I realize that this is a contentious matter and do not want to start a heated discussion. In fact, having just come from one, I don't want a discussion at all - just some dispassionate, neutral, statements of facts.

As I am sure many others have, I have had a "full and frank exchange of views" with my partner about the recent events at the Capitol.

It began with a discussion of this picture, taken at the Lincoln Memorial during last summer's Black Lives Matter protests:

enter image description here

and why we saw nothing similar on the 6th, and segued into Kamala Harris's support for BLM protesters. After that, the "discussion" grew heated, so, like mature adults, we agreed to disagree and broke off the discussion before Godwin's law was invoked.

So, can anyone, in a purely factual way, compare the two events (possibly difficult, since the BLM protests were not a single event)? Possible topics might include damage done, casualties, number of arrests, reaction by notable political figures, the media, etc. but I feel too involved to provide a list and suggest that this could be better done by someone disinterested.

Please, facts only, rather than opinion, insomuch as these happenings can be compared. This might give my partner and me some starting points for a calm and reasoned discussion.

Note: this question is related to Was there a specific order for a muted response to pro-trump rioters' assault on the capital building?, but is a superset thereof, and not a duplicate.

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    Duplicate of; politics.stackexchange.com/questions/61497/…
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 13:46
  • 2
    A similarity, certainly - but decidedly not a duplicate. That one deals exclusively with how even handed the police response was. I would also like to ask about those protesting, what size crowds, how many arrests, what damage done ... and any other commission that could be made, including reaction by notable political figures, the media, etc ...
    – Mawg
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 14:39

5 Answers 5


This is fairly general, but hopefully it helps contrast

The Black Lives Matter movement

Most BLM activities were peaceful

Their report states that more than 2,400 locations reported peaceful protests, while fewer than 220 reported “violent demonstrations.” The authors define violent demonstrations as including “acts targeting other individuals, property, businesses, other rioting groups or armed actors.” Their definition includes anything from “fighting back against police” to vandalism, property destruction looting, road-blocking using barricades, burning tires or other materials. In cities where protests did turn violent—these demonstrations are “largely confined to specific blocks,” the report says.

The problem is that there were many places where violence broke out in the vicinity of a BLM protest.

DC began to issue police reforms in June, chief among them

prohibits use of tear gas, pepper spray, riot gear, rubber bullets and stun grenades by MPD (or federal police while on non-federal land) in response to First Amendment protests

It's worth noting that the DC march in Aug, 2020 largely went off without any serious problems and had a lighter police presence overall

The law enforcement presence by midday Friday was far more limited than the tension-filled standoffs the city has seen in the summer and attracted little attention from protesters.
Where military tanks had once blocked off streets, protesters saw D.C. garbage trucks instead. U.S. Park Police passed easily through the crowd gathered near the gates around the Lincoln Memorial. Satellite-topped TV trucks outnumbered police cruisers on 23rd Street.
Protester Michellene Bonney, 32, wore camouflage and stood close to her boyfriend, scanning the area and trying to “remain vigilant,” she said.
But she said she hadn’t seen many officers.
“Coming to this event, we were like, ‘What precautions do we need to take?’ ” she said. “But we are thinking because this march is so televised, it won’t be treated in the way that other protests were.”

The "Save America" rally

Apparently the main rally was not supposed to be that large

A permit for the rally submitted by "Women for America First" Executive Director Kylie Jane Kremer -- the daughter of the group's founder, former Tea Party activist Amy Kremer -- was approved on January 4. The permit stated that the event would take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with 30,000 attendees, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

Initial flyers also indicated this was a mere protest

"Take a stand with President Trump and the #StopTheSteal coalition and be at The Ellipse (President's Park) at 7 am. The fate of our nation depends on it. At 1:00 PM, we will march to the US Capitol building to protest the certification of the Electoral College," the event signup page read.

