When domestic terrorists stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, they thought the police were on their side. Then the tear gas hit. That police response, while minimal, shocked rioters into reality. It will undeniably change the relationship between the far right and law enforcement for the foreseeable future.
It’s not a stretch to say that up until Jan. 6 the people who stormed the Capitol believed they had an unspoken understanding with the police. After all, many cops voted for Trump, and some influential police unions endorsed him in 2020. They weren’t entirely wrong about this allyship. Some Capitol Police officers held gates open for the insurrectionist mob, while others took selfies with the terrorists.
But other officers responded with logical tactics — although it’s fairly obvious that if the protestors had not been mostly white and all pro-Trump, the crackdown would have been faster and much more severe. A few officers responding aggressively to domestic terrorists on the Capitol grounds isn’t nearly enough to overshadow the awful actions of their corrupt colleagues, assisting rioters on Jan. 6 or harassing and murdering people of color over the course of U.S. history. But it was enough to alter much of the far right’s perception of cops.
This shift in the ideological landscape couldn’t have come at a more definitive moment. After a summer that brought the necessity and underlying ethics of police under the scrutiny of popular culture, the dynamic between cops and civilians is now highly malleable. If there are members of both sides of the spectrum that hate cops, one because of a fantasy and the other because of a tragic reality, this institution which once seemed untouchable may now be operating on borrowed time.
White nationalists can’t conceive of a police force that isn’t unequivocally on their side, and isn’t willing to actively enforce their racist, fascist agenda. After the events on Jan. 6, The Nation reported members of pro-Trump mob screaming profanities at police SUVs, and describing them as “security guards for Washington,” not “real police.” Trump’s base has always made a point to support law enforcement. Right-wing culture has long involved defending — and even thanking — cops under scrutiny for racial profiling, harassment and murder. Following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police, the “Blue Lives Matter” sentiment among conservatives became increasingly prominent. The insurrection at the Capitol has quickly and indefinitely changed that.
Ultimately, the far right will have to make a decision about their stance on the police, who they can no longer boil down to what some in the opposition call “bad apples,” and others recognize as the unacceptable norm. More likely than not, a political breakup of epic proportions is in order.