Without consequences, members of the National Task Force of Election Crises say things will get worse in the coming days.
National security experts warned there could be more violence in the lead-up to the Inauguration if Wednesday’s armed insurrection is not met with swift legal action.
On Jan. 6 armed Trump supporters and domestic terrorists sieged the Capitol, overpowering police who were outnumbered and ill-equipped to deal with the coup attempt. For hours, elected officials and staff were forced to shelter in place inside the Capitol as Trump supporters walked the halls, were violent with law enforcement and destroyed property.
Now, as the US grapples with the first major siege of Capitol building since 1814, experts with the National Task Force on Election Crises have voiced concern of ongoing and escalating violence in the days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“What we’re dealing with in this case is a well-known facet of far weaker democracies, a personal army that a politician has cultivated that he uses to threaten opponents,” said Rachel Kleinfeld a the Senior Fellow of the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Kleinfeld noted that an approach like this to hold on to power is commonly seen in countries like Nicaragua, Venezuela, and a number of African countries.
“It’s something that Donald Trump has been cultivating for many years,” she said.
Kleinfeld went on to highlight more reports of planned far-right demonstrations in Washington DC on Jan. 9 and in the days around Biden’s inauguration. She said the United States is currently seeing a “rising trend” of domestic violence and Wednesday’s insurrection was an inflection point.
“When you look at foreign terrorist activity we know that violence leads to recruitment,” she said. “So I’m not expecting this situation to get better unless we can have swift and significant accountability.”
Kleinfeld also noted that the violent demonstration illustrates an underlying issue; a growing undemocratic group within a current political party.
“We have to speak about the undemocratic faction that is now seated within the Republican Party because even after crouching for cover in the Senate chambers and leaving in gas masks we still have six senators and 120 House members who continue to fuel the rage and raise objections to a legitimate election that has been declared safe and sound,” she said.
Edward B. Foley is a law professor at the University of Ohio where he directs the school’s election law program. He said he is concerned over the next steps the country needs to take to remain stable.
“I worry that given the fragility of the moment that relying on softer norms and cultural expectations will be insufficient because we’re talking about some of the most acute functions of government like commander-in-chief powers and the nuclear arsenal,” Foley said.
Countries are typically on less stable footing when there is a transition of power within its highest ranks. Even countries that are typically very stable see an increase in terrorist threats in the days and weeks before an office changes hands.
“There was a very credible terrorist threat on Obama’s Inauguration day, a foreign terrorist threat in that case, but Bush passed on a real gold standard transition to Obama, which is why we could deal with the terrorist threat in 2008,” Kleinfeld said. “Should there be a million militia march spurred on by the sitting president on the day when power is supposed to be handed over– one can imagine extreme difficulties.”
Foley explained that in this moment the rule of law should be followed closely because we are not living through a normal moment. Instead, he said, officials need to look at this situation from a “total executive branch approach.”
“We’re hoping that something is going to get us through the next two weeks but I think that we should look seriously at what our constitutional tools are to have clear rule of law,” he said.
As far as a return to normal, Kleinfeld said it will take clear legal repercussions.
“If cameras and the like are used to find the instigators of the mob, people who were first in, those who were armed inside the Capitol and they are arrested and prosecuted we might see violence go down,” she said. “But if there is not that kind of accountability quite swiftly you’ll see this as a win and wins lead to more recruitment.”
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