Donald Trump himself only announced on Jan 3 that he would be attending (his Twitter was suspended so quoting from the article)

I will be there. Historic day!
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2021

It's arguable that these ingredients played out like this

  1. The protest organizers thought this would be a simple event with only the most ardent Trump supporters protesting outside the Capitol
  2. The DC Mayor and Metro Police, having seen better success with their minimal approach with the Aug 2020 BLM rally (and expecting only light crowds), sent only minimal and poorly equipped units into the field

    [DC Mayor] Bowser said that the National Guard members, who will not carry guns, will help enforce street closures and otherwise assist with crowd management so that D.C.’s police department can focus on law enforcement, including arresting anyone who is unlawfully armed.

  3. Trump's last-minute presence helped to draw more people to the protest than anyone anticipated
  4. Trump himself riles the larger crowd up with heated rhetoric

    They said, “It’s not American to challenge the election.” This is the most corrupt election in the history, maybe of the world. You know, you could go third world countries, but I don’t think they had hundreds of thousands of votes and they don’t have voters for them. I mean, no matter where you go, nobody would think this. In fact, it’s so egregious, it’s so bad, that a lot of people don’t even believe it. It’s so crazy that people don’t even believe it. It can’t be true. So they don’t believe it. This is not just a matter of domestic politics, this is a matter of national security. So today, in addition to challenging the certification of the election, I’m calling on Congress and the state legislatures to quickly pass sweeping election reforms, and you better do it before we have no country left. Today is not the end. It’s just the beginning.

  5. The riled-up crowd marches to Capitol Hill and overwhelms the ill-prepared police

You might consider that (AFAIK, anyway) the BLM protests were just that, protests (however violent they may have become). At least some of the Capitol insurrectionists were acting with the clear intent of overthrowing the US government, by intimidating Congress into accepting a false set of electoral votes. Note for instance photos of them carrying plastic handcuffs https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/zip-cuffs-capitol-riots/ and building a gallows & threatening to hang the Vice President (and presumably others, though I couldn't find a direct mention in a quick search): https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/hang-mike-pence-chant-capitol-riot/

The fact that they had the handcuffs and materials to erect the gallows is pretty strong evidence that the Capitol assault was not a spur of the moment action, but was planned.

Added: In addition to that clear circumstantial evidence, there are now reports that the assault was openly planned on social media, and that the conspirators may have had some allies among the Capitol Police: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/01/07/capitol-attack-was-planned-openly-online-for-weeks-police-still-werent-ready/?sh=6c03797576e2

  • 2
    If there was clear intent to overthrow the government, then what explains the seemingly perverse mutedness of the response there compared to BLM? Logically, a direct threat to the core of the government should be handled much more heavily and harshly, no? Commented Jan 12, 2021 at 4:06
  • @The_Sympathizer: Because it was the President himself who was at the head of the attempt to overthrow the government, of course. (By intimidating Congress & the VP into accepting a false set of electors to declare him President for another term.) Technically he's the one that would have had to give orders for the National Guard to act, but lower-level commanders apparently relied on earlier orders when he failed to call them in: newsweek.com/…
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 2:29
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    According to Wikipedia, 19+ people died in the riots after George Floyd died. And that is not referring to "medical emergencies". I would say those riots clearly had a higher chance of becoming violent. They also lasted longer and caused a lot more property damage. Here, there is not a history of political rallies to become violent, and most of the people involved in the rally did not become violent, there was certainly less reason to be concerned.
    – Burt
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 13:06
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    @Burt those protests definitely had a higher chance of becoming violent, owing primarily to the fact that there were large numbers of armed counter protestors and a huge militarised police presence. Both of which have been proven time and time again to increase tension and the risk of violence. Of the ~25 people who died in protests in 2020 the majority were BLM protestors, and all but one were killed by civilians. theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/31/…
    – ewanc
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 16:23

According to the Washington Post, at least the National Guard was restricted by the mayor of DC.

