We Must Not Allow Violent Pro-Trump Insurrection to Usher in New Anti-Protest Laws

The organized insanity and manufactured chaos that was President Donald Trump’s January 6 insurrection has cast a massive grim cloud over the nation. How we respond will define us as a nation for decades to come—whether Presidents are held accountable for inciting violence and insurrection, and whether Trump’s mayhem incites a new expansion of security state policing and the stifling of dissent.

A majority of Republicans actually blame Biden for the Trump-incited coup attempt—still believing the repeatedly and conclusively debunked lies about election fraud.

Already, President-elect Joe Biden has called for ramping up security and policing to quell any future coup or insurrection attempts. Many liberals are recommending ways to expand security to prevent future white nationalist uprisings. But it’s worth remembering that this very same security state has a long history of stifling dissent and will certainly be used to tamp down mass protest from the left, as well. 

The same day insurrectionists were storming the Capitol in Washington, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis promoted a new bill “cracking down on Black Lives Matter protests that would also make taking down Confederate statues a felony,” using the D.C. riot as an excuse.

It’s easy to see the Trump-incited insurrection as sheer madness fueled by utter falsehoods, not genuine dissent or “protest,” but that won’t keep it from being weaponized to expand the policing of protest throughout the United States.

There is no question that Trump must be held fully accountable, via either impeachment, the  Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or both. Let’s hope it also brings him permanent disgrace and a lengthy prison stay. Clearly, Trump has dug his own political grave, even as the insanity and chaos he has unleashed lives on in frightening fashion. Trumpism runs deep and virulent across the land. When the FBI came to collect a young West Virginia man involved in the insurrection, his grandmother told a reporter on the scene: “Thank you, Mr. Trump, for invoking a riot at the White House.”

But in fact, a majority of Republicans actually blame Biden for the Trump-incited coup attempt—still believing the repeatedly and conclusively debunked lies about election fraud. Additionally, a larger share of registered GOP voters—45 to 43 percent—said they actively support the actions of the demonstrators.

As with Trump’s many messes and legacies, the rest of us are forced to live with the fallout from this latest crazy chaos. Fear of insurrection, armed rightwing rebellion, and other forms of dissent now stalk us.

Even as we cheer Trump’s demise and gape aghast at the misinformed insurrection attempt (with likely more on the near horizon)—and many welcome Trump’s removal from Twitter and Facebook for inciting violence and insurrection—a multitude of uncertainties will likely haunt and revisit us in months and years to come:

  • Even though Trump and his cult’s last-gasp insurrection attempt was based on outright lies and falsehoods, and was resoundingly defeated, we must still be willing to ask: are all acts of sedition and insurrection wrong?
  • Are liberals and progressives going to now embrace an expansion of the security state? Will they support using an augmented Patriot Act to tamp down these flames of rightwing racist rebellion—or any rebellion, no matter the justification?
  • Trump’s ban from Twitter and Facebook was the right move given his latest acts directly inciting insurrection and violence—but where do we draw these lines in the future? These are private firms with their own policies, yet they are broadly powerful and function somewhat as public discourse utilities. When do we rein in this phenomenal private corporate power?

As reprehensible and ugly as the January 6 insurrection attempt was (and as disturbing and suspicious was the mob’s easy access to the inner halls of the Capitol building), we must question calls for heavier policing and security. The stark contrast between Wednesday’s bizarre lapse and the airtight lockdown security that has been deployed to quell Black Lives Matter protesters is obvious racism—but more police and state security isn’t the answer.

There will likely be intensified vetting of anyone now attempting to visit these public buildings and view these public proceedings.

Beyond securing Trump’s imminent departure, the response to the January 6 insurrection should give us pause. Do we wish to tamp down and suppress every type of uprising, every act of sedition, no matter the cause or agenda? Setting aside this moment, which was so obviously motivated by outright lies and falsehoods and in the name of white nationalism, we must ask: “Is there never a justifiable reason for treason?” What if the situation and roles were reversed, and the white nationalists and authoritarians had succeeded in taking over the government (as it often seemed these past four years). 

Remember when it was left-wingers who were posed as the insurrection, the rebellion? Where will we stand if, at some time, there were a mass-perceived need to upend a racist, totalitarian thug like Trump? We should hope it never comes to this, or that any such effort would be peaceful and nonviolent, though history suggests otherwise.

Whether we like it or not, the rightwing Trumpite insurrection effort was, for the most part, righteously felt by the rioting crowd—by all indications, those raging maniacs truly believed they’d been electorally robbed and had to heed their leader’s calls to action.

As Biden begins his presidency on January 20, we can expect more rightwing insurrection attempts. Biden will call for unity and calm, and insist, again, that “America is so much better than what we’re seeing today.” There will be more calls to secure the Capitol and the White House, more policing. Don’t let “them” anywhere near the Capitol steps again, folks will surely say. There will likely be intensified vetting of anyone now attempting to visit these public buildings and view these public proceedings.

“The U.S. must punish sedition—or risk more of it,” opined columnist Michael Gerson, in The Washington Post. That’s easy to say now, when the acts of sedition spew from toy-soldier white supremacists and venomous self-proclaimed “patriots” motivated by outright lies.

But, as the calls to quash any further sedition or insurrection are sounded, we would do well to recall righteous revolts such as slave insurrections, and radical abolitionists like John Brown, who was convicted of treason in 1859 for “fomenting slave insurrection.”

As a thoughtful New York Times piece noted, “Historically, charges of sedition have just as often been used to quash dissent (the Sedition Act of 1918, for example, made it illegal to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States”) as they have to punish actual threats to government stability or functioning.”

The very definition of sedition—“incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority”—should give us pause at forever banishing the notion.

Meanwhile, the real failures and crimes of our political system—woeful inaction and unacceptable stasis on essential policies like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal—will be the subject of op-eds, petitions, and tweets. As the planet burns, our health-care system crumbles, and our economy grows more vastly unequal and untenable, there may well be a need for some nonviolent rebellion from the left when the state political apparatus and the “operation of the machine becomes so odious” as to suppress progress, as free-speech radical Mario Savio put it back in the 1960s.

Last June, during the boiling outrage and massive protests over police racism and violence against Black and brown people, Trump deployed the National Guard and threatened to unleash the Insurrection Act, among other tools of a police state, to crush the uprisings. Liberals were rightly outraged at both the defense of racism and the abuse of power to stamp out protest. Then-Attorney General Willian Barr considered charging some supposedly “violent” antiracist protesters with sedition.

Of course, there are immense political differences between mass protests against racism and an armed siege of the Capitol to overturn a free and fair election. Trump’s January 6 insurrection riot was an armed assault on objective verified truth, and on democracy. But, in the aftermath, and in the looming fear of the next armed siege, we must remain vigilantly clear-eyed about protecting the right to nonviolent protest and dissent.

Lest we forget, one of the more dangerous legacies of the 9/11 attacks is the USA Patriot Act and the immense bloating of the national security state in tandem with the Military-Industrial Complex. Now, as lamentable yet predictable comparisons arise between September 11 and the January 6 attack, we should be on the lookout for righteous bipartisan weaponizing of this crisis.

Chip Gibbons, policy director for Defending Rights and Dissent, encapsulated this threat cogently: “While we condemn these crimes against democracy, such antics cannot be used to justify new repressive measures against actual protests, restrictions of the right of peaceful assembly, or curtailment of speech.”

This post was originally published on Radio Free.