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The Far Right – A Threat to US Democracy

The first two decades of the current century began with terror and ended with violence. They began with the terror attack of Sept. 11, 2001, that claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent people. They ended on Jan. 6, 2021, with the storming of the US Capitol and the assault on US democracy. Despite the great difference between the two events, the damage caused by both was severe. I’ve been a resident of Washington, D.C., for over four decades, and none of the other events I’ve ever witnessed in the city had an impact on people’s lives as these two events have. In the aftermath of both attacks, we witnessed unprecedented security measures that left parts of Washington seemingly under military control. Both attacks left us feeling violated and vulnerable. The biggest difference between the two attacks was the reaction of political leaders and lawmakers to each. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were foreigners and the death toll was high, and so Americans generally united. In response to the attack, Democrats and Republicans came together to fight terrorism. This often resulted in a violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, due to measures that contributed very little to protecting Americans from future attacks. Thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants were unlawfully deported. Thousands of others were questioned and prevented from traveling by air, or lost their jobs and housing opportunities. The path was paved for an intrusive monitoring process that received support from both parties. Following several investigations, a congressional commission concluded that the terrorists did not originate from inside the US, and that US intelligence agencies could have avoided the disaster had they shared information with each other. Instead of assigning responsibility to those who deserve it, Democrats and Republicans continued to support legislation and practices that targeted Arabs and Muslims, as if they were the cause of the attacks. As a result, many members of these communities lived in fear. Hate crimes and outright discrimination increased. During the decade following the September 11 attacks, the Republican Party continued to exploit this fear of Arabs and Muslims, using it as a partisan issue in successive election cycles. This Republican approach accelerated after Barack Obama was elected president. Increasingly, this anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by the Republicans paved the way for Donald Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign. But unlike the 9/11 attacks, the January 6 insurgency and violence in Congress was a local affair in which a group of anti-government militias and far-right groups coordinated a homebred attack. We know that law enforcement officials anticipated violence before Biden’s inauguration, but they were apparently unprepared for such a large volume of protesters. As crowds of rioters stormed the Capitol building, law enforcement’s response was slow, leaving unsupported Capitol police officers in front of a massive crowd. It was horrific to watch armed barbarians break into congressional halls, smash windows, vandalize offices, beat security personnel and terrorize members of Congress. The most shocking fact was that this violent disobedience was instigated by the president, his son, his lawyers and members of Congress, with the aim of changing the election outcome. The attack resulted in the deaths of five people, dozens of injuries, major damage to property and shock to the nation. After this violent insurgency, members of the National Guard remained deployed to secure Congress and other federal sites. Despite the shock at seeing one of the symbols of democracy come under attack, tentative signs of national solidarity emerged. Republicans who supported Trump’s claim of fraud in the elections were initially alarmed by the violence and condemned the behavior of the former president. A few days later, however, these same partisans endorsed Mr. Trump again. While the attacks of 9/11 united us, the January 6 rebellion seemed to do the opposite. After the 9/11 attacks, I was struck by the claim by a large number of commentators and political leaders that the terrorist attack represented an “existential threat” to our country. This claim was nonsense. The ideas promoted by al-Qaida never truly challenged the guiding values of this nation. It was the discriminatory policies that were intended to combat terrorism, which drove our endless wars on terror, that posed an existential threat to the US. What is most concerning is the Republican refusal to accept the January 6th events as an “existential threat” of equal caliber. With 70% of Trump supporters still believing that the election results were rigged, Americans are facing an existential crisis at a historic level. Our security and rights were in danger after the attacks of September 11, but with the disobedience of January 6, our democracy itself is in danger. – James Zogby (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)