Glenn Greenwald’s latest newsletter from substack was nicely timed today. I was genuinely puzzled to see the front page of the Sunday Times left on my lawn this morning dominated by a 50 square inch photo, a scare headline and an article about the January 6, 2021 riot at the Capitol. The episode occurred 9 months ago. This was neither news or history. What’s going on here? [Notice of Correction: the original version had the date and time passed wrong. Stupid mistake.]
Then Greenwald’s piece arrived. “When a population is placed in a state of sufficiently grave fear and anger regarding a perceived threat, concerns about the constitutionality, legality and morality of measures adopted in the name of punishing the enemy typically disappear,” he wrote. “The first priority, indeed the sole priority, is to crush the threat. Questions about the legality of actions ostensibly undertaken against the guilty parties are brushed aside as trivial annoyances at best, or, worse, castigated as efforts to sympathize with and protect those responsible for the danger. When a population is subsumed with pulsating fear and rage, there is little patience for seemingly abstract quibbles about legality or ethics. The craving for punishment, for vengeance, for protection, is visceral and thus easily drowns out cerebral or rational impediments to satiating those primal impulses.”
I have never been able to understand how anyone could accept the obvious exaggeration of the extent, intent, and import of the riot. I really can’t: it amazes me. This was 300, more or less, irresponsible, mostly middle-aged fools, behaving like the Chicago peaceniks at the 1968 Democratic National Convention but with less coherence. Their riot paled in all respects to the Black Lives Matter rioting across the U.S.: less damage was done, far, far fewer people were injured, and the only individual killed was a rioter. Although the post-George Floyd riots shut down businesses and government functions for weeks, the process of certifying the 2020 election results, allegedly the action that the Capitol protesters wanted to halt, weren’t even delayed a day. The claim that these unhappy Trump loyalist idiots were trying to take over the government with bear spray and funny hats was and is nonsense, and transparently so. Yet Greenwald writes,
“For many liberals and Democrats in the U.S., 1/6 is the equivalent of 9/11. One need not speculate about that. Many have said this explicitly. Some prominent Democrats in politics and media have even insisted that 1/6 was worse than 9/11.Joe Biden’s speechwriters, when preparing his script for his April address to the Joint Session of Congress, called the three-hour riot ‘the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.’ Liberal icon Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), whose father’s legacy was cemented by years of casting 9/11 as the most barbaric attack ever seen, now serves as Vice Chair of the 1/6 Committee; in that role, she proclaimed that the forces behind 1/6 represent ‘a threat America has never seen before.’ The enabling resolution that created the Select Committee calls 1/6 “one of the darkest days of our democracy.” USA Today’s editor David Mastio published an op-ed whose sole point was a defense of the hysterical thesis from MSNBC analysts that 1/6 is at least as bad as 9/11 if not worse.S.V. Date, the White House correspondent for America’s most nakedly partisan ‘news’ outlet, The Huffington Post, published a series of tweets arguing that 1/6 was worse than 9/11 and that those behind it are more dangerous than Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda ever were.”
This goes beyond a Big Lie. This is a Big “I am the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte!” Lie, repeated over and over as if it wasn’t screamingly false. How can Democrats confidently keep repeating it, and not fear that a substantial majority of even the dimmer members of the public aren’t going to conclude, “You know, these people lie to us!”?
“With those extremist and alarming premises fully implanted, there has been little tolerance for questions about whether proposed responses for dealing with the 1/6 “domestic terrorists” and their incomparably dangerous ideology are excessive, illegal, unethical, or unconstitutional. Even before Joe Biden was inaugurated, his senior advisers made clear that one of their top priorities was to enact a bill from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) — now a member of the Select Committee on 1/6 — to import the first War on Terror onto domestic soil. Even without enactment of a new law, there is no doubt that a second War on Terror, this one domestic, has begun and is growing, all in the name of the 1/6 “Insurrection” and with little dissent or even public debate.Following the post-9/11 script, anyone voicing such concerns about responses to 1/6 is reflexively accused of minimizing the gravity of the Capitol riot and, worse, of harboring sympathy for the plotters and their insurrectionary cause. Questions or doubts about the proportionality or legality of government actions in the name of 1/6 are depicted as insincere, proof that those voicing such doubts are acting not in defense of constitutional or legal principles but out of clandestine camaraderie with the right-wing domestic terrorists and their evil cause.”
