Mankato Free Press, Mankato, Jan. 12

Capitol riot shows need to evaluate law enforcement

The violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol left many lessons for public officials and the public to wrestle with.

One issue that should get intense scrutiny is the actions and makeup of the Capitol Police and in a larger sense, the radical, often white supremacist-centered views of some in law enforcement.

Politico reports that there is strong support in Congress to remove the senior leadership of Capitol Police. That is a starting point, but Congress needs to appoint a bipartisan commission to dig deeply into the operations of the Capitol Police and develop strategies to improved the force that is charged with protecting the nation’s Capitol and lawmakers.

An in-depth report by the Associated Press also showed the sergeants at arms in both the House and the Senate who make calls on reinforcements were slow to act at the urging of the Capitol Police.

It is clear the Capitol force, while well staffed with 2,000 officers and well funded, was woefully unprepared for the large and violent crowd. There were plenty of warnings about the potential for trouble. President Donald Trump had long called for a “wild” protest as lawmakers met to certify the election results. And extremist groups had posted online threats and called for armed and violent protests.

Beyond being ill prepared, the actions of some of the Capitol Police seemed to be aimed at appeasing the rioters, with some officers stepping aside and even posing for selfies with rioters. And there were too few arrests made.

Indeed, many officers were valiantly combatting the thugs and one officer lost his life. But the general approach of Capitol Police is disturbing. The police reaction is especially stark when compared to law enforcement’s often aggressive response at some recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Media outlets have identified several current or former law enforcement officers who took part in the Jan. 6 protest. Some in law enforcement have even posted online defending the violence at the Capitol.

And media investigations have found that many online forums used by some in law enforcement are filled with white supremacist and racial rants.

Elected officials and law enforcement leaders across the country need to re-evaluate their vetting process when hiring and their systems of holding officers accountable for extremist views.

Trump and his ardent backers in Congress and elsewhere have emboldened white supremacists, neo-Nazis and racists. The country and the world saw on Jan. 6 the horrible result of that enabling. Now it’s time for officials and the public to demand that racist officers who stain the reputation of all the decent and dedicated officers in the country be rooted out.


St. Cloud Times, St. Cloud, Jan. 9

Facts matter: It wasn't antifa


After a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing our elected leaders to abandon their task of certifying electoral college votes to take cover instead, it doesn’t look like we’re going to shake off that word in 2021, at least not yet.

Of all the incredibly shocking things about it — seeing a protester hanging by one hand from the Senate gallery, images of rioters lounging in the Speaker of the House’s office and standing at the president of the Senate’s desk, the gallows facing the Capitol and so on — perhaps the most surprising was the slow roll of public reaction.

It took a minute for the nation to digest what was happening, in the context that this was not just another disturbance after a year of riots, protests, unrest and demonstrations. Initial reactions came in the form of laugh emojis, typical but-what-abouts on social media, talking points regurgitated ad nauseam.

A rioter is seen hanging from the balcony in the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. Pro-Trump protesters have entered the U.S. Capitol building after mass demonstrations in the nation’s capital.

It took us a beat, it seems, before the attack on our civic home registered fully as “abnormal.”

Think about that for a moment. Think about what we’ve come to.

And then think about what came next: A concerted campaign to gaslight the nation, twisting reality into something less-damaging for one side: It wasn’t the far right desecrating the seat of our government. It was antifa. So said the talking heads invited to speak on right-wing news channels, so said the aficionados of far-right websites.

And so the game was afoot. The next battle in the war on facts was on.

But was antifa really part of the crowd at the Capitol? It’s a great question with no definitive answer — yet. But there are stacks of verifiable facts that paint a picture: It wasn’t antifa.

We have Washington, D.C., police records showing about 60 “unrest” related arrests from Tuesday through Thursday morning (most for curfew violations). But those records don’t address motive or affiliation. Until investigations are completed, that’s a dead end.

Her are some facts are clearly known:

For weeks, the president and his supporters were planning a Jan. 6 rally in Washington. The promised “wild time” was promoted on the president’s Twitter account, reported in the mainstream and fringe media, and profited from on shopping sites where supporters could purchase event merch including the “MAGA Civil War - Jan. 6, 2021″ shirts seen at the riot.

Leaders of far-right factions including the Proud Boys publicly RSVP’d on social media for the protest. Mainstream MAGA supporters nationwide made their way to D.C., many documenting the trip on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

On the day of the rally, the president spoke to those supporters as expected from the Ellipse, near the White House. He urged the crowd to “walk down to the Capitol… We are going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them — because you will never take back our country with weakness.”

By all accounts (police, bystanders, rally-goers, etc.) many of the president’s supporters did go to the Capitol immediately after the rally.

