Chickens flee the coup: We need journalism that says when white people are terrorists and calls fascists by their name

These were not "protestors" with "grievances", they were white supremacists trying to enable a coup.

After an incendiary speech by the deposed ‘strongman’, who is attempting to hold on to the presidency, fascist militias and other white supremacist supporters of the regime stormed the country’s parliament. As lawmakers fled, it seemed that some of the police and military were still loyal to the tyrant, while others were slow to react…

If the storming of the US Capitol had occurred in a country with oil interests that the US was eyeing, reporting across the board would have talked about ‘terrorists’, ‘criminals’ and ‘insurgents’ and suggested a peacekeeping force should be airdropped in to restore democracy. A few hours into the events that’s precisely what CNN did, dropping the word “protestor” in favour of “insurrectionist” with some anchors even trying on vocabulary like “criminals”, “terrorists” and “traitors”.

But even after President-Elect Joe Biden said, “This is an insurrection,” reporters from BBC News, Sky News, and ITV News were still referring to “Trump supporters” and “protestors”, with some even musing on the causes for the crowd’s anger. It’s long been apparent that the media will bend over backwards to find excuses when white people riot and engage in terror tactics. Look at how reticent many outlets were to call Anthony Warner — who blew himself up at an AT&T building in Nashville — a suicide bomber. Apparently, he was too pale a shade on their terrorist colour chart.

As I write this, The Times — which sent Michael Gove over to interview Trump in 2017, where he mugged for the camera with the newly-elected President — is still referring to “supporters” and “a mob”. It’s no surprise that a paper that has tried to find excuses for Trump throughout his term would continue to shy away from more truthful language about what occurred.

Michael Gove couldn’t stretch to tweet a condemnation himself. A retweet of the Prime Minister’s tweet — which reads like Carrie wrote it — had to do.

The Daily Mail — the historical home of the Hurrah For The Blackshirts editorial — has a direct headline (“Blood on Trump’s hands”) but still calls the mob “supporters”. Elsewhere in its coverage, it stretches to “agitators”, still reserving words like “terrorists”, “criminals” and “traitors” for people who aren’t white (or, at a stretch, don’t like Brexit).

The Telegraph, Britain’s premier far-right fanzine, opts for “crowds”, “supporters” and “protestors” with the occasional reference to “the mob” and one piece that admits Neo-Nazis were among those who stormed the Capitol. Tim Stanley, a Thought for the Day regular, who wrote after the election that “Donald Trump [had] won a moral victory for ordinary Americans against the liberal elite,” attempts a brazen volte-face in his latest column, writing:

The people who stormed Congress on Wednesday, waving Trump flags (at least one person was shot), were losers in support of a loser who was in the middle of being declared lost: Congress was counting the electoral votes. And with this action, the mob has sealed the GOP's reputation as the party of chaos.

To repeat, Donald Trump did lose the November 2020 election - although far more narrowly than expected. It was, I said at the time, a moral victory, a shock result that put the Democrats on notice, saw the Republicans gain seats in the House and left the GOP within two seats of taking the Senate. If Trump had banked that, accepted defeat… he would've been set up nicely for a re-match in 2024. Instead, he decided to cry fraud. 

To use your newspaper column to talk about Trump and morality — Trump the pussy-grabber, Trump the adulterer with a pornstar while his wife was pregnant, Trump the racist, Trump the booster of white supremacists — and then when the Nazis who the President has encouraged and still encourages storm the Capitol, to write another moralising column requires almost super-human front. Thought for the Day is already a joke but if it gives Stanley time again to offer his mealy-mouthed insights, it should be consigned once and for all to the dumper of radio history.

The Guardian gains at least partial credit for reporting quotes that brand the mob “domestic terrorists” — which is what they are — and referring to those who stormed the Capitol as “footsoldiers”. But even if it skitters away from talking about the events with the strength of feeling and language such an occurrence in a South American republic, a Middle Eastern country or an African state would trigger. As I write this, the Today programme is quoting George W. Bush as some kind of moral authority, as if special rendition was just a very hardcore package holiday offered by Thomas Cook.

Of course, it’s confusing for the media: When America ‘dabbles’ in coups, it usually confines that hobby to other countries whose democratic processes become optional if they elect someone the US doesn’t like.

The commentariat clings on to notions of American exceptionalism that are so fragile that they break up in your hand. It likes to pretend that America is a democracy rather than a patchwork quilt of states where democratic rights are unevenly distributed — dependent on your wealth, race, and social standing. It needs to believe these things because it also wants to believe that the UK — increasingly undemocratic in its own political process — could never see scenes where domestic terrorists stormed Parliament. It’s wishful thinking.

A certain sort of wet liberal journalist will tell you that it would be wrong to call the crowd that stormed the Capitol fascists and terrorists. It would be taking a political position. It would be going too far, editorialising too much. But those same hacks are quick to make political determinations when violence — both political and senseless — is undertaken by people who aren’t white.

But the media is still strikingly pale and stale, and deep down it doesn’t want to admit that white supremacy is an abiding, growing, and real threat. Admitting that the violence, destruction, and death in the Capitol yesterday was a consequence of white supremacism and fascism would mean admitting things about themselves that they’d rather not consider.

So despite the dramatic language today and the portentous tone of presenters and columnists, this “unprecedented” occurrence will soon be woven into the patchwork of political chaos. The media was so desperate to prove its assertion that “the grown-ups are back in charge” that it was just crossing its fingers and hoping Trump would go quietly. Every second of his presidency so far told anyone properly paying attention that was never going to happen. Large parts of the press and media that spent so long trying to gin up the fear of Antifa will never admit that it was the fa part they should have been worrying about.