'They desecrated the center of American government': Michelle Obama

The former first lady also called Trump "infantile and unpatriotic."

January 7, 2021, 6:03 PM

Former first lady Michelle Obama responded to Wednesday's riots at the Capitol in a blistering statement a day later, saying her "heart had fallen harder and faster than I can remember."

She began by saying that she woke up excited by the news of Rev. Raphael Warnock's projected victory in his runoff election in Georgia.

"I was heartened by the idea that the Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church -- the home parish of Dr. King and a spiritual and organizational hub during the Civil Rights Movement -- would be representing his state in the United States Senate," Obama said.

"In just a few hours, though, my heart had fallen harder and faster than I can remember. Like all of you, I watched as a gang -- organized, violent, and mad they'd lost an election -- laid siege to the United States Capitol," she added. "They set up gallows. They proudly waved the traitorous flag of the Confederacy through the halls. They desecrated the center of American government."

"Once authorities finally gained control of the situation, these rioters and gang members were led out of the building not in handcuffs, but free to carry on with their days," Obama said. "The day was a fulfillment of the wishes of an infantile and unpatriotic president who can't handle the truth of his own failures. And the wreckage lays at the feet of a party and media apparatus that gleefully cheered him on, knowing full well the possibility of consequences like these."

Michelle Obama speaks with members of a local book group to discuss her book "Becoming" at the Tacoma Public Library main branch, March 24, 2019, in Tacoma, Washington.
Jim Bennett/Getty Images, FILE

Obama then noted how the rioters were treated differently than protesters responding to the death of George Floyd last summer.

"There's one question I just can't shake: What if these rioters had looked like the folks who go to Ebenezer Baptist Church every Sunday? What would have been different? I think we all know the answer," she said. "This summer's Black Lives Matter protests were an overwhelmingly peaceful movement -- our nation's largest demonstrations ever, bringing together people of every race and class and encouraging millions to re-examine their own assumptions and behavior."

"And yet, in city after city, day after day, we saw peaceful protestors met with brute force. We saw cracked skulls and mass arrests, law enforcement pepper spraying its way through a peaceful demonstration for a presidential photo op," she added, referencing the unrest in Lafayette Park over the summer.

"And for those who call others unpatriotic for simply taking a knee in silent protest, for those who wonder why we need to be reminded that Black Lives Matter at all, yesterday made it painfully clear that certain Americans are, in fact, allowed to denigrate the flag and symbols of our nation," Obama added. "They've just got to look the right way. What do all those folks have to say now?"

"Seeing the gulf between the responses to yesterday's riot and this summer's peaceful protests and the larger movement for racial justice is so painful. It hurts," she said. "And I cannot think about moving on or turning the page until we reckon with the reality of what we saw yesterday. True progress will be possible only once we acknowledge that this disconnect exists and take steps to repair it. And that also means coming to grips with the reality that millions voted for a man so obviously willing to burn our democracy down for his own ego."

Police officers stand guard as supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Obama also called on social media companies to ban Trump permanently from platforms and put in place policies "to prevent their technology from being used by the nation's leaders to fuel insurrection."

At the end of her statement, the former first lady returned to the results of the two runoff Senate elections in Georgia, which are projected to give Democrats control of both bodies of Congress.

"Thankfully, even in the darkness, there are glimmers of hope," she said. "It's something I imagine Reverend Warnock has preached about before -- and I'm still heartened beyond belief that he's headed to Washington. I'm glad his fellow Georgian, Jon Ossoff, is, too, and that together they'll help give control of Congress back to the only party that's shown that it can put our democracy above its own short-term political fortunes. I pray that every American, especially those who disagree with them, will give our new Congress, President-Elect Biden, and Vice-President-Elect Harris the chance to lead us in a better direction."

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