Several of the people shown in the most-circulated photos – the Arkansas man who sat in Nancy Pelosi’s chair and took an envelope from her office, the man shown carrying out a podium, and others – gave media interviews or posted on social media about their time inside the capitol and their motivations. Reporters then backtracked their names and faces and were able to confirm long-standing Trump support through various social media channels.

The woman who was shot and killed has also been confirmed as having a long history of public support for the president.

The president thanked the protesters in his video Wednesday when he asked them to disperse, indicating he believes they were supporters, not posers.

The right-leaning Washington Times took the highly unusual step of retracting a report that said facial recognition software proved the mob was full of known antifa members. It did so at the demand of the facial-recognition software company the article cited.

It has also been confirmed that many of the people in photos that are being touted as antifa are, in fact, not. For example, the man who wears fur and horns has been called antifa, but he is actually an Arizonan who calls himself the QAnon Shaman. He is well-known and does not hide his identity or far-right affiliation.

So while it’s possible some members of mob might have been antifa infiltrators, many of the protesters that have been definitively identified are proudly MAGA-affiliated.

When trying to sincerely assess who was behind the first violent attempt to overturn a U.S. election within the walls of the nation’s Capitol, we prefer to handle conspiracy theories by consulting Occam’s razor: The correct answer is usually the simplest one.

Ask yourself what’s most likely: A radicalized political faction took matters into their own hands, as publicly planned and promoted, after being primed by years of increasingly violent and divisive rhetoric, not to mention clear ramp-up actions including the attempted abduction of a sitting governor?

Or thousands of people traveled from around the country to make them look bad, complete with extensive, years-long documentation of personal MAGA ruses on the social media accounts they show to friends, family, employers and old high school classmates?

Put another way: If it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, says it’s a duck …

Thursday evening, nearly 30 hours after a mob of his supporters breached the Capitol, Trump finally acknowledged the Electoral College certification. Had he said that the day before — or acknowledged the election results weeks ago — instead of telling rally goers he’d be right there with them, marching to the Capitol, we likely could have avoided this disgrace upon our nation.

Facts matter. Logic can be applied. Let’s try that in our public life for a while and see if we can’t do better.


Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Jan. 9

U.S. upheaval has worldwide consequences

News of Trump-inspired mobs ransacking the U.S. Capitol reverberated worldwide, alarming allies and delighting adversaries as it inverted the concept of American exceptionalism.

“We currently witness an attack on the very fundaments of democratic structures and institutions,” Peter Boyer, Germany’s coordinator for transatlantic affairs, told the New York Times. “This is not merely a U.S. national issue, but it shakes the world, at least all democracies.”

The U.S. typically works to project, and even protect, free and fair elections across the world. Traditionally, a U.S. president would unequivocally condemn a defeated leader inciting insurrection.

But for too long, President Donald Trump had done the work of dictators by denigrating our democracy. “We run all over the world telling people how to run their elections, and we don’t even know how to run ours,” Trump lied at a recent rally. Days later, while grousing about Georgia’s U.S. Senate elections, Trump tweeted that, “They just happened to find 50,000 ballots late last night. The USA is embarrassed by fools. Our Election Process is worse than that of third world countries!”

Trump was right about being embarrassed by fools, but not in the way he intended. In Georgia, local election officials — including Republicans — quickly and completely rebuked the president’s lies. And the Nov. 3 national election, thanks to the heroism of volunteer poll workers and elected officials, was exemplary, even amid a pandemic. In fact, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency declared it “the most secure election ever,” which resulted in Trump firing the agency’s leader, Christopher Krebs.

The nation enters this week on edge, with an outgoing administration in turmoil, Congress considering how best to restrain an unhinged president, and a new administration facing a pandemic and other daunting challenges.

But the international damage already is done, and repair will be difficult. “The United States has been a global leader in supporting rights activists around the world in their efforts to expand freedom in their countries,” Sarah Repucci, vice president for research and analysis at Freedom House, told an editorial writer in an e-mail exchange.

“The violent disruption of the congressional session as well as President Trump’s unfounded allegations of electoral fraud have a massive impact on the struggle of these brave individuals, in addition to damaging global perceptions of the United States itself.”

The Biden administration, Repucci added, “will have to work resolutely to overcome these painful events and re-establish U.S. credibility as a beacon of democracy.”

The International Crisis Group, which took the then-unprecedented (and ultimately prescient) step of warning of possible election-related violence in the U.S., wrote in its analysis of events that, “having spent decades telling other countries that they need to face up to their problems, it is past time for the U.S. to turn its gaze inward. The stakes could hardly be higher.”

Indeed, leaders on a bipartisan basis must repair the remarkable damage that Trump and congressional enablers such as Minnesota Republican Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Michelle Fischbach have done to America’s ability to encourage other nations to embrace its democratic idea and ideals.

“Democracy,” Repucci concluded, “is not an endpoint. It needs to be supported and fostered constantly by its citizens in order to stay strong and not regress.”