It is tempting to accuse Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of hypocrisy for engineering the acquittal of former President Donald Trump on Saturday of instigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol – and then denouncing him immediately afterwards. But you have to admire McConnell’s political skills.
The ﬁx was in as soon as McConnell, then the outgoing Majority Leader, delayed accepting the article of impeachment from the House. That ensured Trump would not be tried until after he left ofﬁce, allowing McConnell to claim that the Constitution’s impeachment clause did not apply to those who left ofﬁce. Even though the Senate voted that Trump could be impeached, McConnell knew that conviction requires a two-third majority, which, in this case, meant 17 Republicans had to agree; only seven did.
This was not the ﬁrst time McConnell tailored parliamentary practice to suit his purpose. He led the successful opposition to Trump’s ﬁrst impeachment for trying to strong-arm Ukraine. He refused for 293 days to schedule a hearing on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court but rushed through conﬁrmation of Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett in October, less than 30 days before the Nov. 3 election. McConnel also rammed through conﬁrmation of more than 200 lifetime federal judicial nominees, ignoring Democrats’ concerns.
Conviction for Trump would have barred him from running for public ofﬁce again, including the presidency, so his acquittal could have been fortuitous. Frustrated by their failure to prevent Congress from verifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, some of Trump’s followers could have resorted to even greater violence, perhaps their “second civil war.” At least now they can pause for four years while he plans a comeback.
Some of them do have the capacity to launch a real coup attempt. Upstart racist groups such as Proud Boys, neoNazis and QAnon apart, the so-called MAGA (Make America Great Again) universe includes military veterans and active-duty service members. Some Vietnam War veterans were enraged that they had to withdraw in defeat and decided to “bring the war home” — the name of University of Chicago Professor Kathleen Belew’s book on the subject.
Through the 1980s and the 1990s, veterans such as Louis Beam mobilized at home, eventually spawning heavily armed anti-government militias, such as the one which stormed the Michigan Capitol last year. They set up weapons-training camps, staged robberies to raise funds and attacked government property, while planning an exodus to the North to establish a European American “nation.” They kept their warrior skills current as mercenaries for President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist wars against poor developing nations.
Their stated goal has always been to topple the U.S. government, supposedly controlled by Jews the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG) which morphed later in their minds into a New World Order bent on European American genocide. Outrage boiled over with the U.S. Marshals’ 11-day siege in 1992 of a Ruby Ridge, Idaho, home to arrest Randy Weaver over ﬁrearms charges. Weaver’s wife Vicky was shot dead during the confrontation. That was followed by federal agents’ 51-day siege of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993, also over weapons charges. The compound eventually exploded and burned, killing 76 people.
To the militants, Ruby Ridge and Waco conﬁrmed that the government was prepared to use overwhelming force to suppress citizens’ rights and could not go unchallenged. Timothy McVeigh, a U.S. Army veteran, exploded a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 young children. The terrorist act by McVeigh, who was convicted on 15 counts of murder and executed, provided another rallying point and drew praise from prominent racists such as William Pierce, whose notorious book “The Turner Diaries” – extremism’s battle manual – was found with McVeigh.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported that 57 percent of 893 terrorist attacks and plots between 1994 and 2020 involved “right-wing terrorists” but. while the federal government responded forcefully to extremist violence, it did not acknowledge the existence of domestic terrorism, while quickly moving to counter “radical Islamic terrorism.” The reason could have been, as Belew suggests, the supremacists’ “leaderless resistance” tactic by which loners or small cells functioned independently but within the broad parameter of the extremist ideology and objectives.
The Capitol attack may have been planned but was too sloppy to have been the act of highly experienced, trained and armed supremacists. Their numbers and militancy soared after Barack Obama was elected president but they most likely put on hold any plan to confront the state after the election of Trump, seeing him as an ally. But the danger remains, warned Jackie Speier, the California congresswoman who survived the Nov. 18, 1978, mass suicides/murders in Californian Jim Jones’ Jonestown commune in Guyana.
Speier, a member of the House Armed Services and the Intelligence committees, is well positioned to understand the threat, having survived the attack by the followers of a “religious cult leader” and now by followers of “a political cult leader.” She has written to President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calling for “a new sense of urgency” to deal with the threat posed by the recruitment of service members into extremist groups, she told The Guardian.
Speier wants Biden to use his executive powers, in the words of The Guardian, “to identify white supremacy and extremism as a speciﬁc threat within the military” and to issue an executive order “that would ensure that all military recruits and those seeking top-security clearances are screened for signs of violent extremist activity on their social media accounts.”
Belew focused, in her book, on that threat and the wider extremist movement, warning, “Knowledge of the history of white power activism is integral to preventing future acts of violence and to providing vital context to current political developments. Indeed, to perceive the movement as a legitimate social force and its ideology as comprising a coherent worldview of white supremacy and imminent apocalypse – one with continued recruiting power – is to understand that colorblindness, multicultural consensus and a post-racial society were never achieved.”
While they are at it, they should also erect a Wall of Fame, preferably in the Capitol, naming those who stood up to Trump’s election bullying and those who defended the Capitol. A much bigger Wall of Shame should also be erected identifying all who enabled him and the Jan. 6 insurrection. This second list will be much longer but must have space for an inscription of Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36: “For what shall it proﬁt a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”