Political instability and violence has been a recurring backdrop for pogroms and antisemitic persecution. On January 6, 2021, as thousands of Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the United States Capitol building in an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, many American Jews felt these old fears stir. Other American Jews look back at the riot as a more isolated incident, perhaps offensive to democratic ideals but not necessarily reflective of Trump or his legacy. To mark the anniversary of the deadly event, Moment checked in with four participants from our Jewish Political Voices Project—which followed voters in swing states in the months leading up to the 2020 election—to ask for their reflections on this dramatic day.
Voted for Trump
I found the events of January 6 utterly shameful. I think it was wrong in every way, regardless of any motivation. Most Republicans and conservatives criticized the racial unrest that happened in cities like Kenosha, where people were attacking property and destroying livelihoods. And the people who chose to do what they did on January 6 acted no differently. Maybe they felt they had some greater mission in stopping the vote, but this is a democracy, and the notion that you can break in and take over—I’m not entirely sure why they kept their citizenship, to be frank. At this point, anybody who doesn’t accept the election results is just living in denial.
However, I do not view Trump as responsible for the riot. Those people all made choices. It’s totally possible that people took his very harsh words and read into them. Maybe it was there and I missed it. I think that Trump is a person who likes to win at any cost, and maybe the people who supported him enough to risk their own lives and freedom heard something that I didn’t. But as a Trump supporter, nothing he said made me jump up and go to DC. I think the bottom line is people just became hypocrites. People were angry and they were looking for an outlet.
I don’t feel more vulnerable as a Jew in the wake of an attack on the Capitol. It was such a small group, and there are fringe groups in every society. We Jews have our own crazy fringes that do crazy things. I really just don’t feel it, especially when we’re talking about someone whose son-in-law is a Jew who’s clearly working to better the position of Israel in the world.
There will never be a time when everybody’s happy with election results, but there’s no excuse for violence and destruction, and that’s the bottom line for me. Even if I did believe that there was an immense amount of fraud—this is a democracy, and we can count and recount, but what comes out, comes out. And unless you can pinpoint each and every fraud and prove it, you suck it up and continue to be a citizen of this country or leave. And that’s the funny part. People can leave. They’re so hateful towards this country or towards the election results, but they’re still here. The door’s wide open.
Kantrowitz, an Israeli immigrant, moved to the U.S. in 1989 at age 13 when her family won the green card lottery. She calls herself a “very liberal conservative” who supports both abortion and gun rights. Kantrowitz carried twins for a New York gay couple. She voted twice for President Barack Obama, but says his presidency pushed her to become a Republican because of “handouts” and “immigrants living off tax dollars. See her past interviews for JPVP here.
Voted for Biden
I don’t think it takes a genius to recognize that there was an insurrection promulgated by Donald Trump and his minions to overthrow a free and fair election in the United States. There is no other way to look at this.
I participated in the election certification procedure as a member of Congress. While you are participating in it, you recognize the importance and significance of that act. It is one of the things that separates the United States from other nations: the peaceful transfer of power. That is the way it has been for generations in this country, and that’s what we should have seen on January 6.
Great empires do not collapse from without, they end up collapsing from within. And you have people in this country who don’t realize how precious this democracy is, how well balanced it is, and what our responsibilities are as citizens of this great country. They are putting all of that in jeopardy for one person who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about them. And that’s what is truly amazing to me. When I saw Americans walking around the Capitol rotunda with Confederate flags and clothing that said “Camp Auschwitz,” it took my breath away. I think there’s a direct line from what happened in Charlottesville to the insurrection. And I remember sitting on my family room couch, watching what was supposed to be a march to retain the Confederate monuments, and then turning up my TV louder, hearing “Jews will not replace us.” And I’m thinking, do I want to replace these people? I don’t even want to go near these people.
