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January 6th Assault on the Capitol

Presidential Letters

Published January 7, 2021

Dear students, staff and faculty:

Yesterday, we witnessed an assault on the United States Capitol by domestic terrorists who support President Trump. Like many of you, I watched in horror as a mob invaded and desecrated the Capitol, the heart of our democracy. Members of Congress were evacuated wearing gas masks. Journalists called yesterday one of the darkest days in America’s history. Four people died—one rioter was shot by a police officer, and another three died of medical emergencies on the Capitol grounds.

A crisis of this magnitude has not happened in our nation’s capital since 1814 when British troops invaded and burned the Capitol. The president’s seditious words incited this assault. Lawrence Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of constitutional law emeritus at Harvard University, said about the president: “He’s fomented violence, he’s incited sedition, and in everything but the most technical terms, he’s waged war against the government of the United States, and that’s the very definition of treason.” This morning the editorial board of The New York Times wrote, “The president needs to be held accountable—through impeachment proceedings or criminal prosecution—and the same goes for his supporters who carried out the violence.”

The New York Times also called for “an investigation of the failure of the Capitol Police to prepare for an attack that was announced and planned in public.” Civil rights leaders have rightly pointed out a double standard in law enforcement’s response to yesterday’s pro-Trump riots compared with demonstrations by supporters of Black Lives Matter and other civil rights protests. It was, as Senator-elect Raphael Warnock noted, “a marked study in contrasts that’s hard to ignore.”

The last four years have been trying, but never more so since the 2020 election, as the president has propagated harmful disinformation by making false claims about widespread voter fraud. Let us respond with the truth: the presidential election was not “stolen”—there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Our democracy rests on the peaceful transfer of power, which the president and some of his allies attempted to disrupt yesterday. Thankfully, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, returned to the Capitol late last night to confirm Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory and to demonstrate with conviction that our democracy is resilient. Still, there is reason to be concerned about the future of our democracy unless both parties take yesterday’s events as a serious call to restore civility and bipartisanship, the only pathway for a healthy democracy.

As an institution of higher education, Smith College will continue to stand for truth, including scientific truth; we will continue to uphold the democratic process, especially the sanctity of elections; and we will continue to condemn violence, hatred and division as well as those who espouse these views.

In the coming days, I will announce a new initiative, the Year on Democracies. I am grateful to Professor Alex Keller and Provost Michael Thurston who have been working on this initiative for the past six months, as well as to those who have joined them on the planning group. The college will sponsor lectures and events and provide grant funding for community-initiated projects. It is my fervent hope that all of us will engage in this timely and critical work. Yesterday, we learned how fragile a democracy can be. As a college and a community, we embrace our responsibility to strengthen democracies around the globe—we do this to build communities where every person can flourish.


Kathleen McCartney