The House Jan. 6 committee hearing on Tuesday focused on the way then-President Donald Trump and his campaign terrorized election officials who refused to go along with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
We heard from a bipartisan group of high-level politicians who testified about what they experienced as targets of Trump’s election lies. But the stars — and I use that term regretfully — of Tuesday’s hearings were Wandrea “Shaye” Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman — two Black election workers from Georgia falsely accused of election fraud by Trump.
The mob succeeded in its fundamental goal of scaring Black people out of participating in the electoral process.
The two recounted death threats and hateful messages they received after Trump lost in Georgia and spread false claims they engaged in a criminal scheme against him. What the women described were effectively modern-day lynch mobs, inspired by Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s racist lies, that tried to disempower Black voters and the officials who certified their choices.
These lynch mobs didn’t succeed in overturning the 2020 election. But their efforts to intimidate worked. Freeman testified the FBI advised her to leave her home for months after Jan. 6 out of concern for her safety. And Moss testified about learning of a pro-Trump mob showing up outside her grandmother’s home claiming they were prepared to conduct a “citizen’s arrest.”
It’s tempting to hear their testimony and remark of their obvious bravery in giving it. But that misses the point here. Freeman and Moss both made clear that the mob succeeded in its fundamental goal of scaring Black people out of participating in the electoral process. And with that: Trump and Giuliani revived the lynch mob as a political tactic.
In this clip, Moss describes the effects of being targeted by Trump’s campaign:
In this clip, Freeman describes what it’s like to be demonized by the president of the United States:
Moss and Freeman embody what Jan. 6 was all about: Black citizenship, Black authority, Black power and the violent white backlash against it.
Conservatives have widely embraced white lynch mob violence as a legitimate response to this power, in ways reminiscent of the post-Civil War Redemption Era. And today, I find myself turning to writers from that time, who were clear in condemning the racist fearmongering they saw. Coincidentally, that led me to a W.E.B. Du Bois poem that’s particularly prescient.
Trump and the GOP have bastardized American politics with hopes of regaining power by any means necessary — including violence.
In 1906, Du Bois wrote “A Litany of Atlanta” in response to a white race riot that, similar to pro-Trump rioters, set out to suppress Black political power in Fulton County, Georgia. During the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, thousands of white rioters traveled to a largely Black area known as Five Points to murder Black people, destroy Black homes and tear down Black business. The area was known as a center of Black enterprise and political organizing.
Du Bois described innocent Black people under siege back then, and channeled the same revulsion we should feel listening to Moss and Freeman’s testimony:
Behold this maimed and broken thing; dear God, it was an humble black man who toiled and sweat to save a bit from the pittance paid him. They told him: Work and Rise. He worked. Did this man sin? Nay, but someone told how someone said another did—one whom he had never seen nor known. Yet for that man’s crime this man lieth maimed and murdered, his wife naked to shame, his children, to poverty and evil.
Hear us, O Heavenly Father!
A testimony. And then, a request:
Doth not this justice of hell stink in Thy nostrils, O God? How long shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in Thine ears and pound in our hearts for vengeance? Pile the pale frenzy of blood-crazed brutes who do such deeds high on Thine altar, Jehovah Jireh, and burn it in hell forever and forever!
Forgive us, good Lord; we know not what we say!
Trump and the GOP have bastardized American politics with hopes of regaining power by any means necessary — including violence. When it comes to Jan. 6, and in the name of victims like Moss and Freeman, we need to take cues from Du Bois and call this violence out for what it is: a racist power grab.