What 'Blue Lives Matter' was always about
Over the weekend, more and more details have come out about the attempted putsch at the Capitol building last Wednesday, each more alarming than the last. It turns out the mob very nearly made it into the Senate chamber before the members had been evacuated, and was one hastily-assembled barricade away from smashing into the House chamber. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Vice President Pence were in much more serious danger than it initially seemed — particularly Pence, because President Trump encouraged the mob to attack him as they were storming the Capitol.
The violence against the police was also considerably worse than the first round of coverage tended to portray. Many officers were injured, one died, and one has since committed suicide. That such violence against cops was committed by supposed supporters of law enforcement, many waving Blue Lives Matter flags, reveals what the far right's attitude towards the police really is. They support police officers if and only if they use their power to attack the left while allowing the right to violate the law with impunity.
Now, it's been obvious from the start that Blue Lives Matter originated as a troll. It's a reference to the leftist slogan Black Lives Matter (BLM), of course, intended to both deflect attention from the ongoing plague of police brutality and to suggest that the left doesn't care about police lives. It's a typically dishonest piece of propaganda from a political movement that has an entirely instrumental relationship to facts — thus the maudlin carnival of fake grief whenever a police officer is killed in a way politically convenient to the far right (or when the police kill a middle-class white person, something the far right would have ignored or celebrated prior to BLM).
But this obscures a deeper reality about the far right's relationship to the police. What they really think came out in a comment from one of the putschists overheard by reporter Andrew McCormick, who covered the putsch for The Nation:
"This is not America," a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. "They're shooting at us. They're supposed to shoot BLM, but they're shooting the patriots."
In other words, the Trumpist right thinks the police are on their side in their war against American democracy — that they are supposed to be fascist storm troopers like themselves. And indeed, we saw during the putsch that there were a considerable number of Capitol Police who were reluctant at best to do their jobs, taking selfies with the mob or giving them directions, while at the same time there were a whole bunch of off-duty cops and current or former members of the military among the putschists.
But on the other hand, if the police do not fulfill these expectations, the far right views them as fair game for attack. We saw that on Jan. 6, where despite the overall failures and appallingly inept leadership, many individual police officers did do their jobs as best they could. In one hair-raising moment, for example, officer Eugene Goodman singlehandedly held up the mob for over a minute, then baited them away from the undefended doors of the Senate chamber, which had not yet been evacuated, at considerable personal risk. During the initial attack, many riot officers fought the fascists, and some ended up beaten brutally for their trouble. Several Capitol Police and Metro DC officers were yanked into the crowd and mercilessly bludgeoned with improvised weapons like a crutch, a hockey stick, and an American flag pole — apparently including Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who was bashed in the head with a fire extinguisher and later died. (In a dark irony, it appears that Sicknick was personally a Trump supporter.)
There can be no better encapsulation of what Blue Lives Matter really stands for than the image of a self-described "patriot" beating a police officer with an American flag because he was defending the national legislature from an attempted putsch. Patriotism, to these people, means "I get to enforce my will on you, and if you resist I will kill you." Their appropriation of American symbols and constant use of patriotic lingo obscures the fact that they loathe the United States as it actually exists — its democratic system (however flawed), its diversity (however unequal), and its civil liberties (however threadbare). What they want is plainly something like the old Jim Crow South — an authoritarian, one-party apartheid state, with a racial caste system enforced by terror — except this time enforced across the entire country, and with Donald Trump as president for life.
The question now is whether the events of the last week have served as a wake-up call for those elements of law enforcement and their supporters who take the rule of law even slightly seriously. They may still not agree with Black Lives Matter and other leftist groups, with their suggestions that the police be abolished or their budgets cut, but those groups are not attempting to overthrow the government. The far right is already plotting another attack on democratic government, and they have proved they are willing to kill police to achieve that end.