Racist Mobs Rage All Over American History

By Jamie Stiehm

January 20, 2021 5 min read

WASHINGTON — Raging racist mobs hold a high place in American history. There I was, in the Capitol siege, with breaking glass, bloodthirsty shrieks and gunshots cascading down marble halls. The statues in democracy's house were weeping.

Inside the House chamber, there was no time to cry. We moved fast down a secret staircase to safety. Only later did we learn thousands came armed to the teeth and brought bear spray. Very nice. The hate left behind in shambles was head-spinning.

The Trump-led mob was loaded for more than bear. They flew many miles to overthrow the presidential election by force. There's a first time for everything.

Make no mistake, there was a mob on the inside of the Capitol, too, dressed in suits and ties. There were 139 House Republicans who were part of the plot to undo democracy, led by two slick senators, Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo. They give the Ivy League a bad name. They weren't wearing horns and helmets, but Hawley signaled his support to the outdoor mob. Looking spiffy, Republicans kept up their hated challenge after the siege.

The scale was stunning. The crowd comes from the darkest river in our history. White supremacists flourished under President Donald Trump, who has been watering their hatred like a garden since the Charlottesville, Virginia, deadly riot in his first summer.

The connection from Charlottesville back to the Ku Klux Klan is right in plain sight. Two Confederate general statues were the life of the party in downtown Charlottesville. (I don't even want to say their names.) The rioters showed up in force to "defend" the two traitors.

The Ku Klux Klan began in 1865 with embittered former Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, known for his murderous ways. The Klan gave a way for "respectable" white Southern men to meet at night, put on hoods and terrorize Black men. Lynchings went on in the former slave states, even Maryland, into the 20th century.

The Klan aimed to enforce white supremacy, hold Black communities hostage to fear and undo the Civil War's meaning. The death toll is only now being honored, in Alabama's National Lynching Memorial.

The first Civil War blood was spilled in Baltimore, when a mob attacked Union soldiers.

It's even worse than that if you're obsessed with abolitionists, like me. Oh, how mobs hated the abolitionist movement, founded in Philadelphia in 1833.

The 1830s were paradise for racist mobs. Paradise. As far north as Boston, William Lloyd Garrison was nearly lynched, saved by the skin of his teeth. He founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. That set the tone for the violence that stalked abolitionists all over antebellum America. They were braver than we are.

Southern slaveowner Andrew Jackson was president during the dark lawless 1830s, nicknamed "King Mob." He's Trump's favorite.

In Philadelphia, the Quaker City, a racist Southern mob burned down a brand-new temple for anti-slavery gatherings. The mayor surrendered, saying his small police force couldn't defend the beautiful building. 1838, meet 2021.

Then the mob (medical students) rampaged through the streets and destroyed a "colored" orphanage. They almost burned down the house of Quaker heroine, Lucretia Mott, a leading abolitionist voice which rang like the bell of freedom.

Read on to the first martyr for the First Amendment. Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist editor, was often threatened by the mayor, the doctor, the "good people" of Alton, Illinois, to cease his radical press.

Lovejoy refused. Small-town citizens murdered Lovejoy and threw his printing press in the Mississippi River. The slave state of Missouri, Hawley's state, is on the other side. 1837 led to 2021, too.

As former Sen. Paul Simon wrote, the people who really killed Lovejoy were "the middle of the road straddlers ... too timid to stand and be counted."

I've taken stands alone against a racist Cub Scout in second grade; an anti-gay effigy by a fraternity; and a Senate staff that shunned me for something my brilliant author boyfriend, Michael Lewis, wrote about Sen. Joe Lieberman. Not all mobs carry pitchforks.

Nonviolent struggle against mob fury is a hard road to hoe, as Quakers and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found. But the discipline is the best way to take to lasting peace.

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com. To read her weekly column and find out more about Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit creators.com.

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