During the late morning, just hours before the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election, former President Donald Trump held a “Save America” rally on the Ellipse outside the White House. Insisting that the election was stolen from him, Trump called on his supporters “to stop the steal” and on former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results. Moments later, crowds of thousands marched towards the Capitol building where lawmakers gathered for a joint session to tally the Electoral College votes and confirm President Joe Biden’s victory.
What started with rioters circling around the perimeter of the Capitol quickly escalated into violence; Trump supporters swept past security barricades, sur- rounding the Capitol. Rioters attacked Capitol Police by beating them with pipes, using their fists, firing guns, and releasing harmful chemicals like tear gas. The mob breached the building shortly after and headed towards the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. In the midst of the chaos, Capitol Police officers helped senators, lawmakers, reporters, and others evacuate the building.
The mob that stormed the Capitol donned Trump apparel or military-styled gear while carrying guns, handcuffs, Trump signs, Confederate flags, and various Nazi emblems. Anna Capelle ’24 reflects on the hate present at the events, especially towards people of color: “What happened was traumatic for everyone, but especially for POC. It's so sad that something this evident had to happen in order for people to start opening their eyes to the fact that privilege exists.” Hopkins students were not completely shocked by the sheer volume of hate symbols present at the insurrection. Co-head of Jewish Culture Club Warren Jaffee ’21 “wasn’t necessarily surprised when the news first hit my TV,” nor was he “surprised by the symbols, but I do loathe them very much.” Fellow co-head Evan Migdole ’22 believes the insurrection reflects the prevalence of anti-Semitism: “Clearly, people have become increasingly comfortable openly express- ing racism and anti-Semitism in this country. To see people with swastikas and Confederate flags worn and
represented on their bodies is a disgrace to our country as a whole and makes entire groups of people extremely vulnerable to racist and anti-Semitic beliefs that are antithetical to this country and what it should stand for.”
In the aftermath of the Capitol invasion, five people died while nearly 140 police officers suffered injuries. Rioters also inflicted extensive physical damage onto the interior of the Capitol; broken pieces of glass and other debris were scattered throughout the floors of the building. Both the Senate and House of Representatives chambers were vandalized and looted, while pieces of furniture were turned over, damaged, and stolen. Over 400 suspects have been identified, and as of February 24, around 270 arrests have been made while investigators continue to look for more possible perpetrators. Lexie Lewis ’21 believes that, “acknowledging our country’s shortcomings does not make us any less patriotic. In fact, it allows us to reflect on the cyclical nature of history,” when asked about
her interpretations of the event and how it was addressed.
Members of the Hopkins community recount their initial reaction to the insurrection. Co-head of Young Democrats Ella Zuse ’21 recalls she was in her car at the time of the event: “I couldn't really check my phone so my friends in my 21st Century Democracy class were filling me in.” She continues, “I could tell something bad was going on, but wasn't sure what had happened.” Zuse recalls feeling, “so shocked and horrified and really worried that someone was going to be hurt the whole time.”
Another co-head of Young Democrats, Nathan Meyers ’22, was not surprised at the events: “After all we had been through in the four years of Trump, ‘a historic, once in a lifetime day’ just became normal to me — absolute chaos was not unexpected with him in power.” Meyers perceives a generational exhaustion that came to the fore after the Capitol riot: “I remember finding a Tik Tok later that night that said something along the lines of ‘I am only a teenager, and yet I have lived through more once-in-a-lifetime events then I can count in the last four years. We are tired of it. We want change.’” The insurrection sparked debates about political unification- what it looks like and how it can be achieved. Co-Head of the Young Republicans Yahn Galinovsky ’21 believes that the various acts of violence observed at the Capitol riot “are all signs that our country needs serious and legitimate change, along with unification.” Meyers provides a specific vision: “It’s also important to remember that the ‘political unity’ I (and I believe, most of the Hopkins community) believe in is one where everyone unites around social views that really shouldn’t be up for debate, but sadly are—that is, a women’s right to an abortion, the existence of systemic racism in our country, rights of the LGBTQ+ community, etc.”
In spite of the challenges posed by the pandemic, co-head of Young Republicans John Stanley ’21 sees a light at the end of the tunnel: “I think that we have a good chance of healing a large part of the divide that we see now by getting through the pandemic.” He furthers his point, adding, “that if as a nation we focus on making it out [of the pandemic], we’ll solve a lot of the divide that currently exists. Rallying around it will allow us to come closer together” Zuse believes that “going forward, we as a country need to rethink who we support.” She addresses the Republican party in her following comment: “Many Republicans have since distanced themselves from Trump after standing behind him for all four years. That type of blind support for a leader who incited violence, encouraged white supremacy, and allowed extremist groups to carry out acts of hate is dangerous and should never happen again.”
