Commentary

Susan J. Demas: Fascists planted their flag in the U.S. Capitol this week. Let’s stop denying it.

January 10, 2021 11:35 am

The pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 | Alex Kent

We need to be very clear about the thousands of Trump loyalists who swarmed the U.S. Capitol last week, many decked in pro-Nazi attire, screaming the n-word at Black police officers and waving Trump, Confederate and Gadsden flags, with many looking to murder members of Congress and the vice president in a plot keep Trump in power.

They were, after all, following his orders to march there on Wednesday, after he recited election conspiracy theories to a D.C. crowd and lied that he won, promising to join them — which he lied about, too.

“You’re strong, you’re smarter … you’re the real people,” Trump said. “You’re the people that built this nation. You’re not the people that tore down this nation.”

But that is, in fact, what they set out to do.

This was not a minor riot. This was not Republicans blowing off steam after a tough loss. This was an armed, bloody insurrection. And their goal was fascism.

Let’s also be clear. After this violent coup attempt — which had a bigger body count than Benghazi and included a Capitol police officer — almost 150 GOP members of Congress tried a more genteel version by voting to overturn fair and free election results in two states that voted for Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. That included three from Michigan: U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet), Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.) and Tim Walberg (R-Tipton).

There are open questions about why the National Guard wasn’t called in until the mob invaded the Capitol and attacked police, with some who were heavily armed, wearing bulletproof vests and carrying zip ties on the hunt for lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence. There are frightening questions about the actions of Trump’s appointees recently installed at the Department of Defense.

Bloodied insurrectionists in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6, 2020 | Alex Kent

It may sound like a spy novel, but in reality, we don’t know how much of this was aided and abetted by Trump officials.

And so what happened Wednesday is shocking and sickening and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Even during the Civil War, the Confederates never took the U.S. Capitol. Yet neo-Confederates last week overwhelmed police and waltzed right in, tore the place up and hunted down duly elected officials as part of a planned effort to overthrow the government. It should not be lost on us that several highly trained police officers and military veterans — institutions that have long been infiltrated by white supremacists — were part of the throngs.

The endgame of this violent sedition, just to put a fine point on it, wasn’t to give Trump four more years in office. It was to establish a far-right dictatorship, which is why calling this fascism is not only appropriate, but necessary. (If you would like a completely on-the-nose-comparison, U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) quoted Adolf Hitler at the Wednesday rally beforehand and said he “was right on one thing.”)

The violent threats against journalists and elected officials, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Georgia Secretary of State Brett Raffensperger and state Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit), should be understood to be part of this insurrection. The fascist impulse is to remove those standing in the way of the white ethnostate they seek — whether by forcing good people to quit or holding televised show trials and executions.

It’s also not clear that any of this is over. On right-wing social media — where far-right extremism has been nurtured and flourished for more than a decade while tech companies raked in billions — activists are openly plotting more violence before Biden’s inauguration.

As several historians have pointed out, failed coups usually followed by successful ones. Our democracy is still in grave danger, which is why there must be swift and certain accountability — and not just for those who desecrated our Capitol and left Officer Brian Sicknick dead.

Conservative protest at Michigan’s Capitol against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, April 15, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Trump must be impeached and removed, so he can never run again — something that is possible if enough Republican senators do the right thing. The U.S. senators and majority of U.S. House members who tried to overthrow the government should also be bounced out on their ears because endangering your colleagues’ lives is crossing a bright red line.

At the very least, we cannot acquiesce to GOP lawmakers’ darkly farcical demands that we just turn the page from sedition and call out their claims that Democrats are being petty and partisan as the fascist-sympathizing claptrap that it is.

We, of course, got a preview of all this when GOP officials attacked Whitmer this fall for being too partisan in her criticism of Trump for encouraging extremists who allegedly plotted assassinate her, blow up the Capitol and spark a civil war.

A lot of people seem determined to take a distant view of last week’s coup, like the threat has long passed and we’re all reading about it decades later in a history book. Nothing could be more dangerous at this moment. There are already millions on the right who hold up far-right extremist Kyle Rittenhouse as a hero for allegedly murdering Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer and getting freed on bond. They think they’re going to get away with insurrection, as well.

And indeed, the president is laughing his last-minute stunt conceding the election to hold off removal under the 25th Amendment worked and is embarking on a victory tour this week.

It’s tempting to believe that Republicans who encouraged election conspiracies and backed overturning the election like the 18 members of the Michigan Legislature — including Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) who came to D.C. for pro-Trump efforts — didn’t expect violence. Denial is one of the most powerful forces in America, as evidenced by those screaming about masks while almost 400,000 people have died in a pandemic.

But of course, weeks before the insurrection, Rep. Gary Eisen (R-Port Huron) said he couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be blood at a GOP protest of the Dec. 14 Electoral College vote in Lansing for Biden (something Attorney General Dana Nessel rightly termed “sedition.”)

We’ve had no shortage of warnings. So we should be clear that some Trump supporters were just fine with violence as long as the right people got hurt. That’s been the guiding principle of the Trump era. And it cannot stand.

Our Capitol, our government, our freedom is under assault from those who hyperbolically use this language to justify their own sedition. Now is not the time for timidity or to turn the page. There must be no quarter given to fascist traitors if we want the republic to survive.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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