So there are at least three intertwined objectives behind this audacious false narrative. One is to paint conservatives and Republicans as threats to democracy…as a Democratic administration and Congress are attempting unprecedented attacks on free speech, political dissent, the Supreme Court, Equal Protection, and voting integrity, all while being supported by a state-enabling news media. These are the classic symptoms of rising totalitarianism. The constant evoking of the January 6 riot is both misdirection and partisan propaganda. A second is to further weaponize the demonization of Donald Trump, thus permitting the kind of cognitive dissonance scale games being played by Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. Trump tried to overthrow the government and destroy democracy, thus any candidate he endorses is similarly inclined.
The third objective is what Greenwald concentrates on: a government constriction of civil rights. He writes,
“We are thus confronted with the surreal dynamic that policies long castigated in American liberalism — whether used generally in the criminal justice system or specifically in the name of avenging 9/11 and defeating Islamic extremism — are now off-limits from scrutiny or critique when employed in the name of avenging 1/6 and crushing the dangerous domestic ideology that fostered it.
“Almost immediately after the Capitol riot, some of the most influential Democratic lawmakers — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who also now chairs the Select 1/6 Committee — demanded that any participants in the protest be placed on the no-fly list, long regarded as one of the most extreme civil liberties assaults from the first War on Terror. And at least some of the 1/6 protesters have been placed on that list: American citizens, convicted of no crime, prohibited from boarding commercial airplanes based on a vague and unproven assessment, from unseen and unaccountable security state bureaucrats, that they are too dangerous to fly. I reported extensively on the horrors and abuses of the no-fly list as part of the first War on Terror and do not recall a single liberal speaking in defense of that tactic. Yet now that this same brute instrument is being used against Trump supporters, there has not, to my knowledge, been a single prominent liberal raising objections to the resurrection of the no-fly list for American citizens who have been convicted of no crime.
“With more than 600 people now charged in connection with the events of 1/6, not one person has been charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government, incite insurrection, conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping of public officials, or any of the other fantastical claims that rained down on them from media narratives. No one has been charged with treason or sedition. Perhaps that is because, as Reuters reported in August, “the FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result.” Yet these defendants are being treated as if they were guilty of these grave crimes of which nobody has been formally accused, with the exact type of prosecutorial and judicial overreach that criminal defense lawyers and justice reform advocates have long railed against.
“Dozens of the 1/6 defendants have been denied bail, thus being imprisoned for months without having been found guilty of anything. …[J]ust as was true in the aftermath of 9/11, people are petrified to express any dissent or even question what is being done to the alleged domestic terrorists for fear of standing accused of sympathizing with them and their ideology, an accusation that can be career-ending for many.
“Civil liberties abuses of this type are common when the U.S. security state scares enough people into believing that the threat they face is so acute that normal constitutional safeguards must be disregarded. What is most definitely not common, and is arguably the greatest 1/6-related civil liberties abuse of them all, is the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
“To say that the investigative acts of the 1/6 Committee are radical is a wild understatement. Along with serving subpoenas on four former Trump officials, they have also served subpoenas on eleven private citizens: people selected for interrogation precisely because they exercised their Constitutional right of free assembly by applying for and receiving a permit to hold a protest on January 6 opposing certification of the 2020 election….
“There is ample reason to doubt the constitutionality of this committee’s existence. When crimes are committed in the United States, there are two branches of government — and only two — vested by the Constitution with the power to investigate criminal suspects and adjudicate guilt: the executive branch (through the FBI and DOJ) and the judiciary. Congress has no role to play in any of that, and for good and important reasons. The Constitution places limits on what the executive branch and judiciary can do when investigating suspects and declaring citizens guilty, safeguards designed to protect fundamental rights of American citizens. No searches can be executed by the FBI without judicial approval in the form of warrants; nobody can be publicly declared guilty without a wide range of rights being guaranteed (the right of cross-examination, a jury trial of one’s peers, ample due process protections, etc.); private data about citizens cannot be collected without their consent absent an array of protective procedures.
“…In what conceivable way will finding out which protesters did what in the days leading up to 1/6 help Congress amend existing laws? Their motive could not be clearer: to parade around those they consider to be bad and deplorable people, to bestow on their sadistic liberal flock the enjoyment of watching their political enemies suffer public stigma, vilification and shame, and attempt to prove what the DOJ has thus far refused even to allege: that January 6th was driven not by common crimes and misdemeanors nor a protest that organically erupted into a riot, but instead, a historically momentous, seditious, insurrectionary plot…”
Read it all: this has been only a small sample of Greenwald’s thorough and obviously very troubling analysis. Americans who care about individual rights and who oppose tightening government controls on dissent need to be prepared to fight—and in the sense that President Trump used the term on January 6th, not (necessrily) actual violence. But apathy and fear cannot be the response. That is what the true enemies of democracy are counting on—that, and ignorance.