Pro-Trump riots won’t stop the winds of political change blowing in the West

What the D.C. insurgency meant for our regional conscience.


Large pick-up trucks flying American flags and flags supporting President Trump have become a common sight in Tucson, Arizona.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra / High Country News

By now, we’re all familiar with the imagery on display during the insurgency at our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 — the red MAGA hats, American, Confederate and “Trump 2020” flags, far-right-wing merchandise, tactical gear. We saw the raucously cheering, unmasked crowds at the president’s rallies and at the clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters around the Western U.S. and the country last summer. And we saw echoes of them, or perhaps premonitions, at the 2016 occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

I’ve run into purveyors of this imagery on the street here in Tucson and in Phoenix; they speed around inside vehicles flanked by “Don’t Tread on Me” and American flags, their bumper stickers displaying the silhouette of an AR-15. But as the storming of the U.S. Capitol building continued on live television, there was something newly unhinged about these antics. They’d openly plotted this insurrection for weeks on social media; the president had convened the attempt himself. Law enforcement did not seem to stand in the way when the doors of the Capitol were breached; a few security guards even took selfies with the terrorists once they got inside the Rotunda. 

When a group of them took over the Senate Chamber as the legislators were being hustled out to a more secure location, I began to make sense of what we were witnessing: It was a disorganized, rabid nightmare meant to instill fear and obscure any hope in the future — the kind of spectacle we should have been expecting as a finale to Donald J. Trump’s presidency all along.

A house in Globe, Arizona, is covered in signage supporting Trump and other Republican officials, as well as a confederate flag.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra / High Country News

But from my vantage point in Arizona — where young Black, Indigenous and Latino canvassers and activists have been working hard to mobilize voters on social justice issues for at least two decades, where a growing number of first-time voters are young people of color and the 2020 election just flipped this traditionally conservative state — the reality looks slightly different.

Arizona isn’t just the most predominant Western electoral battleground: It is a template for the future of the Western U.S. On the same morning that Trump incited his angry mob of supporters to storm the Capitol, our nation’s lawmakers were meeting in a joint session to certify the Electoral College results, the last step in finalizing Joe Biden’s presidential win. When the time came to count Arizona’s electoral votes, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Republican Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona interrupted the typically routine process. “I rise for myself and 60 of my colleagues to object to the counting of the electoral ballots from Arizona,” Gosar said. Just minutes later, rioters breached the House Chambers, and TV cameras captured the evacuation of the room as legislators were hurried to secure locations to shelter in place. Jake Angeli, a QAnon supporter and pro-Trump fixture here in Arizona, sauntered in. Once inside the Senate Chamber, the 32-year-old Angeli, wearing his now-signature trapper-style fur hat with horns, stood behind the podium shirtless, showing off his Norse tattoos, symbols often associated with white supremacists.

Like California in the ’90s, this state reacted forcefully to the anti-immigrant policies of public officials — in our case, to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, notorious for his “Tent City Jail” and needlessly cruel tactics, such as forcing inmates to wear pink underwear — and to the conservative defunding of public services of the past 20 years. The Black-, Latino- and Indigenous-led civic movement that delivered our state’s election shows us that there are consequences for discriminating against communities of color, disenfranchising voters and underestimating their power and contributions to society. In other words, the so-called “Sleeping Giant” voting bloc was never a monolith, nor was it ever asleep, and it is much stronger than pundits and elected officials were willing to accept. 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, grassroots organizations like Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA) canvassed widely, which helped flip the historically red state.
Roberto (Bear) Guerra / High Country News

If Arizona follows the path of California, our state will start seeing more people of color and representatives of traditionally disenfranchised groups in public office, and there will be more public investment in all communities. That will make this Sunbelt state a beacon of hope for other Western states with large Latino and Indigenous populations, including Nevada and New Mexico, and increasingly Idaho and Colorado.

The Patriot movement, which QAnon supporter Angeli claims to support, would have you believe that following in the more progressive political footsteps of California will sound the death knell for Arizona. For the past four years, this haphazard group has been espousing dangerous conspiracy theories, warning of a civil war in our country, insisting that the survival of the nation, their nation, is at stake.

In the end, Arizona’s electoral votes were counted. The future is not hypothetical. It’s here.  But more crucially, the country and the West are going through the kind of civic awakening toward racial justice that has not been seen in decades — one that spans generations and geography. What we witnessed on Jan. 6, 2021, will live in infamy, but no matter the spectacle, it cannot undo the gains that have been made across the country by traditionally disenfranchised people, both inside and outside the halls of power.

Contributing editor Ruxandra Guidi writes from Tucson, Arizona. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details:
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
    The Quivira Coalition ( is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...