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.

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