Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Jan6

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

The Insurrection Isn't Over: January 6 Hearings Reveal Threat of Future Election Violence

The House Committee hearings provide a unique opportunity for the public to see how the failed insurrection on January 6th set in motion a series of events that is likely to result in coordinated violence and disruption in upcoming elections.

As the hearings of the special House Committee investigating the insurrection on Jan 6, 2021 get under way this week, a wide array of organizations and experts are weighing in on the importance of these hearings, and their potential impact on the public's understanding of the events surrounding the insurrection. These are important points because too many of us have a warped view of what actually happened that day. But opinion about the past is going to be hard to change.

Our democracy is under far graver threat than most people realize, the hearings must show it, allowing voters to see how they can prepare themselves and protect our democracy.

The hearings need to look ahead and lay out, in clear terms, what we have learned about the threat of future election violence—and exactly how the same groups involved in the insurrection are now poised to instigate violence in future elections. Because our democracy is under far graver threat than most people realize, the hearings must show it, allowing voters to see how they can prepare themselves and protect our democracy.

My hope for the hearings

I am fairly confident that the hearings will provide a comprehensive account of what Protect Democracy's Grant Tudor has aptly described as the "bracing" scope of the attempt to subvert the 2020 presidential election, including:

"using government resources to promote the president's reelection; soliciting state and local officials to commit election fraud; pressuring the vice president to delay or block the counting of electoral votes; enlisting the Justice Department to sanction the overturning of election results; refusing to officially green-light the operational transition of administrations; devising plans to employ the military to seize ballots and voting machines; strategizing with members of Congress to assemble fake slates of electors; and then inciting a lethal riot at the eleventh hour."

I am less confident, but hopeful, that the hearings will clearly articulate, and produce some consensus about, what Congress must do over the next several months to keep the law itself from being used as a weapon to bludgeon our democracy, especially in 2024.

For example, UCLA's Rick Hasen recently articulated how revising the Electoral Count Act could go a long way toward resolving the legal ambiguities that anti-democratic politicians may use as justification for choosing which votes get certified. Hasen and others have repeatedly pointed out that federal requirements regarding paper ballots and other procedural safeguards could greatly strengthen the integrity of our elections.

The need for federal election protections are a necessary, but insufficient, focus of the hearings. Professor Hasen is not overstating the matter when he concludes, "If these hearings don't spur action by this summer or fall, expect Congress to do nothing before the 2024 elections, at which point American democracy will be in great danger."

But, whether Congress takes action or not—and they may not—the public needs to understand the nature of the threat we face in the coming elections.

Congressional action is needed

The evidence is increasingly clear that we are likely to face attempts to subvert the next election through voter intimidation, violence, and the induced chaos that ensues. As POLITICO recently reported, Trump loyalists and partisan operatives are amassing an "army" of "volunteers prepared to challenge voters at Democratic-majority polling places, developing a website to connect those workers to local lawyers and establishing a network of party-friendly district attorneys who could intervene to block vote counts at certain precincts." Targeting large cities in battleground states such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Atlanta (cities with a high concentration of voters of color), people are reportedly now being trained to initiate legal conflicts at the polling place that can disrupt voting and then use those actions "as a vehicle for rejecting vote counts from that precinct."

What are the odds that "legal conflict" initiated by trained subversives, hopped up on "stop the steal" conspiracy theories, might result in physical conflict? The US has a long history of partisan "observers" intimidating marginalized groups to weaken their political power, but we have not seen anything on this scale in recent memory.

The Department of Homeland Security has already warned that "those harboring grievances over the 2020 election and fueled by misinformation may feel compelled to respond to the election season using violence." There is a heightened threat that voters will be terrorized in 2022 and 2024, and the Congressional hearings need to be clear on this point.

In this regard, even a revision of Electoral Count Act would come too late to protect against violence because it would be primarily focused instead on shutting down the legal strategy to subvert elections. Violence and intimidation are likely to come before the lawsuits, brought to us by the foot soldiers of the election subversion army.

Additional federal legislation could help prevent outbreaks of election-related violence. The US House of Representatives passed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022 on May 18th with a vote of 222 to 203, largely along party lines. The Act requires federal law enforcement agencies (Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the FBI) to set up the infrastructure to combat domestic terrorism and, in particular, white supremacy-based hate crimes and acts of terror.

The Union of Concerned Scientists supports the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, as do many of the nation's leading voting rights organizations, such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Congress should also provide greater resources for the groundwork efforts of these groups to prevent voter intimidation, coercion, and violence. For example, the Election Protection coalition is among the largest organizations nationwide working to ensure that every voter can cast a vote and have it counted. Americans need to learn more about election protection from the hearings.

Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and other relevant federal agencies also need to provide greater resources for emergency preparations, including violence and attacks on election administration. Local election agencies should be incorporating best practices and lessons learned from international experiences with election-related violence.

Finally, the hearings need to inform the public about how to enforce their rights as voters. We need public deliberation about what limits should be placed on the actions of military officers, law enforcement, militia members, and armed vigilantes around polling places. Most battleground states do not explicitly ban firearms at polling places, but existing federal protections against intimidation can be enforced by a vigilant public.

The evidence strongly suggests that voters and communities are being targeted for political violence and it is imperative that they understand what is coming and how to prepare for it. The House Committee hearings provide a unique opportunity for the public to see how the failed insurrection on January 6th set in motion a series of events that is likely to result in coordinated violence and disruption in upcoming elections.

The insurrection isn't over. Being better informed about future threats can help protect voters from intimidation and violence.


© 2021 Union of Concerned Scientists

Michael Latner

Michael Latner is a Kendall Science Fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy. He researches redistricting and gerrymandering in the United States, and the impact of electoral administrative law on political participation.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo