By Frank Granda and Shreya Chandra
January 6, 2021 will be remembered as a day of tragedy for the United States, the world, and the notion of democracy. On that day, a throng of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol building in Washington D.C in an attempted coup to overturn the November election results and specifically to stop Congress from counting the electoral college votes, which guaranteed that Joe Biden would become the next president of the United States. Although their efforts have largely failed for now, that does not mean that the American people should let their guard down. If anything, this is a concerning time for Americans; this nation is in deep trouble, and the escalating tensions today have the potential to lead to future disorder and violence.
These unfortunate symptoms began to appear when COVID-19 emerged in the United States. In a desperate attempt to curb the spread, state and local governments enacted shutdowns across the country. That, in turn, led to a rise in conspiracy theories such as Q-Anon. It also caused far-right groups to gain traction as a counter-movement against the shutdowns.
Then, in late May, an African American man named George Floyd was brutally murdered by police in Minneapolis. The video of his death went viral, causing a series of protests focusing on racial injustices around the country. Though most protests were peaceful, some were violent, causing riots to erupt in major cities all over the U.S. The protests led far-right protesters to oppose civil rights activists.
Tensions grew as the 2020 presidential election season drew closer. The first presidential debate, one of the most chaotic debates in American history, shows the current division in this country. It all culminated into the election where Former President Donald Trump announced mail-in ballots to be illegitimate despite the raging pandemic, preventing many people from safely going to the polls. When Joe Biden was declared President, former President Trump declared the results to be fraudulent and specifically focused on the swing states. He then launched a series of lawsuits to override the election results, which were thrown out due to lack of evidence. Then Trump began organizing a protest when Congress officiated the results. This quickly escalated into an attempted coup leading to the storming of the Capitol.
The aftermath of the riots led the nation into a period of dread and suspicion. In the weeks after the insurrection, there was a manhunt brought by the FBI that resulted in hundreds of arrests by the time this was written. Congress decided to take action after Trump’s incitement of insurrection, which led to a second impeachment even after he left office. After the insurrection, security at the Capitol increased. Thousands of National Guard troops were instituted for the inauguration of Joe Biden, and will remain until fall of this year due to the threats of violence after the riots. The Department of Homeland Security labeled Q-Anon as a domestic terrorist group that would likely further contribute to more violence in the near future.
The sheer amount of radicalization that led to the storming of the Capitol did not happen overnight. There has been a consistent lack of consequences for the individuals who have become radicalized. There was clearly a stark contrast between the reactions of the government in regards to protestors in June versus the raiders of the Capitol. Peaceful protestors were cleared out by the National Guard in D.C., in order for former President Trump to have a photoshoot in front of a church. That is a far cry from the lackluster response from law enforcement and the National Guard on January 6. That difference has unfortunate consequences. Some people have realized that they can do anything without any actual consequences, thus allowing them to become further radicalized All of this has led to the creation of an alarming pattern of behavior. In legal terms, a course of conduct is defined as “a pattern of conduct composed of 2 or more acts, evidencing a continuity of purpose.” That purpose has become crystal clear, especially when you see the pattern of behavior.
This course of conduct has gone on for centuries. After the Civil War, the Confederacy surrendered, which meant that those who had actively committed treason were members of the same United States they had fought to destroy. According to federal law, the government should have barred Confederate leaders from ever holding office as they were “incapable of holding any office under the United States.” Instead, then President Johnson pardoned many former Confederates and allowed them to run their own governments provided that they pay off the debts created by the war, abolish slavery, and awknowlege they were a part of the United States. The Confederate states took that as an opportunity to create laws that enslaved Black people in all but name and established Jim Crow laws, making African Americans second-class citizens. All of this shows that White terrorists and militants, even those who actively fought against the US government, have never faced any meaningful consequences for their actions. Consider how a former Confederate General became Secretary of the Senate in 1893, which was 28 years after the Confederates lost the Civil War. That is the equivalent of allowing an individual who robbed a bank to work at that same bank. This culture of tolerating insurrection so long as the perpetrators are White has been around in American society for the majority of the history of this nation. Time has allowed this mentality to infiltrate the modern world, and there is no place that remains unmarred.