The story seems confusing, it looks to me like the situation in DC was just generally bungled by all involved. There seems to have been a great deal of concern about the optics of having uniformed soldiers in/near the capitol building. Originally the guard was to take up policing efforts away from the capitol building freeing DC police to handle guarding the capitol building. Then the plans changed abruptly on Wednesday and threw everything into disarray.

We'll probably never know, but it seems like all parties, Federal and local, were worried about looking too heavy-handed after the violence in May and underestimated things. It's a bit like a pendulum. Last time they pushed too hard, this time they pushed too little.


Quick follow up. According to NPR, the US Capitol Police chief requested more national guard support six times and was denied six times before and during the event on January 6th, again for PR reasons.

  • 1
    The first line is incorrect. The mayor of DC has no authority over the DC National Guard, and the linked article states that the restrictions came from the Pentagon. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 19:09
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    @CodeswithHammer They seem to have been mutually agreed upon. "the Guard carried out a narrow, unarmed mission requested by the city’s mayor" says to me that the mayor request their mission be narrow and unarmed.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 19:12

To keep readers from confusion and to promote neutrality, the naming of these items in this post shall be "BLM events" and "Jan 6 event".

At the moment, technical data like number of participants and clear timeline of events is difficult to come by, but there are a few items that can be seen without that data.

There's one major difference that should be apparent: They're categorically different things. The BLM events are a broad group of events that spanned several months and hundreds of cities. The Jan 6 event is a single event. We usually call this a category error. When you try to compare a single item to a group of items, you can probably find single items from the group to make any comparison/contrast you'd like. Machavity's answer, for example, calls the BLM events "mostly peaceful", but leaves opaque what would make the singular Jan 6 event "mostly peaceful". Such metrics are inherently not comparable.

But, we can note where the Jan 6 event is totally unique, where even exceptional cases of the BLM events cannot compare.

The most obvious uniqueness of the Jan 6 event is time and place. The Jan 6 event involved the security breach of a politically significant building while politically significant happenings were taking place in that very building. To my knowledge, no such BLM event comes close to that.

The next difference might be argued by some, but to a plain definition the Jan 6 event involved persons who were entirely politically motivated. The BLM events had political overtones, but are better defined as socially or civilly motivated. Definitely the events were starkly supported by one political party and starkly rejected by the other, but no specific political person, process, etc was the focus of their gripes. Contrast that with the Jan 6 event, their gripe was a very specific political process centered around a specific political person (Trump). Again to my knowledge, no BLM event compares to this. There might be a few that come close, like the ones involving protesting outside a politician's home and demanding resignation.

Wanting to keep things neutral still, I must note that on the face of it, the above two items together look like insurrection, and certainly politicans on both sides have called it such. However, the handful of so called "autonomous zones" that came out as a result of BLM events are clearly in the same vein. I'm not sure if declaring yourself and a specific location no longer under your government's domain is "insurrection" exactly, but "secession" sounds close and is similar.

For something like insurrection, I think intention matters. I find it hard to believe the Jan 6 event participants were hopeful revolutionaries. I can't imagine even given the opportunity to have all their demands met that they'd undo any of the American government structure. They believed Trump really won the election and he should therefore be president. I don't think they were hoping to toss out the constitution, the congressional body, set up a king, etc. Comparing to the autonomous zones again, they explicitly desired such radical change. Those radical ideas were inherited from the less radical in action BLM events.

In terms of violence, deadliness, and property destruction, there's some BLM events similar to the Jan 6 event. There's also a few that were much worse and plenty that were rather uneventful.

In terms of National Guard involvement, there's again BLM events to both extremes to compare, except I would personally quibble with "calling out the guard" as meaning anything other than "not enough regular cops to manage it".

