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Nicolais: What if the January 6 Capitol riot was just a practice run?

If Congress does not enact a commission to review the insurrection that took place in January, it will court more violence in the future

Here is a terrifying thought: January 6th was not an insurrection; it was a practice run.

At least that is what it will become if Congress does not engage in a full review of the events that took place and the circumstances that led up to them. Any failure to engage in a bipartisan commission will court increased violence to our democracy.

That is the consequence of GOP leaders threatening to submarine the the commission.

Mario Nicolais

Ironically, the Republican efforts come at the expense of a bill negotiated by Rep. John Katko, a former federal prosecutor and the leading Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. This is a serious man with serious experience fighting against those who would do our country harm.

At a time when Republicans desperately need leaders who combine ideas and principle, Katko, R-N.Y., fits the bill. Modeling this commission after the 9/11 Commission, Katko made it clear that its sole goal would be to ensure, “nothing like this ever happens again.” 

So it is disappointing, if not surprising, that so many Republicans lined up against it, including all three from Colorado. The bill passed the House with only 35 Republican votes and heads to the Senate where an uncertain future awaits. Several members of the GOP have threatened to filibuster, setting up a showdown with Democrats who have spent months threatening to do away with the procedural process.

Regardless of the political posturing, absent congressional review the potential future violence will persist. Without the national attention and transparency a commission review would provide, there is an excellent chance it could be even worse. 

The next time we will not see rioters storming the U.S. Capitol but laying siege to the pillars of our country’s democracy. For example, think of armed insurrectionists showing up at polling places during the next election.

That is not a far-fetched theory. Last year working with The Lincoln Project, we regularly discussed the possibility of voter intimidation and violence as people tried to cast their vote. It was a topic of many conversations, and teams were created to develop potential responses. 

We partnered with SeeSay2020 to allow anyone to report problems. There were 194 incidences of voter intimidation reported. Descriptions included groups of supporters blaring music and screaming at voters in line in Texas and armed activists patrolling precincts in Georgia.

Given the recent history of vigilante activists taking up arms at our border, rabbles “guarding” businesses with long-guns during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, and armed protesters taking over the Michigan Capitol, it does not take much imagination to foresee the same groups showing up at polling places across the country. 

The potential problem will be exacerbated by the wave of states with Republican legislatures moving away from mail ballots and requiring in-person voting. They are effectively laying out dry tinder waiting for a spark.

Add to that the number of elected officials who have recently begun making excuses for the insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol — Rep. Paul Gosar referred to them as “peaceful patriots” — and you have all the elements to create widespread disregard for the law. More frightening, it is the groundwork for taking up arms against anyone who holds a different political perspective.

The country will hold another round of elections again in just under 18 months. And then another presidential cycle will begin, potentially including another run by former President Donald Trump, the instigator for many attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6. The odds of increased violence seem almost a foregone conclusion.

Our country is at a crossroads. We can either take a self-reflective position and strive to make sure that violence does not become the dominant expression of political opposition or we can let our democracy devolve into violent factionalism. That is the choice that is before our elected leaders.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq



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