On Jan. 6, 2021, I was in quarantine, recovering from COVID-19. As I read and watched TV to pass the time, I began to see early reports of the attack on the U.S. Capitol. I saw the events of that dreadful day unfold in real time.
Former President Donald J. Trump clearly incited an insurrection while peddling the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. This was nothing short of an attempt to overthrow a legitimate election. This attempted coup resulted in five fatalities, 140 police officers injured, and untold amounts of psychological trauma experienced by many.
More than 700 defendants have been charged with crimes. A number of these defendants are now facing weapons charges. Trump’s most rabid supporters beat police officers as they stormed the Capitol. Some of these self-described “patriots” hypocritically weaponized American flagpoles in carrying out their vicious deeds. Apparently, the “law and order” maxim their political tribe employs doesn’t apply to them.
Even before the dust settled from all the Trump-supporting rioting, right-wing media outlets and Republican elected officials began to rewrite history through blame-shifting and baseless conspiracy theories. “The rioters were actually members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter masquerading as Trump supporters!” “It was all a set-up by deep state Democrats, or a false flag operation of the FBI!”
Others have attempted to minimize what happened on Jan. 6. Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde said, “You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.” Numerous surveys have shown the Republican base has bought into these absurd counternarratives.
The Lost Cause narrative
This is not the first time the U.S. has been harmed by the acceptance of a false narrative. Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has said, “While the North won the Civil War, the South won the narrative war.” Stevenson was largely referring to the “Myth of the Lost Cause” which began to take root in the South and beyond starting in the late 1800s.
The Lost Cause is the false, romanticized narrative that the Confederates were heroic and their cause was noble. The Lost Cause not only was a systematic effort to whitewash the ugliness of chattel slavery, but also a backlash to the African American progress seen during the Reconstruction Era. By 1915, the Lost Cause had seeped into the mainstream of American thought. During this period, the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan was formed and began using the Confederate flag as its emblem.
“By 1915, the Lost Cause had seeped into the mainstream of American thought.”
Interestingly, what we now know as the Confederate flag never was the official battle flag of the Confederacy. Rather, it was best known as the battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Northern Virginia Army unit. In fact, the Confederacy went through several different flags during the Civil War, none of which was the current Confederate flag. Shortly after the Civil War, the Confederate flag was largely a forgotten relic, that is, until the Myth of the Lost Cause was popularized.
In the middle of the 20th century, the battle flag experienced another resurgence, and this wasn’t by accident. This time, the flag exploded into prominence in reaction to the African American struggle for civil rights. As advances were made in this struggle, the flag became more visible. Segregationist mobs, White Citizen Councils, Southern Democrats (or Dixiecrats), and other Jim Crow proponents joined the Klan in displaying the flag.
Several Southern states also incorporated the Confederate flag as a part of their state flags. These included Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. This was not done to honor fallen Confederate soldiers, who had died almost a century earlier, but to enshrine white supremacy.
Fast forward to 2008. The nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, was elected to his first term. Some thought we had entered a “post-racial” America. They were wrong. Reactionary and white grievance politics began to grow, as evidenced by the emergence of the Tea Party Movement, in 2009. Confederate flags often could be seen at Tea Party rallies.
On June 17, 2015, a despicable act of domestic terrorism was carried out by Dylann Roof, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi. Roof went into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston, S.C., where he shot and killed nine worshipers, all of whom were Black. He had previously displayed the Confederate flag on his website and left a racist manifesto.
“Reactionary and white grievance politics began to grow, as evidenced by the emergence of the Tea Party Movement, in 2009. Confederate flags often could be seen at Tea Party rallies.”
Likewise, the Confederate flag was on full display at the Unite the Right Rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. After the rally that resulted in a white supremacist terrorist attack, Trump infamously declared there were “very fine people on both sides.” Moreover, since 2015, Confederate flags have become a welcomed staple at MAGA rallies.
Now, we have come full circle to Jan. 6, 2021. To me, one of the more sickening sights of this day was that of Kevin Seefried carrying a large Confederate flag into the Capitol. This never had been done before, not even during the Civil War. But, in retrospect, this makes perfect sense. The Confederate flag being proudly carried into the Capitol a year ago tells us all we need to know about the insurrection at the Capitol. At its core, it was about white supremacy.
Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, has said, “The people spreading lies about the Capitol insurrection are the spiritual heirs to the Daughters of the Confederacy. They are the ideological descendants of those who spent decades lying to the American public about slavery and the Civil War.”
Jealous also said, “Trump’s claim that his victory was stolen by Black and brown voters in corrupt cities was the lie that fueled insurrectionists’ rage. It was repeated endlessly on right-wing media. Republicans who deny or downplay the insurrectionists’ attempt to overturn the presidential election are creating their own Lost Cause ideology.”
The same Big Lie that led to the insurrection is being used to justify new voter suppression laws focused on making it harder for Black and brown people to vote. Yes, the Myth of the Lost Cause and the insurrection at the Capitol both were based on big lies. The aim of both was the maintenance of white supremacy. Until we are honest about this, America will not truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Joel A. Bowman Sr. is a native of Detroit and serves as the founder and senior pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church, in Louisville, Ky. He also maintains a practice as a licensed clinical social worker with nearly 30 years of experience in the mental health field. His commentaries and poems have been printed in numerous publications. Joel and his wife, Nannette, have three children, Kayla, Katie and Joel Jr. Follow him on Twitter @JoelABowmanSr.
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