This final item might be tainted by my biases, but a major difference I perceive is reactions, especially in the media1. When comparing some of the worst of the BLM events we saw a general unwillingness of most media outlets and Democratic politicians to be critical, expressed in odd ways like insisting they were "mostly peaceful protests" instead of "a protest turned riot". The general lawlessness (especially in the autonomous zones) was largely ignored in Democratically controlled areas, and relatively much less in Republican controlled areas. With the Jan 6 event, nearly everyone (with few exceptions) is condemning it, calling it "riotous" and "lawlessness". There's little effort to try and cover the violence, understand their gripes, etc. Then there's the social media fallout. We can certainly argue it's different for Jan 6, but uneven treatment between the Jan 6 event and comparable BLM events is clearly evidenced here. And finally there's the eagerness by nearly everyone to find and charge the Jan 6 participants with photos of their faces publicly posted, while a judge ordered just the week before that law enforcement cannot use freely accessible images on social media to apprehend BLM event wrongdoers.

  1. Before Trump was elected I was quite skeptical the the alleged "liberal media bias". Maybe my skepticism was founded then, but at this point I'm very disheartened at the apparent bias in the media today.
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    Overall a good and objective answer, but as someone who was actually in Seattle during time in question, I really have to protest your claims that the so-called “autonomous zones” represent an attempt at secession or overthrow of the government. You want to talk about media bias, but then make allegations that have little basis in anything behind right-wing fever dreams and media hyperbole
    – divibisan
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 20:19
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    @divibisan Well, if you have a personal experience with it, I have to concede your better vantage. That particular item is also difficult to get honest reporting on it. However, the name speaks for itself. Perhaps there was little intention to carry through with it long term, but to call it "autonomous" and deny the rule of law from which the area was carved out is very much, on the face of it, secession. Just as the Jan 6 event was, on the face of it, insurrection.
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 20:33
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    BTW, I wouldn't call secession "overthrow of the government", but clearly the autonomous zones represent a wholesale rejection of that very government. Digging into the ideology of the BLM leaders, we see very radical "new government" ideas as a major part of the solution to their social gripes. But, like noted in the post, the regular BLM events never really did anything in action that seemed to express those ideas, but the autonomous zones did spawn from the BLM events.
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 20:34
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    I think you are somewhat underestimating the goals of the participants in the Jan 6 event. The "camp auschwitz" guy or the "6 million wasn't enough" guy probably had a couple of constitutional amendments they'd like us to reconsider. And those weren't isolated individuals. Participants included known nazis & white supremacists; the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Groyper Army, or the Nationalist Social Club. The fact that goals included executing Pence and bombing of the DNC and RNC imho shows that there was the intention to change US government structure.
    – tim
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 20:39
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    @tim I only read about the found bombs recently. I'll have to update. I don't recall any explosive attempts coming from BLM events. I'd be much slower than you appear to be to apply wack-ideas from a few participants to all the participants. The same criticism was given to many BLM events, but it was still questionable criticism.
    – user2578
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 20:53

Let's pan out to a objective perspective for a moment. Whenever people protest the behavior of their government — which they inevitably will do when they get angry enough, because most people do not have the skills, resources, or sheer available time to engage more sophisticated avenues of political change — we have to recognize that they are not a uniform group. Most participants are earnest and high-minded, with no real interest in violence or confrontation; they just want their voices to be heard. Some part of the group is going to consist of dedicated advocates who are going to push the boundaries to force the government to act against them on principle; another part will be fanatics or extremists intent on breaking the system, willing to engage is anti-social or destructive acts; another part will be those 'out for a lark': caught up in the energy of the moment and engaging in wanton or damaging acts for the sheer thrill of it. Protesters get a mix of messages — calls for action, calls for calm, calls for order — and will often respond to whichever message is most salient in the moment. Protests are not a thoughtful, intellectual context, though many of the individuals may themselves be thoughtful and intellectual; more often than not protests are moments of visceral reaction and group-think.

Government reactions to protests suffer the same problems. Most officials and line-officers are earnest and high-minded, wanting to maintain peace and order without causing undue stress, but some segments are maliciously motivated and some are overly excitable, and all of them are caught up in the same reactive, group-think moment as the protesters. It's a situation where deep-set prejudices and inclinations hold more power than rational thought, and that has some unfortunate consequences.

