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The Capitol breach went far beyond 'disappointed Americans'

The Capitol breach went far beyond 'disappointed Americans'
© Getty Images

On Aug. 24, 1814, British soldiers invading Washington, D.C., breached and burned the United States Capitol. Some have compared what happened on Wednesday — when a massive crowd assembled for President TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE’s “Save America” rally turned into a violent, destructive occupation of the Capitol — to that incident nearly 207 years ago. I think they’re wrong.

You see, the men and women who invaded the temple of our democracy on Jan. 6, wearing MAGA hats and neo-Nazi paraphernalia, carrying Confederate flags and echoing Trump’s words from moments earlier — “We will never concede” — bore little resemblance to the Redcoats who captured the Capitol in 1814, apart from the fact that some were carrying weapons.

Those men who invaded America two centuries ago were uniformed, disciplined and sanctioned soldiers operating under the rules of war. These were, in the words of Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP governors move to cut unemployment benefits as debate rages over effects Trump critics push new direction for GOP Graham warns about trying to 'drive' Trump from GOP: 'Half the people will leave' MORE (R-S.C.), “domestic terrorists,” just like the four Puerto Rican nationalists who opened fire on the House floor in 1954.

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They went far beyond “disappointed Americans” or “disgruntled voters” venting their frustrations. They weren’t conscientious countrymen trying to demonstrate a fundamental disagreement. They weren’t protesters, militia members or even a mob. They were much worse, according to the Republican National Committee’s Michael Ahrens.  

The Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” and many Republican and Democratic leaders across the nation agree that the definition applies in this instance.

This wasn’t a protest or a riot. It appeared to be an attempted coup, and to call it anything else is to try to excuse it. So those who participated don’t get to claim they love America. They don’t get to quote the U.S. Constitution when they ignored the very bedrock principles it was written to protect. They don’t get to sing “God Bless America,” or drape themselves in the flag that true patriots have died to protect. They gave all that up.

They invaded our Capitol with the singular purpose of stopping the peaceful transfer of power and supplanting a president-elect, chosen by a free and fair election. They intended to subvert the will of the majority for their own — and they failed.  

They scaled walls and shattered windows, took selfies at the vice president’s and House speaker’s desks, posed with their MAGA banners, Confederate battle flags, and displayed a homemade noose — while spouting rhetoric and pretending to speak for “the people.” The people don’t need pipe bombs.

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The lawbreakers claimed to speak for “law and order” but more than 50 law enforcement officers were wounded in their uprising, including 15 who were hospitalized, and one of them died. Apparently, “Blue Lives Matter” only when they want them to. 

If I sound angry, it’s because I am. I remember the violent response to largely peaceful protests when people who look like me tried to raise their voices against murder last year. I remember the National Guard being deployed to defend the Lincoln Memorial against nonviolent crowds who assembled to hear speeches. I remember tear gas disbursing law-abiding Americans so that Trump could get a photo op.

Now I look at the images from outside and inside our nation’s Capitol and I can’t help but imagine what might have happened if these people looked like me. In Minneapolis last May, George Floyd died for a lot less.

Let’s be honest: What happened on Wednesday wasn’t a protest. It was a violent insurrection incited by Trump. That requires our nation’s leaders to investigate and take action to ensure that something like this never happens again.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.