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January 31, 2021 MEMBER OP-ED

January 6 Terrorist Attack on U.S. Capitol Accentuates White Supremacy and Racial Injustice

Angela J. Scott, 2020-21 Section Chair

The domestic terrorist attack on the seat of our nation’s democracy was abominable. The right to vote and the peaceful transition of power are two of the many great things that set our country apart from those of the rest of the world.  But on January 6th, these foundational principles and quintessential characteristics of our beloved America were disrespected at the highest level. While the attempt by a radical political faction to topple our government failed, their hate and noticeably clear denouncement of our democratic way of life persists. It should not be disregarded or underestimated. While we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief because their attempt to prevent the certification of our free, fair, democratically decided presidential election, was not successful, we should all remain concerned and alarmed and work hard to prevent it from happening again.

I am not going to attempt to address the stated grievance of the criminals who attacked the Capitol, as plenty of others—including voters, numerous courts, election boards and even our ABA president—have already effectively done so.  Statement of ABA President Patricia Lee Refo Re: Violence at the U.S. Capitol ( No one reading this column, regardless of political affiliation, disputes that fact that President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris won the election fairly, contrary to what the militia of thousands who tried to “stop the steal” proclaim.  My concern is the true motivation of those terrorists and the steady rise of hate and domestic terrorism plots around the country leading up to January 6th.  

January 6, 2021 was a Coup d'état that thankfully failed, but I have questions and so should you.

How did it happen? Was it foreseeable? Was it preventable? Who aided the insurrectionists or conveniently looked the other way? Why was the Capitol not protected like it was when peaceful protestors marched for Black lives in Washington, D.C. the previous summer? Who decided not to protect the city against people who advertised publicly that they were coming to Washington, D.C., to “stop the steal?” Who decided these threats were not credible?  Why does one group receive the benefit of the doubt under any circumstance and not the other? These are the issues that we need to examine thoroughly and honesty.

I can only speak for myself, but from my vantage point, here is what I saw as I watched the horror play out on live television and the subsequent footage in the days that followed:

  1.  I saw hate. 
  2. I saw lawbreaking terrorists fearlessly posing with police officers, with no thoughts of being arrested, let alone killed for invading the Capitol.  I believe had they been Black, it is unlikely they would have lived to brag about it later. The participants of the March for Black Lives would have met a vastly different fate, had they too the audacity to try to overturn election results.
  3. I saw numerous Confederate flags being proudly flown throughout the crowd of thousands and, most shamefully, in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.
  4.  I saw a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt , with the phrase “work brings freedom,” which is the English translation of the Auschwitz concentration camp motto: “Arbeit macht frei.”
  5. I saw many other symbols depicting  hate and white supremacy.
  6. I heard them chant “hang Mike Pence.”  And, while some may claim it was “just a chant,”  I saw that they erected a gallows. 
  7. I literally saw an insurrection unfold on national TV as I watched terrorists refuse to obey the Capitol closures put in place by the U.S. Public Health Emergency Order and the police. I watched them storm the Capitol in an act of rebellion, breaking through barriers and windows and violently pushing past police officers. Again, with entitlement, not fear.  

On October 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security placed the threat of domestic violent extremism, via white supremacist extremism (hate), at the top of the homeland threat assessment list, making the January 6th  deadly attack highly foreseeable and thus preventable. Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020 (

As CNN reported, “White supremacists have conducted more lethal attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist movement, demonstrating a "longstanding intent" to target racial and religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, politicians and those they believe promote multi-culturalism and globalization.” White supremacists remain deadliest US terror threat, Homeland Security report says - CNNPolitics   Aren’t these the marginalized groups we, the members of Civil Rights and Social Justice Section, work hard to protect and advance?

Are we going to stop talking about January 6th, sweep it under the rug and let it fade out of our memories?  Are we going to downplay the threat of hate on our democracy? Are we going to modify the language of our discussions about January 6th, like this whistleblower was asked to do? Whistleblower accuses Trump appointees of downplaying Russian interference and White supremacist threat - CNNPolitics

I want to stress that this should not be a partisan political issue.  So regardless of political affiliation we must work together and get our collective response to January 6th  right in order to ensure that it never happens again. How we hold the insurrectionists/terrorists (and those who helped them) accountable will ultimately determine whether this was an isolated event or whether it was a test run.  

As lawyers who care about the protection and advancement of civil and human rights, I believe we have an obligation to call out hate, intolerance, and white supremacy. We have an obligation to raise awareness around this issue and push back when people attempt to minimize it.  And finally, we have an obligation to seek resolution thoughtfully and urgently so that it will not happen again.

Angela J. Scott, 2020-21 Section Chair, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice

Angela J. Scott is the 2020-21 Chair of the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice and past member of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. The views expressed in this article are her opinions. She has written this column in her personal capacity and not on behalf of her employer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or any component of the U.S. government.