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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Jayne: Capitol siege stands alone

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

The problem, it seems, is one of false equivalency. Of whataboutism. Of professing, “Sure, this might be bad, but what about that?”

This is human nature, of course, a desire to shroud our shortcomings or our indefensible beliefs by insisting that both sides are bad. And it long has informed our political choices.

There is a problem with that. Because evils — or attributes — are not inherently equivalent. There are varying degrees, and pretending they have equivalencies is merely an excuse for our own cognitive dissonance.

As Isaac Asimov once explained: “When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Which brings us to the current political example of flat-Earthism. Because as investigations continue into the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, we are inevitably faced with comparisons — from some people — to last year’s racial unrest throughout the country. We are inevitably faced with suggestions that these somehow are equivalent.

In one, rioters invaded the very seat of American democracy in an attempt to overthrow the government. They broke into the Capitol, overran overmatched security forces, threatened to assassinate political leaders, chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” looted offices of congressional members, and sent those congressional members scurrying for safety.

The rioters tried to prevent a basic function of democracy — the counting of Electoral College votes — and they tried to subvert the very foundation of this country. It was the first time since 1814 the U.S. Capitol came under attack from hostile forces, and it was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history.

Five people died as a result.

The fallout landed close to home this week, with the arrest of a 61-year-old Battle Ground man. He has been charged with one count of unauthorized entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds. According to an affidavit, he told investigators he “picked up items that others had knocked over,” and “decided to leave after witnessing several people causing damage to Capitol property.”

It will be up to investigators and the courts to determine the veracity of those claims. It will be up to us to determine how we assess and remember the attack on our nation.

Because numerous apologists have disingenuously compared the Capitol attack with incidents of violence during protests last year. Indeed, in many cases, unacceptable violence and threats broke out. Police cars were burned; police buildings were set ablaze; people were injured and structures were damaged.

There have been consequences– as there should be. In Portland, according to KOIN-TV, nearly 1,000 arrests occurred. While most charges were dropped, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said: “I had to make a decision, based on resources in this office, where we were going to prioritize. Breaking windows of businesses, lighting things on fire, stealing from those stores in the protest environment, that’s what we’re focusing on. We’re not using our limited resources on people who aren’t doing those things.”

Those who engaged in violence and vandalism during last year’s protests should be prosecuted. And aggressive police actions which often heightened the tension should be reassessed. But any suggestion that violence in our cities is equivalent to an attack on the U.S. Capitol should be dismissed.

As Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler explained the day of the Capitol riot: “The Capitol Police barricaded us in. We were told to get down and to get our gas masks. Eventually, we were ushered out. … Is this the America we want to give to our children? A country of lawlessness and mob rule?”

Those are good questions. And they should not be obfuscated by false equivalencies.