The Capitol Riot (as with most everything else) is also a climate story

Last week, we witnessed a horrifying display of insurrection in our U.S. Capitol. As Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 election, Trump-supporting rioters gathered outside with the intention of disrupting the process in the name of the lame-duck President, claiming that the election was “stolen.” This event was the culmination of seven weeks of Republican politicians, right-wing media, and the President himself spouting the rhetoric that our election was neither free nor fair. Some elected officials and others in the President’s camp encouraged citizens to threaten members of Congress who planned to certify Biden’s win. 

What we saw at the capitol was a blatant display of the pervasive, well organized white supremacy, antisemitism, eco-facism, and Big Lie politics that maintains a strong hold on many U.S. citizens to this day. For environmental and climate activists, watching the breach of our nation’s capital by right-wing extremists was a direct backlash to the multiracial democracy we so desperately need to address the climate crisis and its disproportionate effects. Some of the insurrectionists that took part in the riots have been identified as eco-fascists — supporters of radical, authoritarian, and racist means to combat environmental harm.

As is almost everything else that happens on the planet today, the disgusting events on the capitol last week are also an important climate story. The politics, media ecosystem, and radical ideologies that continue to uphold white supremacist groups and insurrection are also critical to the ongoing human and ecological destruction that has left us with the climate crisis. We’ve compiled a reading list of salient pieces that explore and articulate the overlapping issues of this moment, as well as how these events are all tied together with the climate and ecological crises, white supremacy, and the systems that protect some, while deeming others disposable. 

Eric Holthaus, The Phoenix 

In his recently published, self-authored newsletter, climate journalist Eric Holthaus writes about the events at the capitol and the role of white nationalism in the climate crisis and as an underpinning opposition to climate action. 

“Climate justice means explicitly confronting racism and white supremacy. In 2021, one of white supremacy’s biggest functions will be attempting to stall, sabotage, and derail the rapid transition to a zero carbon world. We can’t let that happen. White nationalists cannot be left unaccountable for an attack on this scale, or else they will continue to grow in ambition and scale until we lose everything.” READ MORE 

Brian Kahn and Dhruv Mehrotra, Earther 

While fossil fuel companies denounced the attack at the Capitol, records indicate that they have been funding the very GOP politicians who played a role in inciting this violence, writes Brian Kahn. Thousands of PAC dollars went to legislators like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both of whom were vocal about challenging election results and even showed support for protestors.

“Two of the key ingredients for the violent insurrection were 123 House Republicans who signed onto a Texas lawsuit full of baseless claims and legal theories and more than a dozen Republican senators who invoked conspiracy theories to challenge the election results. Many of those people are in power thanks to the political donations of none other than Chevron. The company is hardly alone; other fossil fuel companies and the industry’s main trade group have also plunged money into the coffers of those who objected to a free and fair election.” READ MORE

John Schwartz, New York Times

Despite an entire mob breaking into the Capitol building, there weren’t very many arrested on the scene. Efforts have since ramped up to identify rioters from images and cell phone data — the FBI is actively looking for information on various individuals from the mob. While holding these individuals accountable is critical to signal the severity of the actions, it’s almost incomparable to other protests that have largely remained peaceful.

“The comparatively lenient response to the overwhelmingly white protesters on Wednesday, [Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr.] said, ‘was the epitome of white supremacy,’ and a dangerous precedent for the future of protest in the United States. He said he feared that in the future, young activists would tell him when he advised a nonviolent path that ‘all the peace stuff you talk about, Rev and Bill, that doesn’t work, and that leads to destruction,’ [Yearwood] said.” READ MORE

Brian Kahn, Earther

What we bore witness to last week at the Capitol was disturbing, and it was a direct result of misinformation, denial, and extremist beliefs, which are reminiscent of what underpinned the Trump presidency. If we’re going to tackle climate change to the fullest extent, addressing issues of white supremacy and disinformation are an integral part of that fight. 

“Decades of weakening the federal government and proselytizing about the power of the individual has left millions exposed to calamity. Rebuilding the federal response to climate change, and ensuring it also engages everyone in moving the country forward through good-paying jobs and a just transition for frontline and fossil fuel communities, are essential to beating hate groups into the background.

None of this will make the fascism on full display disappear overnight. But doing nothing or insisting we turn the page opens the door to something much worse.” READ MORE

Emily Atkin, HEATED

A recurring and unmissable individual by the name of Jake Angeli was spotted at both the Capitol riot and a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest, which sparked a conversation over whether or not protestors were paid actors. While climate skeptics and other conspiracy theorists spread misinformation about this, they left out a key aspect of Angeli’s presence at both events. In actuality, Angeli, a “high-profile Q-anon supporter,” was counter-protesting BLM and waving a sign promoting eco-facsism. 

“Engaging with reality can be hard, and this situation is no different. Because if Angeli was not a secret leftist or a paid actor, that means he attended both events as exactly the person he claims to be. And if that’s true, that means a Nazi Hippy with eco-fascist sympathies has had his face plastered on every newspaper in the world because the president of the United States inspired him to mount a violent insurrection on the U.S. government.” READ MORE

Andrew Couts, Earther

Similar to how people didn’t heed warnings of the danger Donald Trump posed to our nation and democracy, we’re doing the same with climate science. But with climate change, there is no panacea. Overcoming the obstacles brought on by insurrection at the capital and the past four years of this administration will remain a challenge for climate action.

Perhaps the most pressing and monumental challenge we face is that reality itself is a partisan choice. This, to me, is the most shocking element of Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol: The entire thing is, at least on its surface, founded on the lie of a stolen election. But no matter what the seditionist senators said to justify disputing President-elect Biden’s victory, believing something is true does not make it so. The same is true for climate change; Earth is warming regardless of what you believe.” READ MORE

John Schwartz, New York Times

Climate scientists, activists, and journalists are all far too familiar with the power of disinformation and its ability to shape entire movements based on falsehoods. Insurrectionists acted on a manufactured idea of patriotism, which was fueled by election disinformation and lies, similar to how climate deniers justify their stance that the Earth’s climate will be just fine based on cherry-picked data.

“For those of us who cover climate change for a living, the blatant lies about election fraud that fed the mob felt very familiar. A big part of our job is dealing with the disinformation that people and institutions spread to muddy the waters about climate change. There’s a long and sad history of efforts by industries and interest groups to reshape the discussion of climate science and undercut the overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gases produced by humans are leading us to global catastrophe.” READ MORE

Listen to our Cooler Earth podcast episode with John Schwartz on why there’s not always two sides to a story.