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‘Disturbing, shocking, historic’: Swiss papers react to US Capitol riot

Trump supporters storming the US Capitol Building on January 6 Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

The day after supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, Swiss newspapers are unanimous that it’s one of the darkest days for American democracy. They put the blame squarely on Trump, who one paper said should be led out of the White House “in handcuffs”.

This content was published on January 7, 2021 - 10:55

“January 6, 2021, will go down in American history,” said BlickExternal link. “Yesterday the world watched Washington in shock: it saw supporters of incumbent US President Donald Trump storm the venerable Capitol, members of Congress on the run, security guards with drawn weapons in the Senate chamber. One of the most secure buildings in the world, suddenly captured by an angry mob. It was sheer madness – and all at the heart of the world’s oldest democracy.”

Police said four people died during the chaos – one from gunshot wounds and three from medical emergencies – and 52 people were arrested.

Raid on the Capitol

Hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday in a bid to overturn his election defeat, battling police in the hallways and delaying the certification of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s victory for hours.

In the gravest assault on the symbol of American democracy in more than 200 years, rioters forced their way past metal security barricades, broke windows and scaled walls to fight their way into the Capitol.

Police said four people died during the chaos – one from gunshot wounds and three from medical emergencies – and 52 people were arrested.

Some besieged the House of Representatives chamber while lawmakers were inside, banging on its doors and forcing suspension of the election certification debate. Security officers piled furniture against the chamber’s door and drew their pistols before helping lawmakers and others escape.

Police struggled for more than three hours after the invasion to clear the Capitol of Trump supporters before declaring the building secure shortly after 5:30pm local time.

The assault on the Capitol was the culmination of months of divisive and escalating rhetoric around the November 3 election, with Trump repeatedly making false claims that the vote was rigged and urging his supporters to help him overturn his loss.

The chaos unfolded after Trump – who before the election refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost – addressed thousands of supporters near the White House and told them to march on the Capitol to express their anger at the voting process.

He told his supporters to pressure their elected officials to reject the results, urging them “to fight”. The day after the violent riot, Trump announced he would respect the results and proceed with an orderly transfer of power.

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For the Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich, “America’s democracy has sunk to its lowest point yet”.

“America has fallen into anarchy,” it wrote in its editorialExternal link. “Donald Trump, who despises the country and its laws, has whipped up the masses and called for a storm on the Capitol. The point has finally been reached where this man must be held accountable. He mocks the US, he destroys democracy, he calls for a coup. In any other democracy in the world this would be considered an attempted coup. Trump must pay for it.”

Swiss government reaction

The Swiss authorities have reacted with consternation to the storming of Congress. Guy Parmelin, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, wrote that the government was dismayed by the events that led to the deaths of several people.

But the government had confidence in the strength of American institutions and trusts that a peaceful transfer of power will be possible in accordance with the Constitution, Parmelin tweeted. “American democracy is valuable to our country because we share the same values.”

Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis condemned the violence. “Freedom, democracy and national cohesion are high goods – they must be cherished,” he tweeted. "I condemn any attack on them."

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Television viewers and social media users around the world saw extraordinary pictures of guns drawn in the House of Representatives and hand-to-hand combat with police, as mobs occupied some of American democracy’s most sacred spaces.

US Capitol Police with guns drawn stand near a barricaded door as protesters try to break into the House Chamber Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

“These images of shame will be etched into the collective memory of the US,” the Tages-Anzeiger said. “Since the Civil War this country had been largely united in its pride in the temples of democracy, in the symbols of its constitutional order, in the emotionally charged ensemble of the capital city that provided the backdrop for a state religion to which all could submit. Now the church has been desecrated – that will hurt the majority of Americans deep in their hearts.”

As for the future, the paper reckoned the US faced an “intense process of self-cleansing”.

“If there’s one positive aspect to the storming of Congress, it’s that whoever still goes along with Trump’s insanity will now go down with him. In that respect, the protesters not only hounded out the members of Congress, they also drove Trump out of the White House. That was the day his term in office ended. He should be led out in handcuffs.”

‘Destructive madness’

Le Temps in French-speaking Switzerland agreedExternal link, saying keeping Trump in power “would be criminal”.

“He nourished [the rioters] with hatred, fed by lies, then, as a modern-day Nero, posed as a simple spectator of his destructive madness with a last aggressive speech, like a fuse lighting a bomb. How can we continue to deny that he represents a danger to democracy?”

Trump supporters in the Capitol Rotunda after breaching security Keystone / Jim Lo Scalzo

The scars of January 6, 2021, will be deep and lasting, it said.

“Donald Trump’s legacy is to have divided a polarised nation even more by pushing for acts of insurrection. Thanks to the double senatorial election in Georgia, which resulted in the victory of his party’s two candidates, Joe Biden can now count on two houses with a Democrat majority. But he will very soon have to tackle a task that today seems impossible: reconciling two camps that seem separated by everything.”

Still a ‘functioning democracy’ 

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) was fractionally less pessimistic. “The loss of control at the Capitol is a warning sign, but not the demise of American democracy,” it wroteExternal link.

“The scenes we’ve seen from the Capitol in recent hours are disturbing, shocking, historic. American television journalists, and later President-elect Joe Biden, kept repeating that such scenes are sometimes reported from developing countries, but not from the US, not from America, the role model, the guardian of democracy in the modern world.”

But “despite all the horror” it was necessary to keep things in perspective, it said, pointing out that Joe Biden will take office on January 20 as the 46th President of the United States. “The US remains a functioning democracy that respects the will of the voters.”

The NZZ admitted that the scenes from the Capitol were a “scandal”, “but they don’t reflect the state of the US so much as the state of its president. It was a few thousand extremists, not millions, who occupied Congress on Wednesday”.

However, the paper acknowledged that Trump would not simply disappear from the big political stage.

“Some 74 million voters – the most ever for a losing candidate – have just cast their ballots for him. The trick for both Republicans and Democrats in the coming years will be to distance themselves from Trump’s sphere of influence and the extremist elements of his supporters but retain the vast majority of his voter base, millions of ordinary American citizens. Pulling off this trick is by no means a given.”

Reactions from Americans in Switzerland 

The Switzerland-based committees for the two main US political parties reacted to the assault on the Capitol. In an official statement, the Democrats Abroad Switzerland called it the “most dangerous moment in US history since the Civil War”.

While the Democrats Abroad support freedom of expression, they demand “prosecution to the fullest extent of the law those who would use force to overthrow our elected government” calling those who broke into the Capitol building terrorists.

They applauded members of the US Congress for reconvening to validate election results stating that “Anarchy will not prevail. Democracy will”.

On Facebook, the Republicans Overseas Switzerland said that the party rejects violence including the “acts of some at today’s protest in Washington”. However, they reiterated some of President’s Trump’s false claims of election fraud, which helped incite the insurrection at the Capitol building.

They wrote that “Americans must regain faith in the results of our elections. We need to AUDIT the entire process and eliminate all FRAUD”.

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