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Freelance journalist offers perspective on U.S. Capitol riot

Published: Jan. 8, 2021 at 1:24 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - The conversation continues about what happened in our country on Wednesday, January 6, when President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the Electoral College vote count. A Capitol police officer has now died, marking the fifth person to pass away following the riot.

Gerry Seavo James is a freelance journalist who has covered several protests, including when Second Amendment supporters gathered in Frankfort to oppose Gov. Andy Beshear’s COVID-19 restrictions, and Black Lives Matter marches in downtown Louisville following the death of Breonna Taylor.

James was not at the rally at the Capitol, but watched it all unfold onscreen. He said he wasn’t surprised the riot took place, but just how far it went. “I felt immediately like we were always hurtling toward this moment,” he said. “The fact that they were able to get in the Capitol, I saw people on the Chamber floors, stealing things, I saw a guy with a sledgehammer in there, that’s what I was shocked about.”

We also asked James to compare these events to what he witnessed at Black Lives Matter protests last year. “One of the images from this siege of the Capitol that burns in my head and makes me so frustrated, is seeing the Confederate flag... this treasonous insurrection of our country and there’s a gentleman displaying it, a photo of him in there.” He called it a disproportionate response from what he saw while covering BLM protests in Louisville, in which the National Guard, Louisville Metro Police Department and Kentucky State Police were out in “full force” to provide security. “There was an alphabet of law enforcement agencies, FBI, HRT, there were helicopters, there was a very militarized and large presence in Louisville and so to see in our nation’s capital, not a similar response, I thought that was very interesting.” James said while he doesn’t want to see anyone tear-gassed or have an encounter with police, he felt there was a double standard displayed at the Capitol. “These folks were treated with kid gloves....yeah, it’s a lot to reckon with.”

James has concerns about mass radicalization. “Right-wing extremism is something that’s been around for awhile but we haven’t taken it seriously,” he said. “These protests and rally movements have been happening at state capitals around the country, including here in Kentucky, the rhetoric, the Confederate flags, the energy, the signage, the firearms, the audacity, it was there.” James said there were several Stop the Steal rallies in Kentucky in November and December 2020, in which attendees were pushing conspiracy theories and allegations of election fraud. “It’s been very sophisticated. It’s been using peoples’ anxieties about the economy, about how their kids are going to eat, about education, how their kids are going to go to school....it’s been a very digital media, social media-driven movement that’s radicalized people.” James has interviewed many people who believe there was widespread voter fraud not in rural areas, but in metropolitan areas and cities. “There’s this element of discrimination there, it’s like ‘oh these areas where mostly the black and brown folks are, are the areas where fraud occurs.’ There’s a mental gymnastics that’s going on and I think it’s going to be damaging to our country for awhile.”

Sharing false information can now be as easy as hitting the share button on a social media platform. So how can we can do better? James said communication is important to stemming the spread of misinformation. “We have to be aware of it and we have to acknowledge it,“ he said. “We have to be open and have these conversations with people. We need to be teaching kids and adults how to vet information.”

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