What Domestic Violence Looks Like from the House to the Hill


Written by: Cheryl Thomas


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Cheryl Thomas

There is no separating the riots at the U.S. Capitol with the kind of murderous acts of dominance and privilege that we see every day in our work to end violence against women. 

The violence was nauseatingly familiar as the clear goal of the rioters was reinforcing their sense of entitlement, superiority, power and control. 

We paid particular attention to the white man sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office with his booted feet on a desk, his finger pointing toward his crotch and the gloat on his face.  The man, Richard “Bigo” Barnett, told a reporter, “I wrote her a nasty note, put my feet up on her desk and scratched my [genitals].”  He said, “Nancy, Bigo was here you b—-.”  Another man, Cleveland Meredith, used the c-word expletive and said he wanted to “put a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”

Nor could we ignore the defilement and destruction of women’s work at the capitol.  The case of books by and about women politicians was emptied and destroyed; the podium for the Speaker of the House was stolen. The women’s bathroom near the Speaker’s office was trashed.

Women as Targets

Women with political capacity have long been the targets of Donald Trump’s malignant and abusive personal attacks.  Hillary Clinton.  Ilhan Omar.  Gretchen Whitmer.  Stacey Abrams.  Nancy Pelosi.  Especially Nancy Pelosi.

Women’s independence, intelligence, success and power triggers violence and abuse against them.

As more information emerges, the similarities grow between the U.S. Capitol rioters and the men who abuse women—with one difference.  Rarely do we have cell phone videos of the horrors that play out in women’s homes or in other private places—the most common site for this violence.  There men retain supreme power.

Systemic Patriarchy

Many people erroneously think of domestic abuse as a relationship problem, or justify it based on mental health or substance abuse issues.  We know that domestic violence is predicated on systemic patriarchy to deny women their equal rights, and a belief system rooted in male privilege to have authority over them.  

All forms of gender-based violence—sexual violence, sexual harassment, hate-based violence against LGBTQ people, and violence that has been directed at women political leaders—are intentional potent tools of oppression.  

Although the rioters were driven by male entitlement and aggression, the most organized and violent actors at the Capitol riot are white nationalists. This is no surprise. The subjugation of women, people of color, and the marginalized is a necessary element of white supremacy and the un-checked patriarchal authority they seek.  

The Use of Violence

Men’s use of violence against individual women and an organized attempt to overthrow democracy share the same philosophical underpinnings—the use of violence is designed to uphold and secure patriarchal control, whether it is in the home or on Capitol Hill.  

Intimidation, gas-lighting, threats, degradation, theft and desecration of meaningful possessions are all tactics of violent abusers, as demonstrated so vividly by the January 6th rioters.  In the aftermath of violence there is denying and blaming, just as Donald Trump and his apologists are doing now. 

And always, there are admonitions to the victims.  Don’t make him angrier.  Lower the temperature.  You’re the one tearing the family apart.  Let’s unite and put this behind us, as some leaders are telling the country now.  


In another sad similarity, impunity is globally pervasive for violent abusers and rapists. Donald Trump, the rallying point in the Capitol riot, has acted as a prolific abuser-in-chief, a pattern he has exhibited for years and with near total carte-blanche during his presidency. 

Our work to end all forms of gender-based violence has demonstrated that there is no safety, no justice, no equality, and no end to terror without an end to impunity. Accountability is essential. 

Too many people have not only given license to this abusive president, but aided and abetted him and his mob.  They have excused his actions, ignored his lies, disregarded his threats, and shamed and blamed those who called out this behavior.  Now—with blood on their hands—may they finally see the catastrophe that men like this create, and act to ensure it is never repeated.  •

Cheryl Thomas is a human rights attorney and the executive director of Global Rights for Women, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota.