Flashback: Don't Forget What Happened with Rioters During Trump's Inauguration


At present, 25,000 National Guardsmen are in the District of Columbia or scheduled to be ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. After the Capitol incursion, one can potentially understand this.

Four years ago, however, we also had a contentious inauguration on our hands. There were only 8,000 troops present in the District of Columbia during that event, according to The Guardian.

There was also: a) a whole lot of rioting, and b) not a whole lot done to prevent it from happening.

The atmosphere around the inauguration of President Donald Trump is probably best remembered for the sucker punch delivered to infamous alt-right figure Richard Spencer, who was giving an interview near the inauguration. While that sparked months — if not years — of debate over whether it was OK to “punch a Nazi,” what should probably be remembered is that it encapsulated just what that day was.

And it wasn’t because the 8,000 National Guard troops that were there that day were not enough. Rather, it was the fact that no one seemed particularly eager to condemn the rioters, or even hold them to account.

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Over at the Daily Caller, Brianna Lyman had a decent flashback just in case you didn’t remember what you were dealing with. Of the more than 200 people who were arrested for rioting, almost all of them saw the charges dropped.

And there was a certain non-judgmental tone to the whole thing. Here was The New York Times’ coverage from that day, the first few paragraphs of which are telling for all of the wrong reasons, at least four years hence.

First, notice the verb choice in the lede: “A spate of violence erupted on Friday in the nation’s capital, as protesters damaged storefronts, threw rocks and bricks at police officers and lit a limousine on fire.”

It just erupted, people. It’s like a volcano. Tectonic plates shifting, lava rises to the Earth’s surface and then: Pompeii. It’s an eruption. You can’t contain it.

Heaven forfend, but if any “Stop the Steal” stragglers end up clashing with troops in the streets of the District on Wednesday, you can rest assured there won’t be any neutral language about this being an unprovoked occurrence as inexorable as the sun and the rainfall — something that would have happened completely divorced from any talk of stolen elections.

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When law enforcement sensibly tried to contain this element, The Times was willing to grant them more agency, if just because that made them look like the bad guys: “Phalanxes of police officers used pepper spray, flash grenades and other nonlethal crowd-control tools to disperse the protesters. By the end of the day, six police officers had sustained minor injuries and more than 200 people had been arrested.”

Phalanxes of police dealing with a natural eruption of violence. What would have made them resort to such draconian measures? Perhaps it’s stuff like this from the fifth paragraph: “‘We’re not peaceful,’ said one of the masked protesters who, like many others who clashed with the police, ran away after being approached by reporters.”

They weren’t wrong:

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But don’t forget paragraph six, where they remind you everything was mostly … you know the rest of it: “While the clashes occurred, thousands of peaceful protesters marched across the country as they voiced anti-Trump slogans.”

I know I shouldn’t wallow in the dark humor of hindsight, but let’s not forget this sentence that led off paragraph number three, either: “Many of the protesters were dressed in black, wore face masks and carried flags associated with anti-fascist groups.”

I point this out not just because this was back when wearing a mask wasn’t normal behavior, especially in the District of Columbia on Inauguration Day. I’d just like you to note a simpler era in our political discourse, when the primary organ of the liberal media body came this close to admitting antifa was a destructive protest element comprised of discrete groups. Now, antifa is supposed to be an idea or ideology, inasmuch as it exists — and if you’re anti-anti-fascist, what does that make you, hmm?

A piece from NBC News described some of the more problematic incidents.

“I saw one guy, he was like pushing a cop, kind of antagonizing him, and the cop with the riot shield was banging him back,” freelance journalist Johnny Silvercloud said.

“Carrying signs that read ‘Not my president,’ ‘No Islamophobia’ and ‘Black Lives Matter,’ demonstrators gave the Trump loyalists an earful as they filed through the checkpoints [to enter the inauguration],” NBC News reported.

“Protesters Joni Lipson and Joan Duckenfield, both of Philadelphia, said they were buoyed by the huge turnout of protesters. ‘It looks like there are more of us than Trump supporters here,’ Duckenfield said.”

Again: Watch anything like this happen Wednesday and see how the reaction is different. The difference in reaction would have happened absent the Capitol incursion, but it’ll certainly be amplified by it. Not to say that either situation is right, but only one instance will be treated with this level of solicitude.

But yes, the government collared 217 people for rioting charges. How did that go?

NBC News reported that the first trial ended with all six defendants being acquitted. After that, the government dropped charges against 129 protesters, promising to focus on the defendants with the strongest evidence against them. They couldn’t secure convictions against those, either. After that, all the charges were dropped.

“This is huge news,” Washington-based activist and defendant Dylan Petrohilos said after the not-guilty verdict. “The solidarity we showed as defendants won out.”

At present, the 25,000 troops in the 68 square miles that comprise the capital of these United States are now being vetted, lest they pose a threat, according to The Associated Press.

While the military vets all of its members for extremist ties, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Sunday that all the stops are being pulled out for the Biden inauguration.

“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” he told the AP. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”

One hopes nothing erupts.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture