The Attack on Democracy Really Began Pre-election

Scott Deshefy


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When a mob, egged-on by lame duck Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol January 6, 2021, overwhelming police and trashing congressional chambers, National Geographic’s Louie Palu turned on his GoPro. After years of documenting battles in Afghanistan, Mexican drug wars and scores of related assassinations, he knew an attempted coup and recorded it. This wasn’t the first time the building had been targeted by extremists or combat-trained professionals. Brit soldiers burned it in 1814, and on March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists, seeking independence from U.S. rule, fired 9mm rounds at legislators from visitors’ balconies. Five reps were wounded and recovered, and their assailants (imprisoned for life) returned to Puerto Rico (1979) when Jimmy Carter commuted their sentences.

January 6th, however, was the first time the Capitol had been attacked by mixes of fully-fledged, selfie-taking citizens and domestic terrorists-turned-insurrectionists. Incited by Trump and his crony camarillas, isolated, gun-owning whites were transformed by “zombie politics” into storm troopers intent on overthrowing the government. Among 725 arrested so far (75 charged with using dangerous weapons to cause bodily injury to 140 police), the Justice Department indicted Oath Keepers leader, Elmer Rhodes, and 10 others with seditious conspiracy. Rhodes, explicitly or tacitly involved in anti-government activities for years, conspired to “oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.” He and others allegedly planned the siege beforehand, communicated with encrypted messaging apps, kept “quick reaction forces” on standby in Virginia, and stockpiled ordnance along the Potomac.

The attack on democracy really began pre-election, however, when Trump floated the lie that possible defeat could only mean subterfuge and election-rigging. Once he lost certifiably, the Big Lie became the standard borne by neo-fascist Proud Boys parading November 14th ─ the grossly overstated “Million MAGA March” opposing Biden’s victory. Trump raised the fringe group’s profile by declining to condemn its racist agenda in presidential debates, saying “stand back and stand by.” Rudy Giuliani, without any evidence, then accused Democrats of “massive attacks on the integrity of voting systems.” For claiming unsubstantiated voting machine frauds Giuliani’s been sued for defamation and subpoenaed by the House Jan. 6 investigating committee. At the infamous “rally” on the Ellipse, Trump told crowds he’d won the election by a landslide, inflating the canard further and instigating supporters to take action. “You’ll never take back our country with weakness,” he urged, dog-whistling the violence Palu’s videos clearly capture ─ anti-government Oath Keepers, numbering thousands nationwide, hiding their faces behind flags, Trump banners and combat paraphernalia. Presidential memoranda likely prove Trump wanted the Defense Department to seize voting machines and “reassess” the election in 60 days, a junta enabling him to retain power through February 2021 so the real fix would be in.

With 34% of Americans believing violence against government’s justified, roots of the insurrection are perhaps traceable to compromises Rutherford B. Hayes made during the contentious 1876 presidential election. In exchange for victorious swing votes over Democrat Samuel Tilden, Hayes promised to usher in Jim Crow segregation by ending Reconstruction. “Hostility politics” ensued because many whites considered Black votes illegitimate and tantamount to election fraud. Black Americans holding office and wielding power during Reconstruction created a fallacious belief among whites of being victimized and needing to take back control, even using violence to right imaginary wrongs. Then, police abdicated responsibilities. Now, it’s vote count complaints and balloting restrictions against Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta. Was Jan. 6 a scaled-up version of 19th century white uprisings ousting democratically-elected governments? In Colfax, LA (1873), white Democrats, disputing election of a Republican governor, murdered 150 Black voters. In 1898, white supremacists in Wilmington, NC overthrew the city’s biracial government, killing 300. Interviewed by Jan. 6 prosecutors, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and White House aides are flipping like tiddlywinks. Answers to questions on which Trump will likely perjure himself are quickly becoming known.

Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.