Abigail Leibowitz | Special to WJW
As the Jan. 6 hearings capture our attention, let’s ask ourselves: What compels such a large crowd of citizens to adopt a mob mentality and engage in radical, violent actions?
Caroline Edwards, a law enforcement officer caught in the line of attack, testified at the hearing: “I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes, there were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up […] I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”
How could thousands of people willingly participate in what can rightly be called acts of domestic terrorism? Indeed, the vast majority of the roughly 650 people federally charged in the riot were not part of far-right groups or premeditated conspiracies to attack the Capitol. Rather, this group comprises everyday Americans that include community leaders, veterans, small-business owners and teachers. While many were motivated by the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, we need to dig deeper to understand how so many could be transformed from peaceful citizens into domestic terrorists.
It seems to me that the dangerous, creeping epidemic of white supremacy and xenophobia paved the way for the Jan. 6 insurrection. For many years, GOP leaders have focused their attention on demonizing immigrants and refugees, stirring a mythical fear of the “other,” or the “non-White.” Donald Trump himself started his campaign for presidency by scapegoating immigrants, saying that Mexican immigrants “have lots of problems. …They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime.”
During his presidency, Republican leaders influenced thousands of their supporters by constantly referring to immigrants and refugees as threats that must be dealt with. And after the Charlottesville, Va., “Unite the Right” violent rally in which white supremacists killed Heather Heyer, Trump emboldened them by explaining that “there are good people on both sides.”
It is therefore crucially important to counter this utterly false and dangerous narrative through welcoming foreigners instead of ostracizing and ignoring them.
The main narrative of the biblical Book of Ruth is welcoming the foreigner. Ruth, a Moabite woman, becomes a foreigner in the land of Judah, and the question is how will she be treated. She doesn’t know the formal or informal community structures, has extremely limited access to resources and is treated as an outsider by those around her. Ruth goes out to gather the grain that is left over in the field. A turning point occurs when Boaz, the rich owner of the field, offers Ruth sustenance and shelter. Later in the story, he offers her a “pathway to citizenship” by proposing and eventually marrying her.
Refugee resettlement and full integration of immigrants should be our guiding light. On June 15, I attended a rally at the Capitol in honor of the 10-year anniversary of DACA, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to remain in the United States. I heard teachers, university students, social workers and many more recount their hardships under DACA. With restrictions on traveling abroad, participating fully in elections and campaigns, receiving financial aid and scholarships for college, all DACA recipients face challenges preventing full integration
Coming into office, President Joe Biden promised a pathway to citizenship for all DACA recipients and to work toward obtaining basic human rights for the 11 million undocumented people in this country without fear of deportation. And yet, the Build Back Better legislation meant to solve this crisis did not pass, and Congress has repeatedly stalled on taking action.
As we fight against the rise of fascism and white supremacy exhibited so unashamedly by the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, we must broaden our response beyond congressional committees and public hearings. The best antidote is applying the lessons of the Book of Ruth — welcoming and fully integrating immigrants and refugees.
Abigail Leibowitz is a rising freshman at Princeton University from Silver Spring. A graduate of Northwood High School, she is founder of student advocacy group F.A.I.R (Instagram- @students.fair).