Stop Downplaying the Capitol Riot

Before the dust had even settled from the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, Republicans and conservative media walked in lockstep. They took to every platform they could to downplay the rioters’ actions (and Donald Trump’s role in inciting them) while insisting that the best thing for everybody would be to just move on. It didn’t matter that the riot was an unprecedented moment in American history, that several Capitol Hill police officers have died as a result, or that lawmakers were directly threatened by mob violence in the seat of U.S. democracy. Dwelling on any of this would only cause more division.

That context made Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s account of Jan. 6 all the more painful to hear.


During an Instagram live Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez said she received texts for several days leading up to Jan. 6 warning about potential violence. She described her experience during the riot and how she feared for her life as rioters breached the Capitol and banged on her office door. Ocasio-Cortez also revealed that she is a survivor of sexual assault, fighting through tears to recount her trauma.

Ocasio-Cortez’s stream showed a level of vulnerability rarely seen in elected officials. It’s part of why she’s beloved by so many on the left. But that same directness has made a target of the right’s anger since she was elected in 2018, subject of countless jokes and memes and actual threats of violence. The idea that she was actually forced to face those threats because of the GOP’s insistence on peddling bogus election fraud conspiracies and emboldening Trump’s nuttiest supporters is frightening. And it makes Republicans’ cries about moving on and forgetting everything that happened on Jan. 6 even more absurd and infuriating.

Some on the right clowned Ocasio-Cortez for tweeting “I’m ok” after the Capitol riot had subsided, as if she was playing up the drama for her own ends. None of them knew the actual story, of course, or why AOC felt the need to stay silent during the riot and in its immediate aftermath. It’s classic victim blaming skepticism, but it’s multiplied a thousand fold when you consider the type of rage conservatives have toward AOC and her contemporaries. For anyone truly skeptical about whether Ocasio-Cortez was in real danger, it comes down to a simple question: what do you think Capitol rioters would have done if they’d gotten to her?

It shouldn’t take AOC telling us she thought she was going to die to remember and take seriously something that happened less than a month ago. Our politics are dominated by recency, but it’s helped along when major media organizations platform conservatives trying to downplay a riotous mob storming the Capitol as no big deal. Some will (and have already) even tried downplaying Ocasio-Cortez’s story as an attempt to exaggerate the violence and manipulate people into caring. Accusing the opposition of their own actions—sounds like a familiar tactic, doesn’t it? Anything to assign responsibility or blame where it actual lies.