They could be realtors or police officers, bakers or firefighters, veterans of American wars or CEOs of American companies. They might live in Boise or Dallas, College Park or College Station, Sacramento or Delray Beach. Some are wealthy. Some are not. Relatively few of them were at the United States Capitol on January 6, determined to stop Congress from certifying a legitimate election. Millions more cheered the rioters on—and still do.
As a group, it’s hard to know what to call them. They are too many to merit the term extremists. There are not enough of them to be secessionists. Some prominent historians and philosophers have been arguing for a revival of the word fascist; others think white supremacist is more appropriate, though there could also be a case for rebel. For want of a better term, I’m calling all of them seditionists—not just the people who took part in the riot, but the far larger number of Americans who are united by their belief that Donald Trump won the election, that Joe Biden lost, and that a long list of people and institutions are lying about it: Congress, the media, the vice president, the election officials in all 50 states, and the judges in dozens of courts.
Not all Republicans are seditionists, nor is everyone who voted for Trump, nor is every conservative: Nothing about rejecting your country’s political system is conservative. Still, those who do hold these views are quite numerous. In December, 34 percent of Americans said they did not trust the outcome of the 2020 election. More recently, 21 percent said that they either strongly or somewhat support the storming of the Capitol building. As of this week, 32 percent were still telling pollsters that Biden was not the legitimate winner.
Even if we assume that only half of those polled are impassioned by politics, and even if we put the number of truly seditious Americans at 10 or 15 percent, that’s a very large number of people. For although Trump will eventually exit political life, the seditionists will not. They will remain, nursing their grievances, feverishly posting on social media, angrily listening to Tucker Carlson—the Fox News host has just told them that the federal troops in Washington, D.C., are “not there for your safety” but because Democrats want to send a “message about power”—and energetically running for office. A member of the West Virginia state legislature filmed himself in the mob breaking into the Capitol on January 6: “We’re taking this country back whether you like it or not,” he told his Facebook followers. A New Mexico county commissioner came home from the riots; bragged about his participation; and, according to authorities, told a public meeting that he planned to go back to D.C., but this time carrying firearms.
Perhaps in 2022, more seditionists will enter Congress, joining Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, the QAnon-aligned conspiracist who has already said she will launch impeachment proceedings against Biden. Perhaps in 2024, seditionists, rather than reality-based Republicans, will be running the elections in Georgia and Arizona. Americans could see worse postelection scenarios than the one we’ve just lived through.
We could also see more violence. Since the election, the Bridging Divides Initiative, a group that tracks and counters political violence in the U.S., has observed a singularly ominous metric: a sharp uptick in the number of protests outside the homes of politicians and public figures, including city- and county-level officials, many featuring “armed and unlawful paramilitary actors.” In Idaho, aggressive protesters shut down a public-health meeting; in Northern California, numerous public-health officials have resigned in the face of threats from anti-maskers. Death threats are already shaping U.S. politics at a higher level too. We may never know how many more Republicans in Congress might have voted for Trump’s impeachment last week had it not been for the ominous messages they were receiving online. [Continue reading…]