Democracy survives a coup

Chris Koorzen, Lamp writer

An electric feeling rushes over the crowd. Chanting in unison, a disordered charge launches itself at the seat of civil government. Windows are smashed open, doors battered down, fencing railed over, and soon police officers find themselves surrounded and under assault. At 1:49pm, it is declared a riot. 

It is Jan 6 2021, in Washington, D.C., and elected officials have gathered to complete the process of presidential election. The day ends with five dead, 15 hospitalized and 138 injured. It is a day when the use of physical, threat-of-harm violence was used to coerce a process of civil government.

“This was not a peaceful transition. It is a moment to reflect on, and take seriously, regardless of our political affiliations.” stated Professor Matthew Schownir at Lincoln Land Community College, who recently delivered a talk about the Jan 6 insurrection. “[It was a] coordinated attempt to interrupt the democratic proceedings of our institutions.” 

For Schownir, the greatest issue is the use of violence in an attempt to get one’s way, and that people seem to overlook the seriousness of the insurrection. The entire point of an elected assembly is to settle disputes by reasoning and a fair process.

“It’s America; it’s whatever.” said one respondent. “They’ll probably try again, with the same result.” 

Most people agreed.

“There was no point in it. I get they were upset, but they could’ve done it in a more respectful manner,” said another respondent, who acknowledges that there might have been a grievance, but understands there are peaceful ways to change things for the better.

Only one of the five Lincoln Land students interviewed for this story had seen the actual video. 

“It is scary how we have just glided over this issue” the student said.

It highlights Prof. Schownir’s concern that the public does not seem to realize the looming threat, partly because they’re not aware of it. When the public simply accepts that “they will probably try again with the same result”, it means as a result, more people will die.

No one that saw the footage was left with any doubt to the gravity of the situation. The 5-minute video presented to Congress by Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, places the viewer into the madness of the crowd, and among the brave officers left to defend the Capitol and the people inside. Four of these officers committed suicide in the months after the attack.

The FBI treats the event with the seriousness it deserves. As of Oct 2021, 141 new faces feature on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and 588 individuals face federal charges in connection with the insurrection of Jan 6.

“We do not tolerate violent agitators and extremists who use the guise of First Amendment-protected activity to incite violence and wreak havoc. Such behavior betrays the values of our democracy.” FBI director Christopher Wray said in a Jan. 7 news release.

“Reaching for violence makes it very complicated very quickly,” Schownir said, pointing out that accepting the use of physical violence in civil discourse only opens the floodgates. When we move past the question of “Is it OK to do this?”, we inevitably arrive at “How much?”.

Public figures and politicians using the day’s events to boost their profiles worries prof. Schownir deeply. “If we go back [even] 20 years, there was enough decorum and dignity [among politicians] to wholeheartedly condemn an assault on the Capitol.”

He added: “You cannot play normal political games with something like insurrection, because what do you give yourself permission [to do] in the future?”