Pierre Atlas: Elected leaders incited insurrection and terrorism

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Pierre AtlasIn my IBJ column last month, I wrote that President Trump and his supporters in the Republican Party were playing a dangerous game by continuing to promote their baseless lies about a “stolen election.” I suggested that such inflammatory rhetoric might incite right-wing political violence.

As we approached Congress’ constitutionally mandated certification of the election results on Jan. 6, the increasingly incendiary language coming from the president and other Republican leaders, which culminated with Trump’s provocative speech at his “Stop the Steal” rally, made it likely that some sort of violence would result. But I did not anticipate what actually happened: the storming, temporary capture and desecration of America’s temple of democracy, the U.S. Capitol, by a violent pro-Trump mob.

That morning, I had tweeted that the Republican Party—my former party—was now divided in two: between those who support the Constitution and those who advocate sedition. Scores of Republican representatives and about a dozen senators—including Mike Braun—had announced they would challenge the state-certified electors (in violation of their constitutional duty), in a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters and overturn the results of the presidential election. This subversive group of elected leaders—who had sworn an oath to the Constitution just three days before—became known on social media as the “Sedition Caucus.”

Most Republican senators, on the other hand, declared that they would abide by the Constitution and, as Indiana Sen. Todd Young put it, “certify the will of the states as presented.” Before Congress convened, Mitt Romney denounced Trump’s unconscionable behavior: “President Trump has disrespected the American voters, has dishonored the election system and has disgraced the office of the presidency. I’m confident we’ll proceed as the Constitution demands and tell our supporters the truth—whether or not they want to hear it.”

When a shaken Congress reconvened after the removal of the insurrectionists, Braun had abandoned the Sedition Caucus. Despite the attack, six senators joined more than 100 members of the House, including three Hoosiers, in a failed attempt to overturn the will of the people based on lies about “election fraud.”

The coup attempt to stop Joe Biden’s certification as the next president was directly incited by Trump, who called the perpetrators “patriots” after the fact. The months-long disingenuousness and lies of other Republicans also played a role. Former President George W. Bush denounced the attack and the leaders who fomented it. “It is a sickening and heartbreaking sight,” Bush wrote. “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic—not our democratic republic. I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election and by the lack of respect shown today for our institutions, our traditions, and our law enforcement. The violent assault on the Capitol—and the disruption of a constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress—was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

The FBI defines domestic terrorism as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature.” The Trumpists who attacked the Capitol are domestic terrorists. They need to be held accountable for their crimes, but so do those elected leaders who actively or passively helped to incite a violent insurrection.

As The Kansas City Star said of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the Sedition Caucus leader, Trump and his minions have “blood on their hands.”


Atlas is a professor of political science and was the founding director of The Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies at Marian University. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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