Below is my column on the hill on the uprising in Congress and its impact on our country. As the unfounded onslaught of “impeachment” shows, we are experiencing a crisis of faith in this country – not just in our constitution, but also in ourselves. The urge for a quick vote (and judgment) on these issues will only add to our divisions tighten. This is a time for considered, not impulsive, action in Congress.
Here is the column:
All images of protesters scaling the walls of the Capitol and briefly occupying Congress will remain in our memory for decades. Some called it a riot. Others called it a riot. Whatever you call it, it was profanation. The rioters desecrated the most sacred moment of our constitutional system when the nation came together to certify our next president. So it is too easy to treat this like a riot crisis. It’s far more dangerous. It’s a crisis of faith.
There were some really dangerous people in this mix, like the agitators who had pipe bombs and ropes. Groups like the Proud Boys and Antifa have been playing this role for years in violent unrest on the left and right. However, the vast majority of demonstrators on Wednesday were non-violent. Indeed, if this has been a real effort of insurrection, we can take great comfort that many of our native revolutionaries are more Groucho Marx than Karl Marx. Those in the Capitol were spread across the spectrum, from mocking to threatening. There were the various costumed characters, but also men in camouflage with suspicious backpacks. But the guy who took a selfie with his feet on the desk of House Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi seemed more interested in Instagram than rioting.
The ease with which protesters entered the Capitol was shocking. Despite reports in advance of their plans to march there, the Capitol Police appeared understaffed and unprepared. Once inside, the protesters appeared to have the run of the building. Many of them appeared as shocked as the members of Congress who fled the chambers of the House and Senate. This has happened before, if not to this extent. When I was a young side in Congress, a trucker protest led to an ornate door of the Capitol building being broken, followed by a rampage through the convention halls.
The media portrayed the vicious rioters as unimaginable. Still, it was all too imaginable. We had violent protests for four years, including attacks on federal buildings, members of Congress and symbols of our democracy. Former Attorney General William Barr was heavily criticized last year for clearing Lafayette Square after demonstrators injured numerous police officers, injured themselves, burned down a historic building, caused property damage and threatened to break through the White House grounds. During Donald Trump’s inauguration, there was violent riot and a deadly attack on some Republican lawmakers who played softball. Indeed, this year began with attacks on federal buildings in Portland and other cities at the end of last year.
Several people, including Barr, viewed these violent protests against the police and the White House as a riot. I criticized such labeling of Black Lives Matter or anti-fascist riots as riot or terrorism. I see these labels as undermining free speech. As with the Black Lives Matter movement, I don’t think most of the protesters were rioters, let alone part of a riot, this week. As with last year’s protests, some instigators pushed for confrontation. But most were at the Capitol to speak out against voting in an election they believe was stolen. I don’t share that view, but it is held by around 40 percent of Americans.
What are these people if they are not insurgents or terrorists? The answer is that they are loyal. We are facing a crisis of faith rather than a revolution. Our constitution is an article of faith. This republic was founded through a leap of faith brought together by people of different backgrounds and beliefs. However, the constitution, no matter how well drafted, is ineffective if people lose confidence in its system or, equally important, in one another.
Our system is designed so that everyone in the game gets skin. It is supposed to bring factional interests to the surface. Unlike those who ignore them, our constitution forces those in Congress to go out into the open where they can be spoken and addressed. Systems that ignore all these divisions explode from within, as in the history of France. Our system is based on a kind of implosion in which this pressure is directed at Congress, where factional interests are converted into majority compromises.
The violence this week is not what James Madison hoped for when he took note of factional interests in Congress. For a system based on representative democracy it was a little too straightforward. However, that is exactly the point. These actions taken reflect the same crisis of faith seen in Lafayette Park and on the streets of Portland. This is far more dangerous than a few agitators protesting against chaos. It is not anarchy but alienation that we should fear most in our nation.
For years the public has shown a lack of trust and confidence in our political system. There is also widespread opposition from the media, which was once a common source of information. The media has ruined its credibility through years of bias, including power outages on stories viewed as detrimental to Democrats. Without trust in our leaders or the media, more than half of this nation does not seem tied to the political system. This replacement is dangerous for a representative government.
We must hold everyone accountable who committed violence in the Capitol. However, after we find out who stormed Congress and how they did it, we have a far more difficult task to perform. An insurrection can easily be put down, but desecration is far more insidious and dangerous for our democracy.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Law of Public Interest at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.