Clancy was late today and apologized as he rushed in to order his coffee and pastry returning to our usual outside table a few minutes later.
“Let’s begin with January 6th”, I said,” and the question is how close did we come to losing our democracy.”
Clancy looked me in the eye and replied, “A hair’s breadth.”
Clancy went on to say what we all know, that if Pence had given in and declared that Trump was the winner or sent the vote back to the swing state legislatures controlled by Republicans to decide, it would have made Trump the winner. With the 6-3 majority of Republican justices in the Supreme Court, the call about whether this move would have been Constitutional or not could have gone either way.”
“Pretty scary,” I said.
“The thing is we do not know what would have happened. I have to praise the work by the House Select Committee as we continue to hear information that tells us that it was worse than we thought, but to realize that it could have come this close just shows us how fragile our democracy is and that we cannot take it for granted.”
“So, who were these people who stormed the Capitol?” I asked.
“Well,” Clancy answered. “Of the several thousand people who stormed the Capitol, so far almost 900 have been arrested and charged with insurrection. Over 350 have pleaded guilty, and there have already been a few—around 70– convictions, but this process is going to take a while. My guess is that rioters’ charged will number over a thousand before it is all over, and convictions or guilty pleas will number over 500, but who knows?”
As to the question as to who they were, Clancy smiled sheepishly and said, “Well, I knew you were going to ask this question, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and here is what I found.”
He showed me his printout:
“The attackers included some of Trump’s longtime and most fervent supporters from across the United States. The mob included Republican Party officials, current and former state legislators and political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, conservative evangelical Christians and participants of the “Save America” Rally. According to the FBI, dozens of people on its terrorist watchlist were in D.C. for pro-Trump events on the 6th, with the majority being “suspected white supremacists”. Some came heavily armed and some were convicted criminals, including a man who had been released from a Florida prison after serving a sentence for attempted murder. A Boogaloo follower said several groups under his command helped storm the Capitol, taking the opportunity to strike against the federal government.
Also present during the riot were parts of the Black Hebrew Israelites, the National Anarchist Movement, the Blue Lives Matter Movement, supporters of the America First Movement, the Stop the Steal Movement, the Patriot Movement, remnants of the Tea Party Movement the Traditionalist Worker Party, QAnon followers, the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Groyper Army; as well as Holocaust deniers, among other far-right organizations and groups. Anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups (Nationalist Social Club) were at the event, although it is unknown to what extent. Following the event, members of some groups detailed their actions and claimed they were the “beginning of the start of White Revolution in the United States.”
“Hey,” I exclaimed sarcastically, “Is this a great county or what!”
“Well, probably the majority were simply Trump supporters who came to DC because they thought that is what Trump wanted them to do. They got caught up in the excitement of the rally and followed the organizers to the Capitol after Trump directed them to. And as to these hate groups and organizers of the insurrection, they are just the tip of the iceberg. The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking domestic hate and terrorist groups for years. The number of such groups has tended to fluctuate between 750 and 1,000, and we are close to the 1,000 now. Note that the list includes groups the FBI is monitoring, and some are foreign terrorists. Domestic groups, however, now comprise most of the terrorist and hate groups.”
“Most seem like a bunch of whackos and nut cases, if you ask me. What is wrong with these people?”
“You can blame it on a lot of factors—stress, financial insecurity, poor education, broken families, lost jobs, mental illness, broken relationships, old fashioned racism and antisemitism, bad luck, the sermons some hear in their politically-motivated, evangelical churches, or just hanging out with the wrong people. Who knows, maybe Covid has something to with it. Some of these people are, as you say, ‘nut cases,’ but certainly not everyone. To me, however, the number of hate groups and domestic terrorists are the canaries in the mine warning us that something is terribly wrong with our society. I have already talked about some of the societal and political causes, and there are surely a lot more.”
“Okay,” I replied, “We already know a lot and will learn more about the January 6th insurrection as the Select Committee continues its hearings in the fall. Let’s turn to ‘Stop the Steal’ and Trump’s claim of election fraud.”
“This, my friend, is the existential threat we now face. Here is what we know: there was no voting fraud. Period. In fact, this election has been called by many experts probably the fairest in history with the fewest mistakes. Trump’s claim that it was ‘stolen’ is the Big Lie. Yet we also know that 70 percent of all Republicans believe him.”
I could not help shaking my head and muttering, “Nut cases!”
“Not only that,” he continued, “Right Wing talk radio and TV celebrities like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and their Fox News colleagues hammer this lie in every day, which also resonates on social media. And it gets even worse. Over half the GOP primary winners say the 2020 election was rigged. Most Republican Congressmen and Senators remain silent. So, if all or most of your information comes from Fox News, conservative talk radio, your buddies who love Trump, the obsessed, right wing minister at your evangelical church, and the Republican candidate you voted for in the primary, you would believe it too, right? This is the big problem. We live in alternate universes. We are fundamentally divided as country.”
“So, this helps explain the January 6th insurrection. Most really believed Trump’s Big Lie. They felt it was their patriotic duty to be there. When he asked them to go to the Capitol, many followed his wishes. I must admit, if I were one of the people you just described, I probably would have at least been to the rally. I am too much of a wimp to storm the Capitol.”
Clancy continued “And the problem is that most of his followers have not changed their minds. If anything, they have become angrier and more radicalized because they think the government was wrong in arresting ‘innocent’, freedom loving Americans. They do not read the NY Times or the Washington Post. They do not watch CNN or MSNBC or the PBS News Hour. They do not talk to people with different opinions. They have not watched any of the hearings of the Select Committee on the January 6 Insurrection. Some have stated that the revolution has already started and believe the Trump followers will ultimately prevail. They will make America great again, whatever it takes, including armed insurrection.”
“Very scary,” I groaned.
“But what is even scarier is what is happening at the state level and the local levels. Republicans have out foxed and out performed the Democrats in grass roots organizing. In many red states and in some purple or swing states, energized Republicans have elected Trump supporters as Secretaries of State, who are responsible for overseeing the election process including vote counting. The Secretaries of State in key states like Georgia and several Midwestern swing states were the heroes of the 2020 elections resisting pressure from Trump and his followers to declare fraud where none existed. They are being replaced by extremists who are 2020 election deniers, some of whom have already boasted that under their watch no Democrats will be elected. Talk about the fox in the hen house! Other pro Trump people are being appointed to replace the neutral election oversight staff that were in place in 2020.”
“In other words.” I said, “Fraud did not happen in 2020, but it most likely will happen in future elections, in 2022 and certainly 2024 when more of the Trump extremists are in place. Plus, as I understand it, these states are also passing legislation making it much harder to vote, which is aimed at reducing turnout by minorities, who usually vote Democratic.”
“Correct,” Clancy replied, shaking his head in dismay. “And it is not just at the state level. Trumpers are winning school board elections and mayor and city council elections, which are becoming nationalized based not so much on local issues but your political identity. So, this is even actually a greater threat in my view—and more likely to happen– than an armed insurrection although that also could happen. The Democrats would be the ones crying foul, but Republicans would ignore them and say ‘we told you so. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.’ A huge crisis of confidence in free and fair elections would follow, and who knows where that will take us.”
“But you are speculating. This has not happened yet.” I protested. “Do you see any signs of hope or a way out of this?”
“That will have to wait until next week.”