By Peter Berger
Back in early October, the FBI foiled a plot to kidnap and kill the governor of Michigan. The conspirators also planned to storm the Michigan Legislature. Donald Trump responded by echoing the self-styled militia’s charge that the governor was a “dictator.” Trump also roused a rally crowd by joking that “maybe (the plot) was a problem, maybe it wasn’t.”
That same week, he’d demanded the arrest of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
As early as April, he’d exhorted his supporters to “liberate Michigan.” At the presidential debate, he’d incited the Proud Boys to “stand back, and stand by.”
I wondered then whether Donald Trump’s abettors and enablers would need to see blood before they’d see their duty and the truth.
After the election in the face of Trump’s lies and the resulting death threats against those who dared to dispute him, a Georgia election official, a Republican, delivered a poignant, firsthand warning to Trump and to those who, by their legalistic cheerleading or silence, were complicit in his lies. “Someone is going to get hurt,” he said. “Someone is going to get shot, someone is going to get killed.”
He was right.
On Jan. 6, a terrorist mob attacked Congress. I want you to picture the bloody details – 140 injured police officers, an officer bludgeoned to death, others crushed, beaten, stabbed and blinded. I want you to feel the gunshot fired defending the barricaded threshold of the House of Representatives. I want you to see the gallows erected on the Capitol grounds, and hear the mob chant as they ransacked the halls of Congress, stalking the Vice President and the Speaker.
Hang Mike Pence.
I felt outrage last summer watching rioters dance on burned out police cars. Regardless of my political sympathies, criminal conduct demands courtroom process and criminal penalties.
The same necessary consequence applies to the Capitol mob. Except, those “rioters” weren’t looting shoe stores. They were out to overturn a lawful election, stop the lawful operation of the United States government, and by their lawless insurrection, overthrow the government ordained and established by the Constitution.
Their documented conspiracy, their premeditated intent and their violent deeds fall squarely within the statutory definition of sedition. Some scholars contend the insurrection qualifies as treason.
The violence extends beyond the Capitol precincts as pro-Trump extremists pressure elected officials and reporters by threatening their families. One such “armed and dangerous” threat included a message as direct as it was deluded: “Stop telling lies. Biden did not win. He will not be President.”
Tell me. Who is to blame when this man kills someone?
Would he alone be responsible?
Or would the blame be shared by the liars who convinced him his violence would be an act of patriotism.
Donald Trump propagated the lie that the election was stolen.
He convened the mob.
He told them that “when you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules.”
He knew who was there. He heard them chant, “Take the Capitol,” and “Storm the Capitol.”
When he launched them at Congress to “fight like hell,” what very different rules do you think they thought he meant?
Trump’s defenders cite the moment he tells the mob to act “peacefully.” What’s that one word worth after months of incendiary lies and 70 minutes of calculated incitement?
At Munich, Hitler promised peace in exchange for Czechoslovakia. Only the willfully blind believed his talk of peace.
Or Trump’s solitary word.
Everyone in Congress knows what Trump meant and what he did. Many just agree with him. Others fear his “base” and the mob he commands.
They don’t care that a majority of American voters don’t agree with him. They don’t care what the founders warned about tyrants and mobs.
Ambassador Haley advises Trump’s critics to “move on” from his attempt to overthrow the government. She says they should stop “beating him up” and just “get over it.”
Senator Cruz helped incite the insurrection by volunteering to challenge Biden’s election, an election he knew to be lawful. He condemns Trump’s impeachment as “petty” and “divisive.”
Senator Hawley likewise challenged Biden’s election. He owns the added distinction of raising his clenched fist to show his solidarity with the mob that had gathered before the attack. Hawley opposes Trump’s impeachment as “inflammatory,” “irresponsible” and “abusive.” He’s responded to criticism by posing as a victim of the “liberal mob.”
I hear their words, but they have different meanings for me.
Pipe bombs are inflammatory. So are words aimed to trigger people’s hatreds, fears and prejudices.
Provoking and unleashing violent extremists is irresponsible.
Serving your own ambition above your country’s welfare is petty.
Subverting a lawful election to sate your lust for power is divisive. So are sophistries and lies you tell that undermine your nation’s faith in democracy.
Beaten up is when you’re pinned to the Capitol steps, and blows are raining down on you from hockey sticks, crutches, fists and boots.
Abusive is when you’re crushed in a door. It’s when you’re trampled or stabbed with a fence stake.
As for being the victim of a mob, it’s when you’re serving your country, and someone batters your skull with a fire extinguisher.
The Department of Homeland Security has issued an alert that domestic terrorists, fueled by “false narratives,” specifically lies about the election, constitute a present, “rising threat” to the republic.
Elected Trump zealots are carrying guns into the House chamber. Their death threats against Democrats garner scarcely a word from other Republicans.
Conservative consciences now make room for treason.
Crazy has become commonplace.
And the Palm Beach populist plots his triumph over justice.
To those House members and senators who voted to overturn the election, who voted against impeachment or will vote in Trump’s trial; to those who, out of cowardice or ambition, persist in their silence; to leaders who shrink from leading; and to my troubled countrymen –
Time is short.
Do you still doubt the republic’s peril?
Are you ready to stand and speak the truth?
Have you seen enough blood yet?
Because, if you haven’t, the likely result is that we’ll only see more.
Peter Berger has taught English and history for 30 years. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.