By Lawrence Hatter, WSU associate professor of history

Lawrence Hatter.

Americans are struggling to make sense of the chaotic scenes of armed insurrectionists rampaging through the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday. In such moments of crisis, it is only natural that we look to what we know. For some historians and pundits, that meant the parallels to the attempt by British forces to burn the building on Aug. 24, 1814.

Understanding both the similarities and differences between the two sieges is critical to properly safeguarding this citadel of democracy — and democracy itself — moving forward.

While security in the Capitol undoubtedly will be tightened and reinforced, truly protecting the building and its symbolism in our democracy requires addressing the root causes of the assault. That means holding leaders accountable for encouraging the insurrectionary attempt by deliberately lying to their followers about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Only buttressing security at the Capitol would represent a failure to recall that while the similarities to historical events are important, so too are the differences. It would leave the building — and our democracy — exposed to further assault.

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The Washington Post