America is Starting to “Move on” From the 1/6 Capitol Riot. That Can’t Happen.
Leaders of democracy and social justice organizations unite to warn that if we fail to investigate the greatest threat to democracy in modern times, then we are doomed to repeat it.
By leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Brady, the Center for American Progress, NAACP, and the Truman National Security Project and Truman Center for National Policy
Jenna Ben-Yehuda is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Truman National Security Project and the Truman Center for National Policy
Kris Brown is the President of Brady
Hilary Shelton is the Director of the Washington Bureau & the Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Eileen Hershenov is the Senior Vice President, Policy at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
Chelsea Parsons is the vice president of Gun Violence Prevention at the Center for American Progress (CAP)
In some ways, the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol is a Rorschach test. Trump loyalists saw righteous patriots. For many Americans, it was a moment forged in fury and fire, with democracy the victim. Regardless of the inkblot test, there are few who would debate that January 6th was, at its root, an attempted overturning of a Presidential election, in its final stages. It may have come late in the process, and it may have been doomed to failure from the beginning, but it is still an event that cut to the heart of our democracy and attempted, through violent action, to overthrow it. And, therefore, to ensure we do not repeat it, we must examine it.
We represent organizations with different constituencies, different perspectives, and different issues: national security, gun violence, racial justice, combating antisemitism and all forms of hate, and defending democracy. Naturally, we each approach January 6th from different angles, but with the same two basic conclusions. January 6th can never happen again. And, the only way to prevent the next January 6th is to make sure we actually confront the various and interconnected factors that led to it.
Our organizations have come together united with the conviction that we must recognize January 6th as a direct attack on the very fabric of our country.
If those who attacked our Capitol had their demands met, our entire election would have been overturned, even after every vote had been cast. In modern American history, has anything been more lethal to the heart of our republic and come from within, fomented at the top levels of government? We know the answer, and that is why you have organizations as diverse and representative of our democracy coming together to call for action to address the underlying events that led to January 6th, and change to ensure it does not happen again.
We well understand the difficulties of forming and launching a Commission to investigate January 6th, given our current political environment. But if we cannot do this, to investigate the greatest threat to democracy in modern times, then we are doomed to repeat it. And those who stand in the way have sealed our fate.
We are coming together to keep the pressure on, speak out, and let all of America know, it is hard to form a commission and move forward in this hyper-political climate. It is worse to do nothing, knowing our democracy itself is at risk if we fail to examine the single greatest risk to it presented in our lifetime.
Although January 6 was shocking, it was also predictable, and takes its place in a long history of the violence that erupts when white supremacy, hate, xenophobia, antisemitism, and anti-blackness combine, and when adherents of these ideologies are encouraged by widespread disinformation, and can easily arm themselves. We have just marked 26 years since the Oklahoma City bombing, another event fueled by anti-government ideologies and fetishization of militia culture and white supremacy. Violent white supremacy was foundational for chattel slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. Hateful ideologies and insufficient protections against gun violence have enabled deadly mass shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and a Walmart in El Paso.
In recent Congressional testimony, FBI Director Christopher Wray named white supremacist extremism as “the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio” and specified that within violent white supremacist movements, the “militia” movement is the biggest factor.
This comes as no surprise because Second Amendment extremists and white supremacist violence have a long, sordid interdependence.
The Second Amendment was established to protect state militias to, among other things, suppress insurrections, but the gun lobby has pushed an interpretation that is the polar opposite. In 1994, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre argued that “the people have the right, must have the right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.” Make no mistake, LaPierre’s invocation of “the people” rising up against “oppressive government” is a dog whistle to white supremacists. And they got the message. This “insurrectionist” theory of the Second Amendment is ubiquitous, and it is part of the ideology that helped ignite the January 6th insurrection.
Time and again, history has demonstrated that when we combine the forces of hate, anti-democratic principles, disinformation, and white supremacy, violence is inevitable.
That is why we have combined forces, and that is why we refuse to turn away from the ugliness of January 6th, or the reality that to stop the next January 6th means tackling the reality of white supremacist extremism. We know all too well that January 6th represents many things to many people, and that truly addressing it will be complicated, but that is exactly what has to happen. We’ll make sure of it.