get a blank sample ballot to demonstrate something to his colleagues, he was surrounded by the protesters who loudly accused him of stealing a voters' ballot and hounded him all the way back upstairs.

Both he and then-Democratic operative Luis Rosera got caught up in a scuffle and described being kicked and punched by the increasingly unwieldy crowd, The New York Times reported, with sheriffs' deputies having to intervene to quell the brouhaha and escort the canvassing board to safety.

The incident, which is now often referred to as the Brooks Brothers riot or rebellion, intimidated the board into suspending their already-scaled back recount altogether, resulting in many votes going uncounted and lost in the "what-ifs" of history.

November 22 riot
New Yorker Chuck Walker (L) dressed as Republican presidential candidate George Bush cheers in front of the Stephen Clarke government Building in Miami, Florida, 22 November, 2000, in support of the Miami-Dade canvassing board decision to stop the hand-counting of ballots for all of Miami-Dade County. Rhona Wise/AFP via Getty Images

The Capitol insurrection drew from the Brooks Brothers playbook but was far more destructive

The insurrection waged by Trump supporters on Congress' joint session to count electoral votes, while significantly more physically violent and destructive, harkens back to the echoes of that day in downtown Miami.

On February 9, the Senate began the impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump on a charge of inciting the January 6 siege on the Capitol.

At the beginning of a debate over whether the trial is constitutional, lead House Democratic impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin showed a powerful 13-minute video montage of how the day's events played out that put the day's violence in stark display.

Like the Brooks Brothers riot, it took place on a Wednesday. The crowd in Miami was largely made up of GOP operatives, including some who went on to work in the Bush administration. Similarly, those arrested in connection with the Capitol riot include many well-off, educated professionals who could afford to fly to Washington, DC, on a weekday.

Unlike the Brooks Brothers riot, the pro-Trump insurrectionists, despite their efforts, did not succeed in suspending the counting of votes and, in fact, hardened the resolve of lawmakers to finish the count in defiance of mob violence.

Both the events of 2000 and Trump's presidency also featured many of the same characters, including Republican strategist and "dirty trickster" Roger Stone, who was involved in the event. He claimed he was tapped by top Bush campaign adviser James Baker to organize and coordinate the uprising on the scene from a Winnebago - a Stone-centric version of events that Blakeman disputed to The Washington Post.

roger stone
Roger Stone makes an appearance outside his house holding his double-peace-sign on July 12, 2020 after having his 40-month prison sentence commuted. Getty Images/Johnny Lewis

After Stone had some role in the fated Brooks Brothers riot and Bush's eventual win, he then went on to achieve a goal he'd held since the 1980s: propelling Trump to the White House.

In the early 2010s, Stone and Trump were major proponents of the racist "birther" conspiracy theory, which, in gaining Trump national attention, served to delegitimize former President Barack Obama's 2008 win and insinuate that it was under false pretenses.

Leading up to the 2016 Republican National Convention, Stone pushed false theories about voter fraud and threatened to send Trump supporters to the hotel rooms of pledged Trump delegates to pressure them to stay in line.

"We're going to have protests, demonstrations. We will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal," Stone told alt-right radio host Stefan Molyneux in an April 2016 interview, Politico reported at the time.

Stone was later convicted on seven federal charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and witness tampering in connection with the special investigator Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump commuted Stone's 40-month sentence in July 2020 and fully pardoned him in late December, two weeks before the Capitol siege.

Capitol Siege
Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the West wall of the the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington Jose Luis Magana/AP

Decades of false claims of voter fraud boiled over in January 2021

The 2021 insurrection, in some ways, represented the eventual legacy and inverse of the January 2001 electoral vote-counting session. Gore, who conceded shortly after a 5-4 ruling against him in the US Supreme Court, presided over the vote-counting of his own bitter loss in Congress without incident or violence.

In 2020, however, no states' election results were seriously contested. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, 2020 was one of the most successful and secure elections in US history with record-high voter turnout. Numerous judges, election officials, and, eventually, Congress resoundingly rebuffed efforts from Trump and his allies to overturn the election results.

The 2020 election certainly featured many of the same trends that arose out of the Bush v. Gore dispute and have shaped all elections since, including drastically higher amounts of election litigation prior to the election, allegations of fraud, and protests over vote counting.

But while the after-effects of 2000 may have helped lead the US to the events of January 6, it plunged the country into a dystopian state with levels of violence over election results seldom seen since the late 19th century.

"The events of the last two weeks go beyond the legacy of Bush v. Gore," Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine and the author of "The Voting Wars" and "Election Meltdown," told Insider.

"Bush v. Gore taught political operatives that in a really close election the rules of the game matter and it may be possible to litigate to victory," he added. "But what Trump did was to go beyond that - he has no plausible legal claims to overturn the election but litigated about the election anyway ... although none of this worked in the end, it showed a marked deterioration in democratic norms."

Voter ID
In this file photo taken May 20, 2014, an election worker walks past a voter ID sign at a Little Rock, Ark., polling place. Arkansas requires those voting by mail to submit a photocopy of their photo ID with their ballot AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File

The post-Bush v. Gore era set off a new wave of voting restrictions

The January 6 insurrection was, in a way, the last chip to fall after nearly two decades of voting conspiracies steadily becoming more pervasive across the political spectrum and Republican operatives especially building on the acrimony of Bush v. Gore.

The 2020 election featured no hanging chads or butterfly ballots thanks in part to a 2002 legislation, the Help America Vote Act, that gave states money to replace their antiquated punchcard voting machines with more modern technology.

But that legislation had other consequences that continue to reverberate today. Missouri Republican Sen. Kit Bond, one of the leading architects of the bill, successfully pushed for a provision requiring first-time voters who registered by mail without providing a driver's license or social security number to show ID in order to vote in a federal election.

That requirement opened the door for states, beginning with Indiana in 2006, to require an ID to vote. It gave conservative lawmakers and activists fodder to push for voter ID laws and other voting restrictions at the state level as well as federal investigations during the Bush administration. All this under the guise of combatting the false specter of widespread voter fraud.

Both the legacy of birtherism and years of powerful interests pushing false claims that voter fraud was pervasive, particularly in urban and inner-city communities came to a breaking point on January 6. That recent history made it possible for Trump and large sections of the right-wing media ecosystem to succeed in convincing hundreds of the president's supporters that the election was so rigged that they needed to "be there" to stop it.

Expanded Coverage Module: capitol-siege-module

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