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Leader comment: Impunity

15 January 2021

LECTERN GUY, Desk Guy, Horns Guy, Fur-pelt Guy, Zip-tie Guy — all can now be known by their real names: Adam Johnson, Richard Barnett, Jacob Anthony Chansley, Aaron Mostofsky, Eric Gavelek Munchel. These identifications are both encouraging, and worrying. Encouraging, because the law-enforcement agencies have actively sought the key figures in the storming of the Capitol building in Washington on Wednesday of last week. There were fears that the lax policing of the Save America March which meant that the rioters could enter the building with relative ease would persist after the event, with few convictions for what was described as a “coup attempt” by the Episcopalian Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, and others. Augustine Tanner-Ihm (CT online) is among many commentators who have compared the white rioters’ gentler treatment with the violent response to the Black Lives Matter protesters last year.

What is worrying is the ease with which the perpetrators were identified. A media lawyer would advise the insertion of the word “alleged” in that last sentence, but the remarkable thing about the Capitol incursion was the willingness of the rioters to be identified. Few masks were warn — many Trump supporters are pandemic-deniers — and the rioters stopped to pose for photos, even spelling their names out to reporters on the scene. It is an important item on the charge sheet against Donald Trump: the rioters felt that they had the President’s permission to be there. Such a sense of impunity has many roots. Among the shallow ones are the pardons that President Trump has been extending to officials who committed crimes on his behalf. A deeper one, though, is the conception that the democratic system and all its instruments exist for the people’s sake and flourish only with their permission. This would be noble were it not for the fact that other people, the majority, clearly chose another man to be President.

The rioters’ willingness to believe that the election was fixed, in the face of overwhelming and irrefutable evidence to the contrary, is troubling enough. The fact that they can look to at least 147 politicians — the number of Republican members of Congress and Senators who supported a groundless challenge to the election result — is a sign that commitment to a fake narrative about political life in the US is not limited to a few uninformed backwoodsmen and -women. While President-elect Biden is attempting to repair the country, moderate Republicans must move fast to repair their party.

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