Trump’s Attack on Democracy—Through Venezuelan Eyes

I was at Capitol Hill when the attack started. What I heard and saw reminded me of the worst moments of losing my democracy

Photo: Carlos Rodríguez López

January 6th, 2021, will be the day I saw with my own eyes the biggest humiliation ever done to what some called “the greatest democracy in the world,” a now obsolete term due to the ambitions of an authoritarian leader to preserve power at any cost. Violence, terror and vandalism took place at Capitol Hill, and while I write this, it’s still hard for me to believe that I’m referring to events I personally witnessed in Washington D.C and not at a Latin American capital. Every window broken, every defaced wall, every seat in every chamber usurped by rioters was an individual blow not only to American democracy, but to democracy everywhere.

I arrived at the Trump rally before noon, while he was still speaking at the White House Ellipse. I wasn’t there to listen to the man himself, but to try and understand why people would stand in 5°C to hear his allegations of a stolen election. Almost everyone I talked to spoke about how “great” and “strong” Trump is in his defiance of “global communism.”

These were folks not just fascinated with the man: they’ve given him all of their hopes and turned him into their “savior,” an instant reminder of chavismo, especially when all of them seemed like working class Americans who felt the government had historically failed them. 

But while the protest was ultra-nationalist in nature, and with almost everyone wearing military gear and riot equipment, it wasn’t violent just yet.

When Trump said that “he will never concede,” the mob went ecstatic and started marching towards the Capitol with bellicose determination. I had a gut feeling that things were going to end badly, but I still thought that “this is the United States, not Venezuela, they’re angry but they wouldn’t dare to attack their own Capitol.” 

“These were folks not just fascinated with the man: they’ve given him all of their hopes and turned him into their ‘savior,’ an instant reminder of chavismo.”

Photo: Carlos Rodríguez López

And right upon arrival at Capitol Hill, I heard explosions: the police were clashing with demonstrators trying to break inside the congressional offices, with several people already injured. I saw dozens of squad cars rushing to the scene and ambulances carrying wounded with blood-stained clothes. It was then that text messages started flooding my phone from friends and family pleading for me to take care and stay away from the protest. While this reminded me of 2017’s Venezuela, I was still in denial. This is America, after all.

I saw several Proud Boys recruiting people to storm the fences that kept them away from the building. They said they were fighting tyranny. When I got close, the fences crumbled and a brawl broke out between the police and Trump supporters, more a guarimba than a “peaceful demonstration.” While I was surprised that the “law and order” voters dared to reach these extremes, I still thought that they would stop before it became an actual rebellion, or a typical parliament attack in Venezuela.

Then, horror.

People started pushing the Capitol Police, while others grabbed anything they could to break the windows. It was total pandemonium as officers responded with flashbangs, pepper spray and tear gas, severely outnumbered. Thirty minutes after rioters took over the legislative building of the most powerful country in the hemisphere, they started singing the Star Spangled Banner, unmasked. It was obvious to me: U.S. democracy is shaking, as it did (and crumbled) in my home country.

“Yesterday, Donald Trump went out of his way to make Venenezuelans living in the U.S. feel at home.”

Photo: Carlos Rodríguez López

The city was militarized. After the discreet deployment in the morning, the assault on Congress was followed by a rush of police and National Guard that could compare to Caracas’ most violent day of protests. Ambulances swarmed throughout the city to pick up the injured, and a curfew was imposed throughout D.C. and the adjacent cities. People showed up with firearms, crying “I’ll shoot you” towards the buildings. I tried to take the picture of a man with a rifle, but he threatened me by displaying the stock of his gun and I just raised my hands. Seeing something that looked minutes away from a Puente-Llaguno-style shootout, I left, trying to beat the curfew.

We all gathered at home to watch how democracy in the country was desecrated. Congress had never been stormed since the British occupation in the War of 1812, and not even the Confederate Army could parade its flag during the Civil War as it was proudly done during the attack. The U.S. Commander in Chief had led his followers, inciting them to war against popular sovereignty and democracy.

Yesterday, Donald Trump went out of his way to make Venenezuelans living in the U.S. feel at home. Here’s hoping that his next step isn’t a speech like “the objectives have not been achieved… por ahora.