While much of the world watched pro-Trump rioters storm the Capitol building from their televisions and phone screens on Wednesday, UMBC senior political science major Patrick Reid stood in the crowd as history unfolded around him. Inspired by James Baldwin’s idea to bear witness to history and armed with two single-use cameras and his cellphone, Reid put himself in the middle of a riot.
“I [wanted] to be there and just see what this moment of history has to offer,” said Reid. “And, as wrong as it is, I figured, as a white person in America, I can blend into the crowd.”
Taking the MARC train to Union Station, Reid walked the few blocks to the Capitol. A crowd of Trump supporters had already formed behind the Capitol by the time he got there. As the day went on, Reid saw more and more Trump supporters surround the building.
Wandering around the Capitol’s surrounding grounds and other D.C. monuments and museums, Reid remembers only seeing Trump supporters. He described the Mall eerily void of its usual runners and quiet asides from the crowd listening to President Trump’s speech on their phones.
As he turned a corner from the African American History Museum, Reid realized for the first time the number of Trump supporters heading for the Capitol.
“I’ve been to protests. I’ve seen crowds, [but] I’ve never been more frightened,” said Reid. “I think I literally said out loud ‘oh f—,’ because it was so huge and you could just tell they were riled up.”
After checking the scene at Black Lives Matter Plaza, Reid checked his phone to see the report that people had broken into the Capitol. Running, Reid blended into the stream of pro-Trump rioters heading for the Capitol building. He saw the usual supporters decked in “Make America Great” hats and other Trump paraphernalia. What caught his eye were the people wearing tactical gear with radios. Reid described them as looking like they belonged to a militia.
“[I] started to hear it in the crowd, ‘Oh, they just stormed the Capitol.’ [I] started hearing ‘Oh, reinforcements are on the way,’ or ‘it’s the people’s house,’” said Reid. “I cannot tell you how many times I heard that, like, ‘This is our house,’ ‘It’s the people’s house,’ ‘We own this house. This is ours.’”
Arriving at the Capitol, Reid saw the remains of wooden and metal blockades on the ground. A large bang drew Reid’s attention in one direction as he saw rioters breaking scaffolding and construction tarp and hanging Trump flags.
Reid said the Capitol Police set off tear gas to disperse the rioters to no avail. He watched as the crowd forced the police to retreat up the steps, many officers falling and needing to be carried by their colleagues as the rioters pressed against them. However, this was one of the only times Reid remembers seeing the police do anything to stop the rioters.
After hearing a woman was shot inside the Capitol and watching the FBI send in a medic, Reid texted his parents: “I’m watching a coup. I’m watching the Beer Hall Putsch right now, Hitler’s first attempted coup in Germany is what [I’m] watching right now.” His mom called and told him to leave and he began to make his way back to Union Station.
Before he got away from the crowd, a rioter from Missouri told Reid that he made it into the Capitol. The rioter also said: “Yeah, next time man, we should [bring] rope and some guns.”
While Reid was horrified by the Missouri rioter and the riot, he is not surprised it happened. Countering President-elect Joe Biden’s tweet— “America is so much better than what we’re seeing today,”— Reid believes that America is defined by Wednesday’s riots.
“An insurrection, especially by white men? That is as American as it gets,” said Reid.
On Thursday, UMBC released a statement stating that the university “[condemns] the attack on the heart of our democracy.” UMBC’s Center for Democracy and Civic Life set up another talk in their Together Beyond program for the UMBC community to process the riots. Like Reid, Together Beyond discussion attendee and Resident Life Coordinator for Quarantine and Isolation Housing Tyler Fultz was not shocked by Wednesday’s events.
“I saw it as the culmination of an increasing reaction to white supremacists losing power that was bound to end up in violence,” said Fultz.
Together Beyond attendee and Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Kayla Hickman also views the riots as being about race and racism. She explained that unifying the country like Biden hopes to do cannot occur with some reckoning.
“I think a lot of reckoning and accountability needs to be centered around the fact that whiteness and white supremacy in this country is upheld in a way that absolves people of accountability.”
Part of the reckoning Hickman calls for is acknowledging the injustice BIPOC are subject to in America.
“If that had been Black Lives Matter movement protests actually protesting justice instead of committing an act of terror and trying to take away our democracy and disenfranchise us like [the pro-Trump rioters], they would have been killed,” said Hickman.
Despite being appalled by the riots, Director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life David Hoffman sees those in the UMBC community who think critically about events like Reid, Fultz and Hickman as a glimmer of hope for the future.
“UMBC is at the forefront of a national movement in higher education that aspires to build a thriving democracy through civic learning focused on critical thinking, imagination, courage, storytelling, and coalition-building strategies,” said Hoffman. “Conversations like this week’s Together Beyond program are sending ripples well beyond UMBC. We need more of them.”