Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has doubled down on his remarks comparing the pro-Trump riots at the US Capitol on Wednesday to last year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations against racial injustice.
On Monday, ABC’s Radio National program asked McCormack, who is acting prime minister while Scott Morrison is on leave, whether US President Donald Trump should be removed from office for encouraging the violent attack on the seat of US government in which five people died.
“It is unfortunate that we have seen the events at the Capitol Hill that we’ve seen in recent days, similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year,” McCormack said during the interview.
Human rights groups quickly called for McCormack to withdraw his “deeply offensive” comments reducing the Black Lives Matter movement to “race riots”, but he stood by his remarks the next day.
“Any form of violence, any form of protest that ends in death and destruction is abhorred,” he said during an appearance on ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday.
“I know this is very difficult for the United States as it goes through great change, but any form of protest, whether it’s a protest over racial rights, or indeed, what we’ve seen on Capitol Hill in recent days, is condemned and is abhorred.”
Watch the clip below:
During Tuesday’s interview, ABC presenter Georgie Tunny asked McCormack if he realised why people were offended by his initial comments equating the Capitol riots and Black Lives Matter protests.
“What we saw last week with the storm of the Capitol building, those people were surely just trying to impede the democratic process, so how are they the same?” she pressed.
The deputy prime minister responded that he understood “why these protests happen” and acknowledged that “of course we have protests here in Australia”, but again reiterated his initial comparison.
“It involves violence, it involves destruction of property, it involves deaths of people and any violence of that form is condemned,” he replied, later adding, “We don’t want to see the level of violence, the level of willful destruction to property that we’ve seen elsewhere.”
During a press conference later in the day, McCormack said he wouldn’t apologise for criticising violent protests, regardless of the agendas underpinning them.
“Now I’m not going to apologise because I said that violence in any form should not happen from a protest irrespective of what the agenda of the protest was,” he said.
Then referring to the BLM protests, he said, “There was destruction. There was uninsured property that business owners then have to dig deep into their own pockets to rebuild. And then of course there’s lives lost.
“I appreciate there are a lot of people out there who are being a bit bleeding heart about this, and who are conflicting outrage. But they should know that those lives matter, too. All lives matter.”
Last year, thousands of people took to the streets in America in a largely peaceful fashion to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man killed by police in May 2020. In Australia, protesters marched to demand an end to the status quo of racism not just in the US but Down Under, highlighting the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody since the 1991 royal commission investigation into the issue, among other injustices.
Following McCormack’s initial comments on Monday, Amnesty International said he “must be condemned in the strongest terms” for comparing the Black Lives Matter movement and the riot at the US Capitol.
“The Acting Prime Minister must immediately withdraw his deeply offensive comments that compared the violent attacks on the US Capitol to the historic and important Black Lives Matters movement that swept the world last year,” Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Lead, Nolan Hunter, said in a statement.
Nolan said that “to call the Black Lives Matters movement ‘race riots’ proves that the Acting Prime Minister ignored the incredibly important message that it shared”.
“Here, Australians are sick of Indigenous lives not mattering like white lives, Australians are sick of Indigenous people dying younger than non-Indigenous Australians, Australians are sick of Indigenous people being locked up.”
The Aboriginal Legal Service said it was a “disappointment” to hear McCormack “mischaracterise our fight for justice as ‘race riots’”.
Last week, Trump supporters forced their way into the US Capitol while a joint session of Congress met to formally certify the results of the 2020 election.
As they clashed with law enforcement officials and broke windows, scaled walls and pushed through barricades, the Capitol went into lockdown and members of Congress were evacuated. The rioters breached the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a man posing for a photo with his feet on a desk. Five people died as a result of the siege.
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