Conservative pundits (and bots and trolls) have taken to cable news, mainstream and social media to challenge President Biden’s completely accurate assertion that the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol was the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
Heads up, Biden is right. The United States has not been at a greater risk of collapsing as a country, and American democracy more in peril since the Civil War. The attack on the Capitol shows how divided this country has become. But it is more than that. Divisions in a democracy are natural and healthy. But we have arrived at a point in which our society is divided between those who support white supremacy, and those who want to end it; those who want to move the country forward, and those who want to roll back all hard-fought equality; those who will destroy our country if they lose another election, and those who keep fighting to save it and improve it. And this is the same situation the country faced as the southern states seceded from the Union after the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in 1860.
I’m only addressing this issue because white supremacy enablers like Glenn Greenwald, went full ahistorical and wrote the same lines every conservative bot and troll is tweeting and IGing: “January 6 was worse than 9/11? Or Pearl Harbor?” He also tried to argue that President Biden is using that “riot” as proof that he was leading the US out of crisis. Basically, Greenwald is calling the insurrection a False Flag.
Note that white supremacists call the coordinated attack of January 6 on the Capitol a “demonstration” or a “riot”. It wasn’t either. It was an attempt to stop the certification and installation of the duly elected president of the United States. It was an attempted coup incited by disgraced former POTUS Donald Trump, a full basket of deplorables sitting on Congress, the GOP leadership, and right-wing media. They instigated it, aided in its execution, defended the insurrectionists, and now are trying to change the narrative to normalize it as a riot- if it happened at all. That is a continuation of the Big Lie. A Big Lie just like the reinvention of the Confederacy as freedom fighters repelling a Yankee invasion aimed at suppressing their individual and state rights.
Let’s address the attack on Pearl Harbor and September 11. Neither threatened the continuation of American democracy nor the survival of the country. When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on January 7, 1941, the Japanese hoped to deal a devastating blow to the U.S. Pacific Fleet to continue their conquest of South East Asia unmolested. They aimed to cripple U.S. naval capabilities long enough to complete their planned conquests, reinforce their empire’s defenses, and then fight a defensive war against the United States which would eventually accept Japan’s conquests and sign a negotiated peace.
Japan’s military planners never thought they could invade the United States much less defeat it in a long war, because they didn’t have the industrial and military capacity to do so. So, no, the United States was not in mortal danger and neither were our institutions. Our global interests were in danger and most of the world was already at war- but the attack on Pearl Harbor did not put in danger the continuation of American democracy or its safety. Our leaders did cripple our democracy though. For no other reason than the racial hatred that has driven this country’s polices for too long, some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps under the supervision of the War Relocation Authority. So the attack didn’t threat American democracy but American racism did.
What about September 11? Was the country in danger of falling or the continuation of democracy threatened? No. The answer is that despite the horrific loss of lives, the abysmal failure of our intelligence services, and the widespread fear following the attacks- the country was not in danger of collapsing or being invaded or crippled in any way.
Just like any other terrorist attack, 9-11 was aimed at spreading fear among the American population. Right wing (and even left of center) media did that for the terrorists. More importantly, the terrorists aimed at making the United States government overreact and engage in a Christian versus Muslim, West versus East conflict as imagined by both Christian and Muslim extremists and imperialists. One may rightfully argue that the loss of privacy to mass surveillance and the opportunistic imperialism of the Bush administration has done a lot of damage to our democracy (and world stability). But that is self-inflicted damage, and it is reversible. The point remains that from an economic, military and strategic point of view- the September 11 attacks did not advance Al Qaeda’s plans or weakened the United States as a country.
In both cases, Pearl Harbor and September 11, the attacks served to unify the country not to divide it. That is why we have to go back to the Civil War to find a moment in which the continuation of American democracy and the integrity of the United States as a country was in peril.
Some may try to present the laundry list of presidential assassinations, bombings, wars, or even mention when Puerto Rican nationalists tried to assassinate President Truman and fired on congressmen two years later, as examples of “our nation in peril”. Dead Wrong Again. In all those cases you have the American public and institutions closing ranks, remaining strong and unified. January 6, 2021, and the secession before the American Civil War, threatened the very fabric of this country. They both showcase the political and moral challenges the United States faces as a country and as a people.
When Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in 1860, the south didn’t even wait for his inauguration to commit treason. Seven southern states seceded from the union even before Lincoln’s inauguration, not even giving a chance to the new president. Secession was nothing but outright treason. Some invoked state rights (as an afterthought) for leaving. But in fact, the south seceded to preserve slavery and white supremacy. In their declaration of secession from the United States, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia made abundantly clear that the intended and ongoing erosion of the “institution” of slavery had driven them away from the United States (CivilWar.Org).
William T. Thompson, designed a confederate national flag consisting of a white rectangle with a square containing the confederate army’s battle flag in the top left corner and called it the “White Men’s Flag“. He was not shy about his beliefs and stated on the Daily Morning News of April 23, 1863 that, “As people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” The white rectangle was meant to symbolize the supremacy of white men. Some confederates may have not believed they were fighting for white supremacy and slavery, but their leaders and a majority of them did. And they almost destroyed this country to defend their racist beliefs.
We are still fighting the same war. Neo-nazis, neo-confederates and white supremacists have come together in this country and are the most vociferous element in the MAGA crowd. Those who are smarter try to hide behind “law and order”, “oath-keeping,” and many other disguises but the fact remains that racism and xenophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, homo/queer/transphobia and an assortment of bigotries drive the conservatives and in particular those who have styled themselves as militias.
This is not new. Since Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 we have faced a backlash from white supremacists. The most rabid racists are easy to identify and counter, for they are open about their motivations and hatred for non-whites. Other white supremacists are more subtle and rally around catchy phrases such as “cultural heritage,” “taking back our country,” “Making America Great Again,” and other dog-whistling slogans which poorly hide their hatred for non-white peoples.
It is not coincidental that the American obsession with guns reached unparalleled levels during Obama’s presidency for it was tied to the white-supremacist backlash and white anxieties in an ever more diverse United States. Conservative media, politicians, elected officials and religious figures have either excused or supported the white-supremacist revival- from Obama’s election to present day. In fact, they have legitimized it.
Trump’s primary and presidential campaign, his disastrous four years as the most bigoted and incompetent president in U.S. history; his incitement of hatred and defense of white supremacists, and the lies he spread about a stolen election- all of these factors led to the attack on the Capitol. When he ran in the primaries he tapped on the hatred of racist and bigoted America.
And the forces of hatred he unleashed and legitimized, as the rest of the GOP fell in line putting their leader and party before country, are the same ones that stormed the Capitol seeking to help him stay in power after losing the election! This is the reason why January 6, 2021 shows that we are as in much danger as we were during secession and the Civil War.
The treason and the danger come from within, from the unfinished business of ending white supremacy. The danger comes from how institutionalized white supremacy and racism are. The danger to our country and democracy comes from the insurrectionists’ sympathizers, allies and enablers for they are already in our government, in our law enforcement agencies, and in our military. The danger comes from right-wing media that peddles lies and invite violence against our elected officials while defending domestic terrorist and traitors an exalting them as patriots. The danger comes from a corrupted and spineless GOP that allows all of this to happen to remain in power. It is now obvious that for the GOP, the means have become the end. It has transformed from conservative party into a White Christian Nationalist cult that completely disregards our democracy and finds it inconvenient to their agenda. That is the danger, the traitors already control much of our government and are posed to control even more.
As I have argued elsewhere, there were divisions between North and South back in 1860, but the only irreconcilable matter was that of the future of slavery. It was not an issue of state rights. We have heard that line often enough with regard to the teaching of creationism, abortion, gay and trans rights, gender equality and the right to unionize, to name a few. But it always boils down to this: conservatives invoke “state rights” as a last-ditch effort to stop change and progress, and to oppose equality. That is the same political and moral fight we face today. And we have to win.
Reflecting on why the cause of the Union was JUST, Private Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont Infantry wrote: “The people have not Rebelled against the few, but the few have Rebelled against the people“. On January 6, 2020, the few attempted once more to crush the will of the people. The neoconfederates, just like their treasonous ancestors, were (and are) willing to destroy this country and our democracy to preserve white supremacy and roll back progress.
To quote President Biden, this is why the insurrection of January 6, is the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”