The relief I experienced watching the Biden/Harris inaugurations cannot be overstated. The normalcy of our new president and vice president — caring about the pandemic, offering condolences and compassion for the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from it, and having a plan to combat the virus were long overdue. The return to a leadership role in the fight against climate change is more than welcome. The commitment to working to overcome racism in America is necessary. However, amidst the relief over the transfer of power, it is essential that we, and the administration, understand that the January 6th attack on the Capitol was domestic terrorism, which must be opposed by the federal government.
President Biden was right to “call out” white supremacy and extremism in his inauguration speech. However, while those who attacked our Capitol included white supremacists, the combatants also included masses of people moved to terrorism became they believe they are losing their freedoms and fringe elements, like Q Anon adherents, convinced the government has been overtaken by Satanist pedophiles. This is no longer a loose confederation of seditionists. It’s a “coalition,” galvanized by Donald Trump, with an ongoing organized social media life. It’s not going away. It has proven it can be deadly.
The anti-government insurrectionists we witnessed ransack the Capitol were domestic terrorists. They must be treated as such. It appears the Biden Department of Justice (DOJ) will find and prosecute as many of them as possible. Combating this threat must also include the FBI’s Counter-Terrorism Division, the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), and the Department of Homeland Security. These agencies must create and employ strategies to fight this kind of domestic threat. In addition, the Congress should pass, and President Biden should sign, a domestic terrorism law.
Such a law, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020, was written by the House Judiciary Committee in March 2020. The act would officially recognize domestic terrorism and provide the federal government with the ability to prevent, report on, respond to, and investigate acts of domestic terrorism. It should immediately be passed by the House and Senate and sent to President Biden for signing.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, domestic extremists killed at least 42 people in the United States in 2019, the sixth deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings. In 2020, white supremacists, and other like-minded extremists, carried out 67 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in the U.S. For 2021 we can add the five deaths that occurred during the sacking of the Capitol to these extremist killings.
This kind of legislation, while it will not stop white supremacists from hating minorities, will give the government the kind of tools it needs to combat the threat they pose. Regarding the other members of the “coalition,” their lies and conspiracies must be confronted and countered on the internet by the federal government. Not to do so misses the point of what is occurring in our country. The kind of radicalization that led to the attack on the Capitol is occurring on the internet. It must be confronted there.
Perhaps most importantly, the new administration must undertake an education campaign instructing how our government works. Polling continues to show only 36 percent of Americans can name all three branches of our government; 35 percent cannot name any of them. Those who attacked our government, believing the election was stolen from Trump, are obviously ignorant of how our government works. It may be this kind of radicalization, after four years of president-created divisiveness, cannot be reversed. However, we must try.
President Biden’s call for unity and promise to represent all Americans, not just those who supported him, was an essential first step in dealing with this problem. His use of the “Bully Pulpit” to reinforce his commitment to listen to and represent all Americans will be important if this kind of government mistrust is to be reversed. Ultimately, it’s going to take a full-on creative education campaign explaining the importance of government and how it works to solve the problem.