There are a few notable differences between the BLM/Left-progressive and Trumpist/Right-conservative occurrences (all the BLM protests compared to things like the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, the armed protesters at the Michigan capital, and the recent takeover of the US capital):

  • The BLM protests were largely organic, spontaneous expressions; the Trumpist protests were planned, discussed, and organized on social media and elsewhere
  • The BLM protests had heavy racial minority presence; the Trumpist protesters were predominantly white
  • The BLM protests were focused directly against police and law enforcement; the Trumpists generally identify with law enforcement against a conspiratorial assortment of nefarious others
  • The BLM protests fall into the 'civil rights' category, which is (historically) a highly contested issue; the Trumpists present themselves on broad constitutional complaints that are generally accepted as valid even among those who vehemently disagree with the Trumpist worldview

With this in mind, the BLM protests were intrinsically threatening to police and local government. Cops felt directly judged and threatened, the rapid development of the protests unsettled mayors and governors, and all of these visceral reactions were egged on by pundits and politicians who used race-baiting for political advantage, bringing prejudices against blacks and minorities to the surface. The result was that many people in political power assumed and anticipated that the BLM protests would de-evolve into violence, and over-reacted to that threat. States invoked brutally authoritarian measures in advance; individual officers on the line felt a personal resentment and group loyalty that led many to extreme behavior.

By contrast, the Trumpist protests triggered a different set of prejudices. Police did not feel personally threatened or judged by Trumpist rhetoric; the 'planned' nature of the protests lulled authorities into seeing the activities as inoffensive First Amendment matters, and to dismiss obvious calls for violence as mere bloviating nonsense; the support of the President likely gave authorities pause about engaging in excess precautions or actions; the 'whiteness' of the protesters enforced the prejudice that the protesters would be earnest and reasonable. This led law enforcement and political actors to underestimate the threat of crowd. which resulted in the lack of preparedness we saw in all those cases.

There is no sense in picking out one of these factors as 'the cause' of the differences in response, because the differences in response were not the outcome of rational decision-making processes, but were based in unconscious, gut-level, group-think based reactions. It's an unfortunate fact of life in the US that blacks are seen as intrinsically more dangerous and less rational than whites; it's an unfortunate fact of life in the US that police and politicians often respond viciously and maliciously to any challenges to their authority; it's an unfortunate fact of life in the US that many people are incapable of distinguishing fact from fantasy, and that many others don't care about face or fantasy, and live their lives just slightly above their gonads. These are all things that we could (and would, and should) change. But as things stand, the differences in response to these two classes of protest are typical and predictable effects.

  • 8
    BLM protests were organized on social media as well.
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 18:00
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    This summary is notably lacking the distinct role of President Trump at the long-planned Jan. 6 rally, telling attendees they'd been cheated and then to "show strength" and march to the Capitol building where the Electoral College votes were being tallied. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 19:02
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    None of this carries any of the objective numerical information (number of protesters, numbers of police, amount of damages, amounts of dead/wounded, etc...) the OP was talking about. It's merely a long piece of opinion. Not necessarily a wrong opinion, but unsourced for sure. Also, to a large extent the protesters had been "invited" by POTUS. Had Obama as POTUS invited BLM to march on Washingon (not stating that he would have) then the police response might have been different, knowing that POTUS was supportive/in control. (you might get fired by this POTUS otherwise). Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 19:59
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    And Im tired of seeing you write unsourced opinions all the time in the name that you are so clever. Even when I agree with your political views. It is substantively wrong as the OP repeatedly appealed for factual information in their question. And I really really do not care one whit for philosophy as a subject so don't patronize me with it. It's a simple question: comparatively how were both events handled? Might be difficult to pull out objective data at this point, but nothing "empiricism" about it. Finally, not sourcing things is not just my beef, it's site policy. Commented Jan 8, 2021 at 20:25
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    @TedWrigley: Come on, you know how the SE model works by now. If someone asks the "wrong question," downvote it and/or ask the "right question" separately.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 10, 2021 at 1:31

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