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Bucky Turco is no stranger to protest. He’s a longtime New York-based cultural observer and the founder of the popular culture website ANIMAL. Yesterday, January 6, Turco found himself in the midst of one of the country’s most shocking political events as a mob of pro-Trump supporters descended on the US Capitol. The group was successful in breaching the Senate Chamber, taking selfies and stealing mementos along the way. The event has shocked the world, as the United States, once seen as a stable bedrock of global democracies, is now finding itself compared to more volatile countries where political violence is commonplace. The event, already being called a riot, insurrection, or “attempted coup,” earmarks Trump’s tumultuous presidential term. Turco offers Hyperallergic readers insight into what he saw and heard on January 6, 2021.
“I knew it was going to be a shitshow — especially because of Georgia turning blue — but I didn’t think they were going to storm the Capitol, the seat of American power and government,” Turco told Hyperallergic.
Turco found himself in the thick of a major news event, which quickly escalated. “I assumed we’d roll into DC, take some photos and videos of Proud Boys tearing down BLM banners, and getting into skirmishes with counter-protestors. Maybe they’d light a fire, I thought,” he explained. ” […] what I saw was a group of true-believers who swallowed every kernel of Trump’s bullshit and asked for more. These people truly feel like they were robbed and the election was a sham. It was remarkable to witness.”
Turco shared images to his social media accounts as it all unfolded around him. I asked him about what he heard from the Trump faithful who participated in the mob. He explained:
The rally began at the Washington Monument and then they marched to the Capitol. While walking around the monument, I heard protesters say stuff like: “The anti-fascists are the fascists,” “god hates liars,” “stop the steal,” “guns save lives,” “they hate us,” and “four more years.” Plus I saw signs that said things like “we don’t riot.”
Throughout the day, the mood was strange: jovial and irate, cordial and mean-spirited, entitled and aggrieved. As the mob marched towards the Capitol and the dome started to come in full view, it seemed as if they became more excited and agitated. “They got in,” said one man, decked out in high tech military gear. Once we reached the Capitol grounds, the crowd basically dissected into two groups: outside of the main building, people gathered as if they were at a music festival, dancing awkwardly and pumping their fists offbeat. The other, larger contingent were the ones who occupied the steps and surrounded the entire building, gaining entry through several doors and broken windows. “Whose house? Our house,” roared the protesters both inside and out of the Capitol.
A veteran of covering protests and other political events, Turco explains his reaction to this was different.
“It felt like I just landed on Earth Two, in a place where protesters are given unfettered access to the halls of Congress, can just roam around the building housing priceless American artworks and statues, and then rummage through the offices like you see in clips of foreign newscasts from successful coups,” he explained.
“In November of 2012, I witnessed the massive protests in [Cairo’s] Tahrir Square. The people far outnumbered the police. That’s what this started feeling like,” he added. “Although there were hundreds of police outside the building and dozens of Capitol Hill police inside, I didn’t witness any arrests. I saw some officers blocking off certain corridors and stairwells, but for the most part, the MAGA mob had free rein of the space.”
“There were protesters walking around the iconic Capitol rotunda, a gorgeous space housing oversized artworks, some dating back to 1817,” he explained. “Other officers tried, but to no avail. As protesters pushed to get inside, I noticed one officer pull another officer with a riot shield out of the doorway, presumably for his own safety. He was trying to hold the line, but it was obvious they had lost control. I took a video and at the end, you can see it in his face, it looked defeated.”
While some have suggested the Capitol police let protesters in willingly, Turco explained that wasn’t his impression when he arrived. “I arrived at the Capitol grounds at around 3pm and by that time, protesters were inside and milling about, so no, I don’t think any of the police officers at that point were happy that they had surrendered the institution housing the ‘first branch of government.’ It came to a point, where they were just trying to keep the protesters from getting too hot and tearing the building apart,” he said about what he witnessed.
“The officers attempting to keep some semblance of order mostly stared on nervously and then awkwardly, when asked to take photos. It was interesting to see the protesters vacillate between telling the mob that the ‘police are with us,’ to eventually calling them ‘traitors’ and ‘commies,'” Turco explained. “It’s almost if they were pissed that police had the audacity to line up and stand there while their cohorts ransacked certain parts of the buildings. Still, protesters brushed right past police as they carried flags and cell phones. In one video clip I shot, a Capitol Hill officer can be seen walking up to a protester and asking him nicely if he could please put the cigarette out. After taking a puff, he compiled. I remember thinking to myself: how is this real life?”
Turco stayed for a few hours until a reporter friend texted him that the National Guard was assembling and he heard some percussion grenades outside. “I started walking off the Capitol grounds by about 5pm,” he says. “I remember looking back at the iconic lit dome and seeing more and more police and sirens. It was a surreal movie set.”
What he saw inside the Capitol he describes as “frenetic.” “People were buzzing about. Some were screaming, some taking selfies, others chanting and milling about,” he said. “Protesters were ecstatic and proud about this display of unruly flash mob. The older protesters seemed content with gaining access to the building and walking around like they got just a VIP invite to Walmart, while the younger ones definitely were more into ransacking shit and smoking cigarettes. While outside near the steps, I saw a white guy in his 20s emerge with a pristine American flag tethered to a gorgeous mahogany pole. He proudly posed for photos with it.”
From mainstream media images to those circulating on social media, the whole event appeared chaotic and permeated with white nationalist imagery. I asked Turco to expand on what he saw through this lens.
“Just before 3pm, I saw a man walking out of the Capitol building wearing a camo backpack and bulletproof breastplate. Dozens of members of his gang could be seen throughout the day,” he answered. “There were also scores of militia types, consisting of mostly white men, so there was that white nationalist vibe in the air.”
“As the day progressed, and police began to assemble as if they were gonna move in, I saw lots of invective hurled towards the police, many of whom were people of color. When I finally saw some arrests being made, any love for Blue Lives seemed to quickly dissipate as protesters chanted ‘traitors’ at officers and members of the National Guard who were attempting to restore order got into formation,” he said.
“One of the most surprising visuals was the quality of the tactical gear worn by some of the militia types. Some of these boys were clad in relatively expensive ballistic helmets and armor worth thousands of dollars,” he added. “Another surprise was all the kids. I can’t believe how many school-aged children were running up and down the steps of the Capitol and looking over the wall as their parents chanted like drones and took photos.”
A day later, Turco is still processing all he saw, saying he felt like he “just woke up from a bizarro world dream.” He continued:
I still can’t quite believe that this all happened on Capitol Hill. I’m trying to imagine the Supreme Court or White House being overrun like Congress was. What happened yesterday will never ever happen again in our lifetimes. There are going to be serious implications from this. Investigations will be conducted. Modifications will be made to this building and protocols will be forever altered. This may have finally been Trump shooting people on 5th Avenue and witnesses wanting him prosecuted for it. While covering this melee, I wish I had taken the time to stop and reflect in the moment what was going on, but I sorta just switched into action mode and knew that I had to document this. This was important. This was history.