I usually find myself agreeing with Glenn Greenwald, but not today. GG has posted a heartfelt warning against overreaction to the attempted fur-and-horn putsch at the Capitol Building Wednesday. He says the mob trampled on symbols of state power but otherwise did little of consequence, and vilifying them and their supporters will lead to repressive overreach, just like we saw after 9/11. Cool it, says Glen.
Actually, I agree with one piece of this, the use of the “t” word, terrorism. No the mob was not a terrorist brigade; it was mostly unarmed and did not commit mass or random violence to induce passive cowering from the rest of us. There was minimal effort to locate and assault politicians; the intent was mostly to physically prevent the certification of the electoral college votes that would legally end any opposition to the replacement of Trump by Biden.
But that’s why the invasion mattered. Repeat: it was an attempt to physically prevent the winner of an election from taking office. This is where GG misses the point in his narrow comparisons of body counts and weapons supplies.
Yes, it was confused and amateurish, much like the president whose bluster it expressed. But the danger of mob violence is not so much what the mob does as what the police do. If the police (and military) go over to the side of the mob, the mob wins no matter how disorganized or ill-equipped it is.
That’s not a threat when the mob represents the Left, but it is always a risk when the mob comes from the Right. And in fact we did see a softness on the part of many (but not all) Capitol police officers who fraternized with the invaders and forgot (or “forgot”) the part of their mission that was about protecting not only the building, but the political leaders inside it. It is extraordinary that senators and congresspeople were not warned about the breach until their own chambers were under attack. The unwillingness of Trump to call out the National Guard makes it clear that the Guard was unlikely to be so accommodating, which we can take as reassuring news. Nevertheless, we should never forget that the threat of right wing putschists is never just a product of their own arms or numbers but always comes down in the end to whether the armed protectors of the state will resist or join them.
So this is why I disagree with GG about the importance of this event: it was very important. Its purpose was to prevent the winner of an election from taking office, and it is only because Trump’s popularity among those with badges, stripes and guns is not stronger that we could view the invasion as almost a joke and not something far worse.
Because the attempt to overturn a democratic election is so serious, its suppression justifies exceptional measures. Of course, Trump should be denied any media platform from which he can be excluded. Of course, other politicians who gave support to this putsch should be expelled from office. This should take place immediately, understood as a response to this specific episode and not as a precedent for all dissent or demonstrations.
Longer term, we need to give urgent attention to the characteristics of our political and communication systems that nurtured the Trump disaster. For starters, no private corporation should own the platforms over which most people receive and send communication, except perhaps in the limited role of common carrier. The rules by which such platforms function should be publicly set for the purpose of enhancing real democratic discourse.