Pro-Trump extremists storm U.S. Capitol, spark shock, despair in Tufts community

The Capitol building is pictured. Courtesy Unsplash

A group of President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 in an attempt to break in as Congress was voting to certify the results of the 2020 election.

Some members of the mob were successful in breaching the inside of the Capitol and members of Congress were evacuated from the chamber in which they had convened. Trump supporters made their way onto the Senate floor and into Capitol offices, including the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Sarah Wiener, president of the Tufts Community Union Senate, spoke on the riots and those who participated. 

“I would classify the group of people involved in this event as violent white supremacists and terrorists,” Wiener, a senior, wrote in an email to the Daily. “The images that stuck with me most were of how far into the Capitol terrorists got … it adds up that the President energized this action, the police aided it, and that these people were there to begin with.”

Ioannis Evrigenis, a professor in the Department of Political Science and director of the International Relations Program, called last week’s events predictable and preventable. 

“The fact that it was not prevented is … striking and invites reasonable questions about why, given the excessive response to many protests over racial injustice and the gravity of the proceedings in Congress at the time, this mob was allowed access to the Capitol,” Evrigenis wrote in an email to the Daily. “Surveying news outlets from around the world and speaking to friends and colleagues abroad, [there was] shock and dismay that was felt beyond the US, by people who consider American democracy a symbol of stability and hope.”

Jessica Parillo, incoming vice president of Tufts Republicans for 2021, said she would define those involved as right-wing extremists who do not reflect the Republican Party as a whole.

“These people were acting on the anger and fear that comes from having their trusted officials repeatedly touting misleading messages of election fraud,” Parillo, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily.

Parillo added that the events of Jan. 6 confirm how divided the Republican Party is. 

“The party is anything but unified, and Republicans are split on who to listen to and who to trust,” Parillo said. “This does not bode well for the future of the party, which will continue to be in disarray unless common ground can be established. Republicans need to redefine and reinforce what the party stands for moving forward.”

Deborah Schildkraut, chair of the Department of Political Science, said there are three main ideas to consider when looking at this event through the lens of political psychology. These include the conditions that lead to conspiratorial thinking, emotions and racial group identities and status and hierarchy.

“And they all go together, people feel a sense of anger that causes them to close ranks around what they know and the groups they belong to, it leads them to be less open-minded to new information, and we know that it’s a very normal psychological tendency to think in ‘us-them’ terms and when you think that your group status is threatened, [you] engage in actions that protect the interest of the group,” Schildkraut said. 

Rae Deveney, communications director for the Tufts Democrats, said she was struck by the fact that the group who stormed the U.S. Capitol was influenced by the current president and that they believed that what they were doing was right.

“Tufts students need to realize that for many, many Americans, Trump speaks the truth and is a symbol of hope and alleged anti-government corruption for them,” Deveney, a senior, said.

Deveney said she feels this event shows how polarized the United States is at the moment, but has hope for the incoming Biden administration. 

“We hope to see a smooth transition into the Biden administration, and that the Biden administration takes immediate steps to correct many of the Trump administration policies, especially concerning the environment, international relations, and public funding for education,” Deveney said.

According to Wiener, the TCU Senate executive board is planning to meet this week to discuss how to best support the Tufts community and how to hold itself accountable in terms of inclusion and equity. She also emphasized the work and conversations currently occurring at Tufts that she hopes will continue to make change in the community, especially regarding race.

“That being said, I think it behooves Tufts institutionally to continue this work as well,” Wiener said. “I hope the committees that were established following Juneteenth … continue on more than an ad hoc basis so that actual change can come from them in the long term.”

Schildkraut explained that there is an open letter circulating among political scientists calling for the immediate removal of Trump from office, whether that be from impeachment or from the 25th Amendment. She, along with 12 other Tufts professors from various departments, including Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser, has signed it.

Schildkraut said she sent an email to political science students the day after the event, and stressed that professor-student relationships can benefit professors as much as they can students.  

“We benefit too, the professors, we make sense of things that are happening in the world by talking to our students, so we’ll be together in the semester soon but students don’t have to wait for that to happen to reach out to us, to process all of this,” Schildkraut said.


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