Thew’s image of irruption at the centre of order calls to mind Spengler’s Decline of the West or, better, Paul Jamin’s painting of 1893 Le Brenn et sa part de butin. Like Thew’s photograph, Jamin positions the viewer of his painting in an interior looking over a scene of desolation. In the foreground we see assorted treasures and five naked, bound and terrified women. Illuminated on the threshold, about to enter the building, is Brennus, chieftain of the Senones, and behind him Rome is aflame. To rub in the point, spear in hand and phallic sword dangling, his left foot stands in a pool of blood (sexual violence is figured through this conjuncture of elements). In a further hyperbolic fragment, a golden figurine depicting Apollo, placed on a pedestal, stands at the heart of the picture, holding a staff, it mirrors the figure of Brennus: light to his dark, destructive urges. Barbarians are at the door! Jamin’s allegory condenses fin-de-siecleresentments against socialism or anarchism, feminism, and the artistic avant-garde. The fascist imaginary then as now compresses, or laminates, myriad forms of ressentiment – a hatred of democracy. It might be characterised as a pre-emptive desire to maintain the social order the right way up.

Move from the Columbus doorway inside the neo-classical rotunda of the Capitol building, where riotous action also took place, and we see more of the same iconography portrayed on the bronze doors. High on the walls are four marble busts of the discoverers: Cabot, Columbus, Raleigh, and La Salle, all framed with laurels. The eight large paintings apparent in the news footage are four scenes depicting the War of Independence by John Turnbull, from 1817-1824 and a further four large paintings by different artists: The Landing of Columbus (John Vanderlyn); Discovery of the Mississippi (William Powell); Baptism of Pocahontas (John Chapman); and Embarkation of the Pilgrims (Robert Weir). There are also four relief panels portraying the Landing of the Pilgrims (Enrico Causici); The Conflict of Danial Boone and the Indians (Enrico Causici); Preservation of Captain Smith by Pocahontas (Antonio Capellano); and William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (Nicholas Gevelot). Statues in the space range from Washington to Reagan. In the Cupola itself, The Apotheosis of Washington by Constantino Brumidi presides over everything

Commentators seem to have rapidly forgotten the recent debate over racialized monuments. Set in neo-classical architecture, invoking the supposed long durée of that imaginary signifier “Western civilization,” viewers are presented with visions of heroic settler colonialism, the mythology of Christian conversion, airbrushed genocide, and Romanticized “savages.” There isn’t an African American to be seen – the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was added in 1986, and more recently Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks, seeming attempts to compensate for the overwhelming emphasis on a heroic elite whiteness. This is the symbology of a Herrenvolk democracy. In the invasion of the citadel, one set of supremacist fantasies faced off against another imaginary order. Amidst the sound and fury of liberal indignation, insiders in business suits and outsiders wearing denim and camo struggle over the same set of signs.