Anyone who respects the U.S. Constitution will acknowledge and defend the right for people to assemble to protest that which they believe is wrong. It is enshrined in the First Amendment and something Americans hold inviolate. It’s part of our nation’s fabric.
Americans have fought and died for more than 200 years to defend this right and the other constitutional freedoms we enjoy in this republic. However, evil can infiltrate freedoms as we witnessed last week on one of this country’s darkest days when protesters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Many of the protesters, their emotions stirred by President Trump and his supporters, turned violent in storming the Capitol. Six people are dead as a result of that violence, chambers we hold sacred were damaged, and the offices of lawmakers were ransacked. The certification of the presidential election results were shockingly disrupted.
All of this mayhem was documented by live television and social media. It will live on in infamy as a painful reminder of the fragility of our democracy.
We don’t doubt for a second that many of the protesters, who traveled from across the country and from Franklin County, Mo., didn’t come to Washington, D.C., with the intent of violent insurrection. Rather, they came to exercise their constitutionally protected right to protest. They refrained from entering the Capitol. They didn’t loot, pillage and battle with Capitol Police.
But others did, spurred on by weeks of online calls for violence, and an invitation by the president and his loyalists to come to Washington to “stop the steal.”
There were two problems with this: One, there was no “steal,” and two, they couldn’t “stop” anything relative to the Electoral College certification vote. At least not legally under the Constitution.
There was an absence of evidence showing any election fraud as demonstrated over and over again in some 60 court cases. As they say in law, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Nothing was stolen. Joe Biden legitimately received more votes that Donald Trump. Just because someone says that’s not so, doesn’t make it true. Likewise, just because people believe it, doesn’t make it true.
While it’s also true a congressman can lodge an objection to the certification of electors, Congress has no authority to overturn an election by objecting to electors under the Constitution. Many believed otherwise, and came to Washington to make sure their “voices were heard” on these points.
Whipped to a frenzy in a rally before the riots by the president’s exhortations, “You’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength, you have to be strong,” and “We will never give up, we will never concede, you don’t concede when there’s theft involved,” hundreds stormed and ransacked the Capitol.
We are sure many Trump supporters are embarrassed and dismayed by the mayhem of last week, the Confederate flags, nooses, body armor pipe bombs and zip ties for handcuffs. Many have been resolute in their condemnations of violence and have called for the perpetrators to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
But the sad truth is many Trump defenders cheered last week’s disgraceful violence rather than condemned it. That should concern every American who believes in the rule of law and our constitutional democracy. It’s not who we are as a country.
Yet the threat of even more violence is real. On Monday, the FBI warned of armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Courts and legislatures also are said to be targets of potential protests.
This isn’t over. The president suggested as much when he seemingly accepted he lost the election, but still insisted the “war” is far from over.
“To all of my wonderful supporters, I know you are disappointed, but I also want you to know, that our incredible journey is only just beginning.”