Why riot by Trump supporters could see the creation of America’s 51st state

Questions around the security response to Wednesday’s breach of the US Capitol continue to swirl.

Where were the police? Where was the National Guard? Why could Donald Trump‘s supporters waltz into the building at the very centre of America’s democracy and wreak unprecedented havoc?

The stark contrast between images of National Guard lining the DC streets as Black Lives Matter swept the city in the summer, versus the pitifully few Capitol Police officers trying to contain a baying mob on 6 January, is hard to deny.

The inconsistency in responses brings with it allegations of racial bias, with Wednesday’s largely white crowd not meeting the same show of federal force in the US Capitol as the multi-racial demonstrations months earlier.

But it also highlights the significance of how power is wielded in Washington DC – a place governed unlike any other in the United States.

DC itself is not a state, it is considered a municipal government. Rather than a governor, it has a mayor.

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MAGA vs BLM: Police presence compared

The DC Mayor’s office – currently occupied by Democrat Muriel Bowser – does not control the National Guard, the Department of Defense does. And the DOD’s commander-in-chief? The president.

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While Mr Trump claimed in a White House video put out late on Thursday that he “immediately deployed the National Guard”, other reports say he was resistant, and that ultimately Vice President Pence was the one who ordered the federal troops.

This delay cost valuable time, according to Mayor Bowser, as protesters overwhelmed Capitol Police and surged into congressional corridors.

Donald Trump claims he 'immediately deployed the National Guard' (pictured) when trouble started
Image:Donald Trump claims he ‘immediately deployed the National Guard’ (pictured) when trouble started

Washington DC’s metropolitan police union, in order to explain their absence when the Capitol grounds were first breached, said in a statement they “do not police federal buildings, US Capitol police do”.

It was another example of how the disunity of the DC authorities may have ultimately left the very seat of power powerless.

While Mayor Bowser was warning of violence and planning to activate the full force of the metropolitan police presence days ahead of the protests, the Capitol Police were preparing for a “freedom of speech demonstration” and reportedly rejecting extra support from the National Guard and the FBI.

The Capitol Police union has since said that their “officers did their jobs”, but their “leadership did not”, and Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund has been forced to resign.

A supporter of President Donald Trump confronts police as Trump supporters demonstrate on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol near the entrance to the Senate after breaching security defenses, in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
Image:Police inside the Capitol were easily overrun

The harsh irony here is that because DC is not a state, it does not have proper congressional representation.

The “people’s house” that was stormed, with chants of “our house” ringing out, does not belong in any meaningful way to the 700,000 residents of DC.

People here drive around with number plates on their cars that read: “End taxation without representation”.

While DC’s taxes on goods, services, income and property are some of the highest in the United States, their congressional representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, doesn’t have the power to vote on legislation.

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Capitol officer flees angry mob

DC residents didn’t even have a representative able to vote on the certification of the electors – the very process the pro-Trump mob were aiming to disrupt.

As the city went into curfew at 6pm, and a symphony of sirens roared down the streets, cries of “DC Statehood” intensified.

After the day’s calamities had calmed and the failed, fractured law enforcement response became more clear, Mayor Bowser told a Thursday press conference to “get DC statehood on the president’s desk within the first 100 days of the 117th Congress”.

Mayor Muriel Bowser says DC statehood needs to be a priority for the new president
Image:Mayor Muriel Bowser says DC statehood needs to be a priority for the new president

Republicans have long voted against making the District of Columbia a state due to its overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning population – less than 6% of its people voted for Mr Trump in November – and statehood would likely mean two more Democratic senators in the chamber.

However, as Democrats are due to take control of the presidency, House and Senate come 20 January, there is now a greater chance of DC statehood becoming reality in the next couple of years than at any point in recent US history.

Peaceful protests have defined the nation’s capital since its founding, but as violence escalates in a divided America, so too do the calls for a 51st state.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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