US Capitol riot

‘Shameful vandalism and desecration’ : Met leaders condemn right-wing crowd's assault on US Capitol

Museum joins other institutions in assailing protestors' rampage and hate-inspiring imagery as a threat to democracy and equality

Pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol as lawmakers were set to sign off Wednesday on President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory Photo: Mostafa Bassim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As law enforcement authorities across the US brace for the possibility of more violence related to Donald Trump’s defeat in the presidential election, the leaders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York today denounced the 6 January rampage on the US Capitol as “domestic terrorism” by “treasonous rioters”.

“The attack on the United States Capitol was an act of domestic terrorism that violated our nation’s highest values,” Dan Weiss, the Met’s president and chief executive, and Max Hollein, its director, and said in a statement. “The actions of these treasonous rioters underscore the threat to democracy in a society where misinformation, racism and other hateful ideologies are allowed to run rampant.”

“Bringing to justice those responsible for these criminal actions is an essential first step towards healing and reconciliation for a deeply divided nation,” they add. They made no mention of President Donald Trump, who was impeached on Wednesday by the House of Representatives on for his role in fomenting violence by his supporters.

Weiss and Hollein say they are speaking out not only against the attack on US lawmakers, who were meeting in the Capitol on 6 January to officially certify Joseph R. Biden Jr’s election victory, but “on the very symbols of our government and this country’s ideals”.

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a responsibility to speak out on both of these areas,” they say. “The Capitol building and its treasured art collection were subject to acts of shameful vandalism and desecration, including the spraying of a blood-like substance on statues and the general destruction of art and objects throughout the building. “Most disturbing, racist and anti-Semitic imagery was paraded throughout the complex, including a noose and numerous Confederate flags along with insignia of various other hate groups.”

“These symbols of hate, amid the halls of one of the nation’s most cherished and democratic landmarks, were a violent affront to our ideals of freedom and equality,” they say.   

Weiss and Hollein note that early reports indicate that damage to the building and any objects can be repaired by the Capitol staff, and say they have reached out to “offer whatever assistance would be helpful”. A spokeswoman for the Architect for the Capitol, the steward of the landmark buildings and grounds of Capitol Hill, said last week that cleaning and conservation would be needed after art was damaged by tear gas, pepper spray and fire extinguishers.

“However, the damage to our democratic ideals and our faith in our institutions cannot be so easily repaired,” the two Met leaders add. “The Capitol is the legislative home for our democracy and a living museum. The nation must protect both.”

They spoke out after denunciations of the Capitol melee by several other museum institutions, among them the Smithsonian and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“As members of an unruly mob brandished the Confederate flag in the halls of Congress, it was a reminder that this was not simply an attack on our democratic institutions, but a repudiation of our shared values,” Lonnie G. Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian, said this week. “As members of an unruly mob brandished the Confederate flag in the halls of Congress, it was a reminder that this was not simply an attack on our democratic institutions, but a repudiation of our shared values. It was a violent rebuke of ideals people have fought and died for. It was an assault on the American Dream itself.”

“The question is whether we awake stronger and more focused as a nation or succumb to one divided by partisanship.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum cites “the special significance” of the Capitol for Holocaust survivors.

Since 1979, “survivors, World War II liberators and government officials have gathered in the Capitol during the Days of Remembrance to commemorate both the six million European Jews murdered in the Holocaust and the courage of the American soldiers who sacrificed so much to defeat Nazism,” it says, adding: “That this sacred space was desecrated, including by some individuals displaying neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and white supremacist symbols, several of which glorified the Holocaust, is an affront to all who cherish democracy and those who work to protect it and advance the freedom and dignity of all individuals.”

In New York, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust reported last week that someone had tied a Confederate flag to the front door of the institution on the night of 7 January and said it had filed a police report. “This is an atrocious attack on our community and on our institution and must be met with the swift and forceful response by law enforcement,” it said. “The Confederate flag is a potent symbol of white supremacy, as evidenced by the events at the US Capitol.”

“Such hate has now arrived at our doorstep.”