For four years, Donald Trump downplayed the risk of white-supremacist violence and denied that racial bias is pervasive in law enforcement. In a single, searing day, the assault on the U.S. Capitol exposed the price of both of those choices—and may have provided Joe Biden new political momentum for reversing direction on each front.
At once, the rioters demonstrated how much the threat of white extremism has metastasized under Trump, while the restrained police response vivified a racial double standard in policing. The attack could strengthen the case for systemic police reform, both through congressional action and a revival of Justice Department oversight of local police practices that the Trump administration essentially shelved. Representative Karen Bass of California, the lead sponsor of a police-reform bill that passed the House last summer, told me she believes that the lower chamber will approve a new version “within the first quarter” of 2021. “This was yet another example in the disparity of treatment between African Americans and others,” Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, told me. “This is yet another example of how police agencies viewed citizens differently.”
The attack could also make it tougher for congressional Republicans to resist the Biden administration’s expected efforts to dramatically increase enforcement against white supremacists through the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security. “This isn’t just a Trump thing that goes away when Trump goes away,” Elizabeth Neumann, the former DHS assistant secretary for threat prevention under Trump, told me. “And this isn’t just a bunch of really crazy Trump people. This is something darker and deeper that has been around a very long time. We have aroused the sleeping giant … and we’re now going to be dealing both with [Trump’s] radicalized supporters and this white-power movement on steroids for the foreseeable future.”
Biden signaled his intent to invert Trump’s law-enforcement priorities when he unveiled his top Justice Department nominees at a press conference the day after the Capitol assault. When Biden introduced Merrick Garland, his attorney-general nominee, the president-elect pointedly noted that the Justice Department was formed to enforce the post–Civil War constitutional amendments ending slavery and promising equal rights under the law. The department’s founding mission, Biden said, was “to stand up to the Klan, to stand up to racism, to take on domestic terrorism. This original spirit must again guide and animate its work.” When identifying their priorities, Garland and Biden’s other top DOJ nominees pointed to the same two issues: tackling the threat of violent domestic extremism and confronting systemic racial bias in law enforcement. [Continue reading…]