Historians Save Artifacts from Jan. 6 Capitol Riot
WASHINGTON (AP) – –
The morning after the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian curators did a sweep of the National Mall to preserve protest signs and other artifacts left by the thousands of Donald Trump supporters.
Like many Americans Smithsonian curators Claire Jerry and Frank Blazich were watching the violence unfold on live television, and that night formed a plan to pick up objects left in the wake of the Trump rally and attack on the U.S. Capitol before cleaning crews had a chance to discard them.
Blazich sat on the sidelines when his colleagues collected signs from fences at Lafayette square following Black Lives Matter protests this summer, so he eagerly volunteered for a similar effort on January 7th.
Being a US military historian, Blazich said he was motivated by a story from 1945 when then-General Dwight Eisenhower first visited a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.
“(Eisenhower) goes into the camp, he sees the scene before and he makes the decision right then and there: document everything, save everything because people will deny this happened. That people need to know what happened, and seeing is believing,” Blazich said. “And that kind of mindset stayed with me all through the evening as I was talking to my wife. And saying ‘Honey, can I go do this? I’ll be safe. Please let me go do it.’ And kind of pulling together the bits and pieces, even making like mental snapshots of the kind of objects or the kind of material I want to keep an eye out for the following morning. And also a fervent hope that I would not oversleep and forget to go out there before it was all gone.”
The things Blazich was interested in most were unique items related to COVID-19, the word Trump, the 2020 election, and the popularized slogan used by protesters and by the former president: “Stop the steal.”
One notable artifact Blazich found that morning was a large metal street sign with the words “Off With Their Heads. Stop The Steal” in black spraypaint.
The first line, which is a quote from The Queen character in Alice in Wonderland, also reminded the curator of the French Revolution and the gallows that protestors constructed near the Capitol.
“It’s really iconic because you have the name of the event, but you have this interesting phrase beneath it that links multiple events in history,” Blazich said. “And so there’s a contextual value to it. And when I saw it, I said hell or high water I’m getting my hands on that because it was just from a curatorial standpoint… it really pops as an artifact.”
Blazich said liquor bottles, cigarette packs and forms of caffeine were the most common discarded items he found while searching the bushes and trash cans, which gave him a bit of a perspective on the folks who attended the event.
“What you get out of this is there’s a lot of stimulants or appear to have been a lot of stimulants in use among some of the folks who participated,” Blazich said. “And that doesn’t mean that these are the same folks who ran into the Capitol. But there clearly was a lot of stimulants of sorts in use among the folks who attended that event.”
In the weeks following the attack, Blazich said it’s disheartening to see news and social media stories that seek to change the story of January 6th.
“And it does reinforce my belief that we had to collect it,” Blazich said. “We had documented it so that there’s physical evidence to show this was not something of imagination. This is not a hoax. This is real. This did occur here in the United States. Here in our nation’s capital, by our fellow citizens.”
Five people died in connection with the failed Capitol insurrection, which temporarily delayed Congress’ duty of certifying the electoral college votes that made Joe Biden president.
The Smithsonian Institution is working with other curators on with the House, Senate, and the architect of the Capitol, who were able to preserve artifacts found inside the building in order to tell more of the story.