Finding Our Way Back from the Edge of the Abyss

On January 6, a mob of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the final certification of the 2020 presidential election. One Capitol Police officer was killed, dozens of others were injured. The Vice President and the assembled Senators and Representatives had to be evacuated under armed guard. A wooden gallows was erected on the grounds outside the Capitol and some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” Windows and furniture were smashed. The Capitol was occupied by forces hostile to the U.S. government for the first time since 1814.

So much for 2021 being a rebound from a dreadful 2020.

It could have been worse. No elected officials taken hostage, wounded or killed. The certification of election results was completed in the early morning hours of January 7. President Trump pledged that “there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” The elections went as smoothly as could be expected. As the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council stated in a November 12 press release, “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. … While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should too.”

In the end, dozens of legal challenges to the election results were dismissed by the courts. The insurrectionist challenge at the Capitol failed, too. Our democracy held.

So, what now?

First, we must work to fully re-establish the rule of law. Those who sought to disrupt peaceful government operations should be identified and prosecuted. An FBI official said that the Bureau is investigating 150 suspects and that the number is expected to grow.

In addition, Federal and state governments are taking preventative measures to ensure the public’s confidence that the military and law enforcement have not been infiltrated by potential anti-government agents. For example, a Vermont State Police trooper has been suspended and is being investigated for social media posts that support the uprising. Since several military veterans were identified among the rioters, the U.S. military is launching investigations to determine whether any of its members have violated relevant laws or regulations. The Army Command Policy (AR 600-20), for example, states in section 4-12b that “Soldiers are prohibited from … actions in support of extremist organizations or activities. Penalties for violations of these prohibitions include the full range of statutory and regulatory sanctions, both criminal (UCMJ), and administrative.”

These important steps to hold individuals accountable for criminal activity and bolster the public’s confidence must be free of hysteria or rush to judgment. They are, however, a critical step in restoring the rule of law.

Another, overdue, step is to address the broader threat of domestic terrorism. The October 2020 Homeland Threat Assessment issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security states that “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs) — will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.” Although the rioters do not seem to be limited to white supremacist extremists, there is ample evidence that some were. Additionally, the behavior of many of the rioters meets the definition of domestic terrorism under Paragraph 2331.5 of 18 USC Ch. 113B: “the term ‘domestic terrorism’ means activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” It is time to enact a federal statute that specifically addresses domestic terrorism and work to prevent these types of crimes with the same vigor as we do international terrorism.

But what about folks in Hardwick? In Greensboro, or Craftsbury or Cabot or any of the towns that the Gazette has the privilege to serve? I suggest that all of us should follow, critically evaluate, and support the measures that are being taken at the state and federal level. I would also suggest that we face an important choice: we can turn toward each other or turn on each other. This is a time for considered legal and legislative action, not a time for witch hunts and personal recrimination. Let’s focus on building our communities while other, important issues are being addressed in Montpelier and Washington. If you can, donate time or money to your local food bank, free community dinner, or winter clothing drive. Wear a mask, if not for yourself, then to show that you support your community, even if you do not believe masks are effective. Get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible. These small gestures can help re-affirm that we are in this together, that we are working to get through this together and that we will emerge from this together.