Smithsonian curators are collecting wreckage of the pro-Trump riot which took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Discarded banners, flags, damaged name plates, and more, are being added to the archive of the National Museum of American History, a branch of the Washington D.C.-based institution in an effort to “help future generations remember and contextualize” the insurrection attempt, according to a statement released by Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s director.
“This week reminds us of the long and deep history of white supremacy and the hatred and privilege it affords,” Hartig wrote, adding “as an institution, we are committed to understanding how Americans make change. This election season has offered remarkable instances of the pain and possibility involved in that process of reckoning with the past and shaping the future.”
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Last week, a pro-Trump protest against debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud quickly turned into a riot. Incited by the President’s rhetoric, the mob stormed the Capitol steps and, meeting little or no collective resistance by overwhelmed Capitol police, rushed through the marble halls. Their intention had been to force Vice President Mike Pence to reject the results of the electoral vote.
The Senate chambers were evacuated as rioters looted and vandalized the premises, in the process toting away items such as a lectern belonging to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A federal investigation into the event, which resulted in the death of five people, including a Capitol police member, is ongoing.
Objects collected by curators from the museum’s Division of Political and Military History include a sign that reads: “Off with their heads – stop the steal.” Appeals have also been made to the public to save and donate any materials “that could be considered for future acquisition,” such as social media posts and first-person accounts.
“I urge all to stay safe, and to respectfully and collectively work to safeguard our nation’s democratic principles and promises,” said Hartig.
The Smithsonian’s project comes as art institutions attempt to assess how to respond to the riot. In a statement about “the consistent downplaying of the threat of white supremacy,” the American Alliance of Museums said, “As interpreters and educators of history and culture, museums and museum professionals have the power to uphold democracy and democratic norms, call out bigotry and hate, and fight for racial justice.”