Statement on the Capitol insurrection January 6, 2021

Press Release
Thursday, January 13, 2021

Statement on the Capitol insurrection January 6, 2021

One week ago today at approximately 1 p.m., I watched live news coverage of “domestic terrorists” storming the nation’s Capitol to “take back our country.” Sadly, I was not surprised by what happened because on October 6, 2020 I attended a national/global virtual meeting that warned that certain groups were actively planning potential acts of violence driven by the uncertainty surrounding the elections. I found the notes that one of my former staff members who joined the meeting wrote for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s records. Below is an excerpt from the notes:

Notes from “Together We Remember” Meeting

Summary: On October 6, 2020 a collection of civic leaders, human rights institutions, atrocity-prevention experts, funders, academics and educators gathered for a virtual discussion about how to respond to the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 US elections. This discussion focused on how communities can respond to violence quickly and effectively. Concerns ranged from mitigating the tension resulting from an inflamed media environment to what to do if, in the words of one attendee, “all h*ll breaks loose.” We began with an overview of the toolkit provided by Over Zero, one of the discussion’s organizers, and then segued into breakout sessions.

Election Cycle Backdrop: We are currently 28 days from Election Day. There is the potential for violence between now and when the results are certified.

There is a risk of violence at every stage between now and when the votes are certified. We should ask ourselves: who is most at risk of being the targets of violence? What sorts of fear narratives will travel through media channels? Are paramilitary operations a risk?

What shocked me was that the overwhelming evidence over the past weeks suggests that these individuals descended on our nation’s capital, incited to violence against their own country by a sitting president and possibly other publicly elected officials.

I watched in anger and disgust as l compared the clearly biased way by which law enforcement officials’ presence and response was so blatantly different from what the nation witnessed just months after Black peaceful protesters were pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed and thrown to the ground by law enforcement. Unfortunately, the entire country now seems to be at greater risk of potential violence as the Department of Homeland Security has declared “Domestic Terrorism” as the nation’s number one security risk.

But this is our America. It is a nation built on a history of racial superiority that we have never fully grappled with. Our belief in our best intentions has emboldened our worst demons. Prejudice. Hatred. Racism. Inequity. These demons are devouring the soul of our nation and if we do not work together to call out hate, to stand up against injustice, to hold firm in our demands for equity, these demons will consume us.

We must hold the line for democracy. We must not be intimidated by those who would seek to silence our voices. The record turnout in the 2020 election was built on the efforts of those who fought for the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments. Black, Brown, indigenous and white people, men, women and non-binary alike, turned out to rebuke the hateful, intolerant rhetoric of the past four years. We must not let those voices and the voices of generations who earned us our right to vote be silenced.

We must hold the line for equity. We must not stand for policies and policing that treat people drastically differently because of the color of their skin regardless of the weapon they may or may not hold in their hands. The treatment of Black men with open palms should not be more severe than that of white supremacists wielding weapons with blood on their hands. We must demand equity in policing and justice.

We must hold the line against hate. We must not let the symbols of hate be clothed in anything other than the blood of the violence they have incited. No legacy, no heritage, no freedom of expression is worth the fear, the pain and the dehumanization these symbols seek to cause.

We must declare that THIS is not our America. A free and equitable America is yet to be built but we, now, must be the architects of that new and free nation.

We must come together.

Woodrow Keown, Jr.

President & COO
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

About the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in August 2004 on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. Since then, more than 1.3 million people have visited its permanent and changing exhibits and public programs, inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom. Two million people have utilized educational resources online at, working to connect the lessons of the Underground Railroad to inform and inspire today’s global and local fight for freedom. Partnerships include Historians Against Slavery, Polaris Project, Free the Slaves, US Department of State and International Justice Mission. In 2014, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center launched a new online resource in the fight against modern slavery,
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