Urged by outgoing president Donald Trump, a mob of insurrectionists stormed the United States Capitol Building Wednesday afternoon, chasing members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence out of the chamber and interrupting the ratification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Since the summer of 2019, political analysts have been expressing alarm about Trump’s refusal to agree to accept the outcome of the election. Since November 3, his attempts to overturn the democratic process have grown more brazen: fabricating bogus claims of fraud; indulging in wild conspiracy theories; and summoning and calling state officials in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania with demands to change the legal outcome.
Finally, this week, Trump attempted to coerce his typically pliant vice president to change the electoral results during a largely ceremonial roll call of state electoral tallies in the U.S. Capitol.
While that business played out, mobs climbed the Capitol steps, broke through police lines, and entered both chambers.
The last time the Capitol was breached involved British soldiers during the War of 1812, and the spectacle led some observers to invoke political crises before and after the U.S. Civil War. But many communities in Minnesota are experiencing the violence in Washington, D.C., with more recent memories in mind. Immigrants from Laos, Myanmar, East Africa, Liberia, Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere have experienced coups, insurrections, and political crises in their countries of origin.
We called leaders from some of these communities to ask what they’ve seen today while watching the crisis at the U.S. Capitol. What parallels do they note, having lived through political disturbances like this one?
Did they ever imagine they’d see scenes like this in the United States, their second home?
Habon Abdulle, executive director of Ayada Leads (formerly known as the Women Organizing Women Network).
I had been following the news, this morning and some of last night. I was so excited because of the changes we were seeing in Georgia. I knew that some rebels would contest the electoral vote, but I was not expecting them to go into the Capitol. I’m originally from Somalia, a country that was destroyed by the Civil War. I’m having some déjà vu seeing everything that’s happening. For those of us who saw what happened in our original country, we never thought it would be possible in the United States of America.
I haven’t seen the National Guard with heavy armor that we saw here in Minneapolis. I’m scared and at the same time I’m concerned. Ahead of time, the protesters—if you want to call them that—had been there for the last few days. But why haven’t law enforcement prepared themselves?
I’m really scared for The Squad [Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandira Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley]. Some of those people think that they’re not Americans and that can get really ugly.
State Representative Tou Xiong, DFL-Maplewood/Woodbury.
This is un-American and disrespectful to the institutions of this country. Earlier today when it started happening, I went on social media to call on President Trump to tell his people to go home. This is not how a democracy handles a transition of power. If you lose an election, you don’t go to the street and storm our nation’s Capitol.
This is what my parents ran away from. This is not what America is supposed to be.
I’m just at a loss of words. I can’t believe this is happening to our country. We’re supposed to be a leader of the world, the leading democracy, and now we’re teetering on and turning into one of those Third World countries that my parents ran away from.
I’m trying to be optimistic. Hopefully they get the situation under control and move on with certifying the votes for Joe Biden.
Wynfred Russell, city council member, Brooklyn Park.
It’s really shocking. Many countries look up to the U.S. as this democratic guardpost of how we conduct elections. And to see what is happening now with the aftermath of the election and the current president not accepting the results: These are things we usually typically see in other parts of the world. For sure in Africa, where you see one strongman who has lost the election, and he doesn’t want to step down, and it just creates a lot of chaos.
This is the last place I thought something like this would happen. When I first saw what was happening in the Capitol and the temporary takeover, I just felt, “Well, there goes American exceptionalism.” I think what this shows us, especially those of us who came from overseas, is that American exceptionalism is a myth.
Americans talk a lot about American exceptionalism and the shiny star on the hill. But at the end of the day, this has shown the human side—the underbelly of the American system. Which is still better than many parts of the world. But it’s not exceptional. This is a system designed by humans and run by humans, so naturally there are going to be flaws.
I’m still confident that the resiliency of the American democratic institutions and the democratic apparatus is going to withstand this temporary mischief. Mischief is probably an understatement. But it’s going to weather the storm, there’s no doubt about it. One of the things the U.S. has over other fledging democratic nations and systems across the world is very strong institutions and very strong laws. I don’t foresee any long-term damage.
In the mid-term, it’s really shaken the confidence of the American population, and it’s shaken the confidence of all of us who look up to the U.S., who are practicing and learning these democratic practices and democratic norms with the hope of maybe taking them back and exporting it to other parts of the world. It’s really shaken our confidence. But in the end, I feel it will all work out because of the resilience of American democratic institutions.
Hamse Warfa, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
This is how coup attempts inspired by autocratic leaders often start. Having spent over 20 years in the peacebuilding field, this is one of the worst examples of attack on a representative democracy I have seen, in part, because the symbol of democracy, Capitol Hill, was attacked.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).
We saw the writing on the wall. We saw that Trump galvanize these folks with lies for nearly four years, and now they cannot see the truth, because they have lived in the lies of Trump. And today, we saw our president put forward a mob to attack our Capitol and to begin, what appears to be, efforts to do a coup after his own party leaders have denounced his action.
It’s really terrifying to also see law enforcement, not doing their job in an effort to allow this chaos to exist in perhaps the most secure facilities in our nation’s capital. It’s a challenging time, but most of us who have been challenging Trump and challenging his narratives are not surprised.
I was hoping that they could not enter the building. Protesting is fine but entering the building and having a complete loss of control at the Capitol is not a small thing. We all know if any people of color had done that they would have had to face live ammunition. This is a very trying time within our nation, and people need to wake up and see that polarization in America could be our greatest national security threat.
Abdulahi Farah, lead organizer for Faith in Minnesota.
When I was in Somalia during the Civil War, I was very young. I didn’t know what was going on. Most people didn’t think, at first, that it would get that bad. They knew that what was happening was wrong, but a lot of people stayed on the sidelines. You see so many people with regrets looking back after 20 years of the Civil War. Maybe it could have been stopped in the beginning.
Now, as a young person who grew up in the United States as well, it’s almost like we have a second chance to get it right and say, We have to get involved, because we know how bad it could get.
Being grounded in the type of political activity I’m in—organizing, and knowing the tactics of fear and bullying of this current administration— I’m grateful, at least, to see what happened in Georgia last night, to see the power of the people.