United States recalls extremist assault on democracy

Published : 18 Jan 2022 09:19 PM

United States Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking ahead of Presi­dent Biden at the US Capitol on 6 January, this year, compared January 6, 2021 to September 11, 2001 when al-Qaeda hijackers flew airliners into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia. She added that they also “sought to degrade and assault the values, the ideals that generations of Americans have marched, picketed, and shed blood to establish and defend.”

United States President Biden’s address which followed that of Kamala Harris, recalled the insurgent and militant attack on the US Capitol Hill on that date last year. Biden returned to the fundamentals on which he had built his successful presidential campaign in 2020. He pointed out that he had dedicated himself towards leading a battle for the "soul" of the nation. He also asked if- “we are going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm, a nation that lives not by the light of the truth, but in the shadow of lies?"

During the course of his significant speech Biden returned to the fundamentals on which he had built his successful presidential campaign in 2020. He pointed out that he had dedicated himself towards leading a battle for the "soul" of the nation. "We must decide: What kind of nation are we going to be?" Biden said, beseeching his compatriots to fight for their democracy as a "great nation" should. "Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are we going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth, but in the shadow of lies?" "We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation. The way forward is to recognize the truth and to live by it," the President said.

It may be recalled that in 2020, Trump had refused to accept the outcome of the presidential election that Biden won by a decisive seven million popular votes and 306 to 232 margin in the US’s Electoral College.

Biden's speech of this year has been compared by some analysts with the Gettysburg Address delivered by the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln when he urged his nation in 1863 to rededicate itself to democracy, which was under existential threat. He urged everyone to preserve the government "of the people, for the people, by the people." Similarly, this time, at the beginning of 2022, Biden defined that same national quest by reiterating that he was trying to save “the right to vote, the right to govern ourselves, the right to determine our own destiny."

Biden did not mention Trump by name but went hard at his rival. Exhibiting anger that has been absent from his leadership in recent months, he identified areas where through connotations and nuances he could hurt the Republican efforts.  He reminded his predecessor that he was a loser who had lost the last national elections by more than 7 million votes. In this context he reminded Trump to focus more on truth, his country’s interest, democracy and the US Constitution rather than only on self-obsession.

Biden also alleged that the Republican followers of Trump, who had attacked the Capitol on 6 January, 2020 had not shown patriotism for American values but only rage in support of one person- Trump.  In this context, one year later, Biden reminded the rest of the world that "This is not a land of kings or dictators or autocrats. We're a nation of laws; of order, not chaos; of peace, not violence."

Political scientists are now pointing out that Biden will have to do more in meaningfully arranging the passing of two bills that has been held up in the Senate for some time- the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. There are some roadblocks that have been apparently holding back this dynamic. That includes his social spending plan associated with voting reform. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who oppose reforming the Senate filibuster that allows Republicans to block the bills in the 50-50 Senate are crucial players in this regard. It is expected that the President will now increase the pressure on those two Senators. One has to wait and see what happens.

Nevertheless, it needs to be noted that Biden’s speech of this year has not been accepted or endorsed by certain important Republican political figures like Senate Minority Leader Mitch or Senator Lindsey Graham who had earlier labeled the attackers as “criminals” and laid total responsibility for the attack at Trump’s feet.  Now both are closely associated with Trump once again.

Social media and the electronic media have for quite some time, over the last year, been following with anxiety and concern the growing evolving scenario in the United States related to the US far-right threat.

Chris Arsenault, in this context has noted that, as a follow-up of what happened in the Capitol Hill attack on 6 January, last year, there is apprehension that far-right groups who side with the Republican Party might become responsible for more domestic ‘terror attacks’. This might intensify as political polarization grows with the up-coming US midterm elections.

The insurrection in 2021 on 6 January, which led to five deaths and more than 700 persons being charged with violent crime has forced security services to take the threat of the far-right more seriously, according to Jason Blazakis, a former US Department of State counterterrorism official now with the Soufan Group, a New York-based research center. He has suggested that security officials now consider that a lone-wolf style attack might happen that could have an osmotic effect. This is because hundreds of thousands of individuals across the USA subscribe to a far-right ideology. Reference in this context has made to the 2019 massacre of Latinos at a Texas Walmart and the killing of 11 persons at a Synagogue in 2018 by a gunman who had expressed anti-Semitic views.

Arie Perliger, a criminology professor at the University of Massachusetts with expertise in far-right extremism has expressed a different view. Perliger thinks that the relevant security authorities should be more concerned about militia cells or loose-knit networks of conspiracy theorists working underground within the USA. It has also been acknowledged by the criminologist that it is “harder to identify them and thwart their plans”. 

It is understood that this assuring of security in the United States has also become slightly difficult because some of the security services have been infiltrated because they contain personnel with far-right sympathies. CSIS research in this context, as revealed by the electronic media, has indicated that the prevalence of attacks on US soil linked to active-duty and reserve personnel rose in 2020 to 6.4 percent, up from 1.5 percent in 2019 and zero in 2018. It may also be mentioned that according to the National Public Radio database of the people charged over the January 6 insurgency in 2021, at least 13 percent had ties to the military or law enforcement.

Biden in his speech has very carefully and correctly underlined this. Harrowing violence, mobs attacking police, forcing themselves past police barricades, hunting the Speaker of the House, smashing windows and doors and marauding through the hallways, threatening to hang senior political figures are not features that can be accepted by any country.

Such a trend is demeaning for the USA which is held in high esteem for its support for democratic norms, transparency, accountability, Right to Information and Freedom of Speech.

One needs to conclude after referring to an interesting reference made by media analyst Anthony Zurcher regarding potential involvement of the White House itself in organizing the 6 January rallies last year. Apparently, Bennie Thompson, the Chair of the congressional investigation, recently set out some of what his Committee is trying to learn about the Washington DC rallies that served as a precursor to the attack on the Capitol. This search is focusing on "who organized, planned, paid for and received funds related to those events, as well as what communications organizers had with officials in the White House and Congress". 

One of those organizers, far-right conservative activist Ali Alexander, has already testified to the Committee- and said that he was in touch with the White House and Republican members of Congress ahead of time. The exact nature of these contacts have however not yet been publicly revealed. President Biden, will hopefully, pursue this more pro-actively after his unforgettable speech.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst 

specialized in foreign affairs, right to information 

and good governance