Former first lady Michelle Obama released a stirring statement on racism and racial inequality on Thursday, a day after hundreds of pro-Trump insurrectionists violently stormed the US Capitol building.
Obama wrote that her “heart had fallen” after seeing a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump raid the federal building just hours after Georgia made history electing the reverend Raphael Warnock, the state’s first Black US senator.
“Like all of you, I watched as a gang — organised, violent, and mad they’d lost an election — laid siege to the United States Capitol,” she wrote. “They set up gallows. They proudly waved the traitorous flag of the Confederacy through the halls. They desecrated the centre of American government.”
The “Becoming” author noted how law enforcement officials responded with passivity toward the pro-Trump mobs, but with “brute force” toward Black Lives Matter protesters, who were overwhelmingly peaceful and yet met with pepper spray and cracked skulls over the summer.
Just a few dozen of the hundreds of rioters at the Capitol on Wednesday were arrested on the scene. Mobs of Trump supporters appeared in photos and videos banging on the main entrance of the House chamber and shattering glass windows. Videos showed insurrectionists leisurely roaming the Capitol, with some breaching legislative offices.
“There’s one question I just can’t shake: What if these rioters had looked like the folks who go to Ebenezer Baptist Church every Sunday? What would have been different?” the former first lady asked in her statement.
“I think we all know the answer,” she said.
Ebenezer Baptist, the historic Black church in Atlanta where reverend Martin Luther King Jr. preached, is also home to Warnock. The senator-elect became a senior pastor of the famous church in 2005.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Warnock invoked King’s words as the riots were unfolding.
“In this moment of unrest, violence and anger, we must remember the words of Dr. King, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that,’” he wrote. “Let each of us try to be a light to see our country out of this dark moment.”
Obama later contrasted the Capitol rioters with people like Colin Kaepernick, who has long endured wide criticism — notably from Trump — for kneeling at NFL games in 2016 during the national anthem to protest racism.
Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, has remained unsigned by any team since he became a free agent after the 2016 season.
“And for those who call others unpatriotic for simply taking a knee in silent protest, for those who wonder why we need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter at all, yesterday made it painfully clear that certain Americans are, in fact, allowed to denigrate the flag and symbols of our nation,” she wrote. “They’ve just got to look the right way.”
“What do all those folks have to say now?” she added.
Trump had egged on Wednesday’s mobs by falsely claiming for months that the November election was somehow stolen.