The narrative that Confederates were brave rebels defending their rights as states against a tyrannical northern government did not appear by accident. One clear example is The Confederate statues that people claimed as a part of their heritage, the ones that Trump threatened defacers with up to 10 years in prison. They were set up by a group called the “United Daughters of the Confederacy” and were mostly constructed during the 1900s, long after the Civil War ended, and right when individuals who were involved in the Civil War were passing away. The organization’s intentions were not purely to remember their heritage, as much as they tried to make it seem like it was. In reality, it was meant to glorify how these people committed treason by seceding from the government while receiving no consequences for doing so. For years, the idea of attempting to overthrow the government has been romanticized in certain groups, many of whose supporters supported insurrection. The glorification of those who sought to destroy our nation has set a terrifying precedent for the nation as a whole.
Another more literal precedent that has been set is the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The Court ruled that the “separate but equal” doctrine, which until that point allowed school districts to segregate schools based on their students’ race, was unconstitutional. This meant that because schools could no longer be segregated, schools had to become integrated, therefore allowing Black children to attend formerly White-only schools. However, this was met with fierce opposition in certain areas, such as protests against the integration of schools. The governor of Arkansas went so far as to close down all public schools in the state in order to keep schools from integrating. He faced no consequences for ignoring the Supreme Court, and by default the Constitution, which continues to show a precedent of allowing the unacceptable.
A general lack of consequences for certain acts continued into the latter 21st century, which infected the government agencies meant to prevent events such as the insurrection from ever happening again. Former President Obama’s success in the 2008 election made history as the first African-American president; as much as he was a catalyst for change, he attracted just as much hatred. The Department of Homeland Security wrote a memo that warned that current conditions in the United States created a perfect storm for right-wing radicalization and domestic terrorism. Certain groups and people immediately took offense to the idea that conservatives were a threat to national security, despite the fact that the memo did not even mention conservatism once but racism. The Secretary of Homeland Security ended up apologizing, which effectively granted the idea more credence than it should have ever had. By downplaying the threat that was posed by those radicals, the national security threat posed by individuals who would support or go on to storm the Capitol went largely ignored. Our government’s ignorance and insistence on pandering to extremists allowed for the infection to spread farther and farther, until it reached a feverish intensity in the United States.
Over the years, it has become clear that our country’s response to terrorism varies wildy. Had there been a response to the Oklahoma City bombings like the responses to the ISIS attacks or 9/11, our world may look a lot different. If right wing extremists had even the slightest inkling that they weren’t heroes, and that they weren’t going to be rewarded for violating people’s rights, our world may look a lot different. This lack of consequences for domestic terrorism is what brought our nation to this predicament. This is what led to January 6th. This is what led to the Capitol being overrun by insurrectionists in the midst of a deadly pandemic. An established pattern of events where extremely violent, destructive, and dangerous behaviour has been largely ignored has set a precedent that behavior like that is accepted, even glorified.
Accepting this travesty means that this is just a stepping stone of worse things to come. If actions cannot be taken to prevent further violence, further incidents are functionally guaranteed. Unfortunately, there is even the possibility the situation could escalate to the point that unprecedented conflict will occur in the United States. To prevent this, there needs to be change to make sure that such a catastrophe will never again devastate the nation. That is what makes Trump’s second impeachment trial so important. There is at least an acknowledgement of what has gone wrong, and hold at least one person accountable. Following the trial, Joe Biden urged Americans to remain vigilant and to defend the fragile democracy that the country is finding itself now in, especially since Donald Trump was acquitted again. The only question is, will the nation try to move forward, or will it continue to slide backwards? Either way, there is a long road ahead for the country as a whole. What happens during this time will have lasting consequences that will affect the nation for generations to come. People can take action by supporting the Anti-Defamation League’s PROTECT Plan, which is a plan that would lead the government to address the growing threat domestic terrorism poses to democracy, while protecting the rights of Americans. By contacting public officials and urging then to implement the PROTECT Plan, America can take a step in the right direction after January 6th.
Frank Granda and Shreya Chandra are high school students from the West Coast and contributors to Youth Upholding Democracy’s blog. The views reflected in this article are the writers’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Youth Upholding Democracy.