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‘Making sense of the moment:’ panel of TCNJ professors meet to discuss capitol insurrection

By Anthony Garcia
News Editor

The College held a virtual panel on Feb. 16, which would be the first of a three-part series on the insurrection at the Capitol. Moderated by President Foster, four professors met to offer insight on the events of Jan. 6 and to make sense of this moment in American history. 

“Many of us reacted with concern and incongruity when, on January 6, we watched the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol by persons seeking to disrupt the certification of the electoral college votes and thus the peaceful transition of power from one US president to another,” Foster said before introducing the College’s four professors in speaking order: Diane Bates, Christopher Fisher, Zakiya Adair and event organizer Daniel Bowen.

“This moment raised profound questions,” said Foster, who encouraged students to ask questions throughout which would be addressed during the Q&A section. Foster said that the country’s struggle with a multi-racial democracy that is equal, fair and just will be the core focus of all the panels.

From the department of sociology and anthropology, Professor Diane Bates offered insight into the demographics of the present-day U.S. and how it aligns with the Jan. 6 attack.

“The truth of the matter is the United States is changing demographically, and the question is whether or not that is perceived at least by some as a demographic threat,” she said.

She used graphs and other visual aids to get across the point that although it may have not always been the case throughout American history, 2 out of every 3 people are not in the category of white or non-Hispanic descent. 

(Photo courtesy of Diane Bates)

“This category (white non-Hispanic born) in the West is already a numerical minority,” Bates said. “In other parts of the country, we are getting very close to a 50% mark.”

“Some people see this as a threat,” she said, explaining that the white non-Hispanic group is declining.

This transitioned into a contextual conversation of the events at the Capitol led by history professor Christopher Fisher. 

“In asking us to reflect on this moment, like many of you, I watched the events of January 6 with a mixture of outrage and sadness,” he said. “The throngs of people standing in angry anticipation at the Capitol were eerily familiar to me. In that such a mob would graduate from manic reverie, to outright insurrection was hardly surprising.”

“Instead what brought everything into focus for me, was what I remember from the scholar and activist and artist W.E.B Du Bois,” he said. Fisher went on to cite Du Bois’s idea of a double-conscious.  

“Double consciousness also came with certain gifts,” he said. “One was that black people could see what white people could not or simply would not see. Dubois called this the gift of second sight.” 

He explained how this gift has gone on to influence many Black writers and intellectuals. 

“I think Du Bois was making a statement on historical awareness. Understanding the lens of American history through the lens of Black history sensitizes you to our nation’s capacity for explosive and irrational violence. To that end, one historical phenomena stands out particularly clear in my mind, that of course is the practice of lynching in American history,” he said. “It’s very clear that January insurgents took their cues from this tortured history.” 

Fisher went on to discuss the planning of the attack, warnings of the reckoning and the historical concept of a lynch mob and the symbolism of nooses in parallel to the rioters’ oath of fulfilling a planned attack on the Capitol which killed five and caused two police officers to later take their own lives. 

“Lynchings were advertised well in advance, weeks in advance, as an act of restorative justice, when in reality they were equal parts vigilantism and carnival,” he said. “With so many people expecting a show, the organizers whipped up the crowd, played to their passions, and provoked their fury.”

Professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies and African American studies Zakiya Adair spoke of the influence of pop culture on the events that took place at the Capitol, drawing a historical parallel between fiction and reality. 

“I awoke the morning of January 6 to a deluge of information that concerned me,” Adair said. “Then I saw footage from the Capitol that terrified me. I saw a diluted joyous song of protestors invade hallowed halls with nefarious purpose. Their exuberance was familiar, I had seen it before, often in works of fiction and the terrorist actions that inspired it.”

She cited three works of white nationalists that influenced recent conservative politics: the 1915 silent film “Birth of a Nation,” the 1978 novel “The Turner Diaries” by William Luther Pierce and the social media platform Parler, an alternative to Twitter that has been used by right-wing extremists. She mentioned a New York Times article that compares “The Turner Diaries” to the build up of the Capitol attacks.

“As a Black woman, and a feminist, and a scholar of African American cultural history, what stood out to me is how the rioters used pop culture in their spectacle,” Adair said. “What does this all mean for the struggle multiracial, multiethnic society? It means pop culture has a huge impact on political movement, white domestic terrorism are well organized, funded and supported, and I also think it means we need to have a larger conversation on the blurred line between fact and fiction.”

Next to speak was professor and department chair of the political science department Daniel Bowen. His argument was based around information and research that supports his claim that the Republican party is a broken party in crisis. 

“The GOP is a racially and ethnically homogeneous party in a rapidly diversifying country,” Bowen said. “It is committed to a set of unpopular public policies that is supported by its shrinking electoral coalition.”

His argument was supported by research, historical and demographic context and factual evidence on the Republican party. 

“It’s a big problem for a party if many major issues are facing the country, and the party is committed to the minority position,” said Bowen.

The party has tried to leverage elections with “anti-majoritarian aspects” of the American political system, according to Bowen. 

These side effects have allowed the Republican party to win major elections in the last twenty years despite losing the popular vote. The party’s rule of demographically rural states has enabled the party to intercept major legislation. They have used tactics such as false claims of voter fraud to damage the integrity of the democratic vote, according to Bowen.  

“It’s so much easier to believe that the Democrats cheated than that your opinions were unpopular,” Bowen said. 

The Republican party has used tactics such as false claims of voter fraud to damage the integrity of the democratic vote, according to Bowen.  

“The scholarship on voter fraud arguments shows that they’ve been most effective among racially resentful white Americans and those with high anti-immigrant sentiment,” Bowen said. “What we witnessed in regards in the aftermath of the 2020 election and insurrection was an extreme and dangerous version of this same playbook. An attempt to force Republican state and federal officials to use anti-majoritarian, in this case illegal, means to hold power.” 

A new panel is set to meet on Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2021 to discuss violence, whiteness and white supremacy.  

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