‘An Incomprehensible Spectacle’: Harvard Leaders Denounce Capitol Hill Riot


The storming of the U.S. Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob Wednesday drew shock, anger, and horror from Harvard University administrators, who called for a renewed commitment to truth and democracy.

Violence erupted on Jan. 6 after rioters breached the Capitol building as Congress met to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Five people died in the chaos, including a Capitol Police officer.

In a statement Thursday, University President Lawrence S. Bacow called the events “an incomprehensible spectacle in the heart of our nation.”

“The rioters who forced their way into the Capitol assaulted the democratic process and endangered public servants who have devoted themselves to the defining work of our democracy — carrying out the will of the people,” Bacow wrote.


Despite bipartisan condemnation of President Donald J. Trump’s role in inciting the violence and multiple resignations from his Cabinet, Bacow stopped short of naming the president in his statement, instead calling for unity against “the lies, lawlessness, and violence” that led to Wednesday’s chaos.

“The future of our Republic depends on our willingness to defend the values that brought it into being,” Bacow wrote. “The time has come for people of every political persuasion to denounce the lies, lawlessness, and violence that have brought our nation to the brink of constitutional crisis.”

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf echoed Bacow’s concerns in a Thursday message to Kennedy School affiliates, writing that the assault on the Capitol imperils democracy and the tradition of peaceful transitions of power.

“Anyone who is truly committed to American democracy should be willing to put that commitment ahead of their desire for particular electoral or policy outcomes — and therefore should be horrified at what has unfolded and rue any part they played, and should do all they can to restore and strengthen the country’s democratic norms and institutions,” he wrote.

Hundreds of Harvard affiliates have signed a petition calling for the U.S. Representative Elise M. Stefanik ’06 to be expelled from the Senior Advisory Committee of the Institute of Politics, which is housed within HKS. Elmendorf did not address the petition in his Thursday missive.

In a Wednesday afternoon tweet, Harvard College Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair called for Trump to be removed from office.

“He should be immediately removed from office for this treason,” she wrote on her personal account. “Inciting violence and insurrection. How did they breach the Capitol? Failure on all levels.”

She added that she was “furious at the double standard” between the police response to Black Lives Matter protesters last summer and Wednesday’s rioters, calling the latter “disgraceful thugs.”

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in a statement to The Crimson Thursday that the scenes of violence pose direct threats to American democracy.

“This situation highlights for me that the mission of Harvard College in educating citizens and citizen-leaders for our society has never been more important,” he wrote. “While I am deeply saddened by the events that transpired, I hope this moment serves to renew our collective commitment to the importance of pursuing the truth."

Bacow echoed a similar sentiment.

“As members of a university community dedicated to truth, learning, research, debate, and service, we condemn ignorance and hatred, and stand in support of the rule of law and the role of knowledge,” he wrote.

—Staff writer Kelsey J. Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @kelseyjgriffin.

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.