by Mila Sanina
Believing in America is hard these days. For every piece of hope, it gives you a dozen blows and disappointments. On Jan. 6, 2021, it gave us a mob of home-grown terrorists storming the U.S. Capitol, a president inspiring an insurrection, Confederate and Trump flags carried into the building where the laws are voted on, the People’s House desecrated and vandalized with “Murder the Media” and similarly spirited messages on the doors. Four people died.
In modern history, Americans never lived through anything like it, on such a scale. The world has never seen anything like it, an assault on democracy that’s supposed to be an example for other countries, reported live in the news with a dateline — Washington, D.C. America gave us an example of violence by the Trump-inspired mob and a glimpse of what ochlocracy — mob rule — could look like. It suddenly felt fragile. Everything. Chaos. American exceptionalism was on shameful display, exposed.
It should not have surprised us if we were paying attention. But it was still hard to process.
As a journalist, who has lived through and covered coup attempts in other countries, I have been trying to draw comparable examples to what I’ve seen developing on screen Jan. 6 in the United States.
Mostly, what I’ve seen and covered were uprisings against authoritarianism. What happened in the U.S. Capitol was the uprising of insurrectionists against democracy, exactly because democracy worked. I kept coming back to one coup in particular: the overthrow of government I witnessed in Kyrgyzstan in 2005.
In that uprising, the motives of Kyrgyz people invading the government buildings, destroying furniture were different from the pro-Trump rioters. They were seeking to end corruption, protest the actually rigged elections and 15-year-long authoritarian rule by Askar Akayev, a former communist. In the country with weak institutions, people, destitute with no other options or hope, stormed the government that didn’t represent them.
Looting and vandalism happened (no guns, just rocks), cell communication was disrupted and my mother, unable to reach me, sent my almost-80-year-old grandma across the border from my native Kazakhstan to be with me. I lived in an apartment building in the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, with a grocery store downstairs. It was an uncertain and terrifying time.
It was one of my first reporting experiences and it was hard to gauge and hard to report what was happening and who was in charge of the government. When the night fell, we heard carts filled to the gills moving downstairs, glass broken; the store was being looted. I remember looking out of the window and seeing a taxi driver loading a couch onto the roof of his taxi car looted from a nearby furniture store. I asked Grams: “What should we do? What will happen next?” She waved at me: “Just lock the door well. And sit tight. These people are not fascists. It will be OK.”
What she said gave me confidence; she must have known, she lived through World War II, worked for the front as the Morse code expert interpreting the messages and telegrams; she knew how the Nazis operated firsthand. On Wednesday, I wondered what she would say about the mob in D.C.
Insurrectionists scale the walls of the Capitol Building from the West Front. (Quinn Glabicki for PublicSource)
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