There is tremendous potential for Donald Trump to come back to power in 2024. And that worries me, because he doesn’t seem to have reverence or respect for what this country stands for. It’s very easy to be an autocrat; it’s very easy to be a dictator. It is not so easy to lead a democracy where all points of view are taken into account. We cannot depend on one person or one party to protect us. We have learned that throughout history. Without a Constitution to protect us, without a government that provides these equal opportunities and civil rights for people, Jews are in tremendous jeopardy. I’m a Democrat, but I’m a great believer in a strong two-party system. When I married my husband, he was a Republican. It is important for Jews to be represented on both sides of the aisle. That’s what has kept us safe, that’s what keeps us strong. If we can’t tap into the responsible part of the Republican Party, and encourage them to take back their party, I’m afraid this country is in serious jeopardy of losing its democracy.
Berkley served in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven terms (1999-2013), representing Nevada’s 1st District, which includes Las Vegas. In 2012, she ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. While in Congress, she was an outspoken supporter of Israel. At Touro University, Berkley oversees two medical schools—in Nevada and in northern California. See her past interviews for JPVP here.
Voted for Trump
January 6 was a dark day. We have elections, and it’s important for all Americans—win or lose—to respect those results. I was shocked. Never in my life, would I have expected to see the Capitol stormed in that way. President Trump certainly didn’t do everything he possibly could to stop it. I know, at some point, he sent out some tweets or something like that, but what helped fuel the attack on the Capitol was the false notion that the election was stolen from him. It wasn’t.
Despite this, I certainly wouldn’t vote for President Biden against Trump in 2024. Biden has been working to blow up the filibuster and to ram through a dramatic expansion of the welfare state that would be, in part, funded by huge tax spikes on corporations, entrepreneurs and ultimately the middle class. I’d like to go back to a governing center, Republicans and Democrats that work together to solve the country’s problems. I hold Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Senator Joe Machin in the highest regard because they are working to solve the problems of America in a bipartisan fashion.
Obviously, January 6 greatly disturbs me. I view January 6 as something that tested our democracy. Our democracy is very, very strong. I think our founders would be very satisfied with how well our democracy has held up after two back-to-back close races. I don’t think President Trump expected what happened to have happened on January 6, but after we have election results and they come in, those should be respected and honored. I think one of the greatest moments in our country’s history was how Al Gore reacted and respected a 5-4 fairly partisan Supreme Court decision. If Trump had respected the decision the way he should have, he would waltz into the White House in three years.
As head of the Texas Association of Business, Hamer is a vocal proponent of international trade, advocating for an Arizona-Mexico trade alliance and serving on international delegations to China, Canada, Israel and the UK. He previously worked on Capitol Hill and was executive director of the Arizona Republican Party. He is married to a native Israeli whom he met at an AIPAC conference. See his previous JPVP interviews here.
Voted for Biden
When I was special envoy on global antisemitism at the State Department, I was always happy to come back to the United States. because our country did not have the acts of antisemitism and hatred that I saw around the world. Since January 6, I can no longer say that. January 6 showed the underbelly of the U.S. and the hatred that we have seen unleashed. The antisemitic sweatshirts and comments by the insurrectionists were frightening. The sight of a noose and calls for the hanging of the vice president were sickening. The Confederate flags and defecation in the Capitol were terrifying. It was a domestic terror attack, an ugly, violent insurrection, that was and is supported, even today, by the past president and his allies in Congress. Thankfully, it did not succeed. But it may, next time.
The silence of the Republicans on this reality is perhaps its most frightening aspect. Immediately after the insurrection, several Republicans did speak up to condemn what happened, and pointed to Trump as responsible. But they are now spineless, refusing to even say what they said then. I truly believe that our democracy is urgently in peril and that our elections will be questioned and questionable, going forward. The days of our great country being admired around the world may well be in our rearview mirror. January 6 was a shanda. My grandchildren deserve better than this.
Rosenthal originally thought she would follow her father, a 16th-generation rabbi, into the family business. Instead, she became a “professional Jew” and a “professional feminist.” Rosenthal has held a range of political and government roles, including Midwest regional director at the Department of Health and Human Services (Clinton administration) and the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism (Obama administration). See her previous interviews for JPVP here.