On January 7, 2021, Head of School Kai Bynum released a public letter responding to the Capitol assault. Bynum explains his thought process when drafting the email: “My intentions were to acknowledge the painful reality of what happened, support our community through a traumatic event, and reaffirm our community values to help us move forward together.” Throughout the letter, Bynum took a neutral stance and was noncommittal in tone, mentioning that “some will characterize it as a protest, some will define it as a riot, some will see it as an example of white privilege at its highest form, and some will call it an insurrection.” Bynum’s letter continues, “Our challenge is figuring out how we can recognize the systemic roots of each and collectively seek to work towards unity in both our community and our country,” the first step to achieving unity being “[creating] spaces for one another to better understand our thoughts, feelings, and concerns about what those events mean for all of us.”
Bynum’s letter provoked a direct response from the @blackathopkins_, an Instagram account dedicated to providing BIPOC students and alumni a space for expression. The post conveyed frustration with the language Bynum chose to incorporate in his email: “This is not a political issue. This is not a time to play both sides. Your passivity speaks volumes.” The account’s discontent with the tone of Bynum’s email was made very clear as “[they] hope for Hopkins to use this opportunity to fortify and strengthen the bond within the community, rather than passively make a statement and disrespect the intelligence of their Black students.” Speaking to the Capitol events themselves, the @blackathopkins_ account states, “I’m glad this was on public display because it forces white people to acknowledge what Black people have been preaching for years.”
Black and Latin X Student Union (BLSU) co-head Michael Imevbore ’21 agrees, perceiving “ a general consensus between law enforcement officers that a peaceful BLM protest is a greater danger than Trump supporters breaking into the Capitol building. The events that occurred on January 6 only confirmed to everybody that America is broken and backwards in many places, if that wasn’t confirmed already.”
Following the insurrection, numerous Hopkins faculty members held discussions during classes. English teacher Terence Mooney explains that “there were no specific instructions given to discuss [the insurrection] in our classes, though [Becky] Harper [Director of Equity and Community] provided our faculty and staff with resources to help process those events individually, with one another, and with our students.” Mooney mentions that he “devoted the entire...class period to individually reflect and collectively process out of respect for the unprecedented nature of the events at the Capitol.”
Isabel Pizarro ‘24 recalls how History teacher Errol Saunders similarly “used the entire class period to tell us, in case we didn’t know most of the facts about it, just the facts,” as he “recognized that this was an important historic event that as a History teacher, would be important to talk about in class.”
History teacher Thom Peters also encouraged his students to engage in class discussions. His method was to create three breakout rooms: one for students who preferred not to participate, a second for students who wanted to discuss in the presence of the teacher, and a third for students who preferred to discuss more freely, without a teacher in the breakout room. Peters noticed that “the events struck people of different generations in different ways. For most of them, it was not as surprising as it was to me. They re- minded me that most of the period of their ‘political awareness’ has been during the Age of Trumpism.” A student of Peters, Annie Burtson ’21 said, “My first period on Thursday happened to be 21st Century Democracy, so we had an in-depth conversation about the attack. Mr. Peters did a fantastic job facilitating conversation focusing on the event itself, but also on us and how we feel.” She adds, “It was an extremely safe space where he was truly curious about our wellbeing.” Burtson noticed the general environment was different as compared to other current events, where it seemed “almost as if everyone was trying to forget.”
Spanish teacher Gabriela Gerstenfeld was among those not surprised by the events. At a very young age, Gerstenfeld experienced a coup in Uruguay. “The dictatorship took away the best years of my youth, in which we lived with fear, constant fear...tanks were patrolling the streets, [they] had curfew hours, and the Parliament was shut for 14 years.”
In the wake of the Capitol attack, the House of Representatives drew up and voted on one article of impeachment, “incitement of insurrection”. Trump was impeached for the second time. After the House vote, the articles were sent to the Senate for the impeachment trial, which acquitted Trump with a vote of 57 guilty and 43 not guilty. Sawyer Maloney ’21 was not at all surprised with the outcome of the trial, believing that “the second impeachment trial was just another display of blind partisanship, which is so expected at this point that I don’t think it’s worth complaining about.” However, Maloney argues that Trump “should be punished, because there are a lot of terrible things that he has done” and hopes that “the SDNY [Southern District of New York] can charge him with something.