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Smithsonian Collects Objects from Capitol Riot

A Director at the Smithsonian Institution has confirmed that one of its museums will continue to collect artefacts from the violent attack on Capitol Hill which took place on 6th January 2021. Curators at the Smithsonian have thus far gathered together posters and banners which were left abandoned after civility was restored to the National Mall. According to the Smithsonian, this collection of items, many of which incite violence against elected American lawmakers, will allow future generations to better understand the scale and severity of the attempt to undermine democratic processes.

The scenes of rioters gaining forced entry to the Capitol Building in Washington DC in early January were televised around the globe. Some strident images were captured by members of the angry mob itself as well as TV news crews but these did not always tell the full story of the events. With some seeking to downplay the seriousness of the event in which five people lost their lives the museum decided it would document the violent attack by collecting artefacts.

According to a spokesperson at the National Museum of American History, items that have thus far been added to the collection include a sign that is emblazoned with the slogan ‘Off With Their Heads: Stop the Steal’ in a reference to the president’s claims about last years election. The call for the deaths of politicians was a constant theme among the many placards protestors took to Washington for a rally that the president himself addressed.

Documenting Events

The museum’s division of political and military history has been responsible for taking in objects that were found both at the pro-Trump rally that proceeded the storming of the Capitol as well as items that were found on the National Mall area. The museum, which is a long-standing branch of the Smithsonian Institution, said that it would begin archiving its collection of protest placards, signs and banners with immediate effect. Indeed, Frank Blazich, who is a curator at the museum, had taken to the National Mall to begin gathering up objects from the rally and wider protest almost as soon as order was restored in the capital.

The museum’s director, Anthea Hartig, told the press that she was the Smithsonian’s role as one that was committed to better coming to terms with how Americans make political change. In a statement, she said that the recent presidential election had provided some remarkable examples of how the possibilities of shaping the future of America were at play. Dr Hartig went on to add that the objects that had been collected would help to tell stories about the riot which will mean Americans can more fully contextualise and remember the events of January 6th as well as its political aftermath.

Lonnie G Bunch III, who is the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution echoed Dr Hartig’s sentiments. “As a historian,” he said, “I have always believed in the power of peaceful protest.” Bunch went on to say that all demonstrations – especially violent ones – give voters a snapshot of what he called the fragility of democracy. “[This is]… why the work we do and the stories we tell are so important,” he added.

A Growing Collection

At the moment acquiring items from the protest can only take place in the unrestricted parts of the National Mall. The Capitol Building’s own authorities are carrying out their own security and clean-up operations which means that the museum has not been able to gain access there. Not least, of course, the building remains a major crime scene. Nevertheless, museum curators hope that they will be able to work with government agencies to gain access to it and retrieve further items in the near future.

About the author – Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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