Congressman Thompson, January 6th Committee finish their work; What happens now? 

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Congressman Bennie Thompson

Because the January 6th Committee was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will be out of that position along with the majority status of the Democrats come January 3, 2023, it was literally compelled to complete its report on the Donald Trump-inspired insurrection on the U.S. Capitol that occurred on January 6, 2021. The committee, quite ably led by Congressman Bennie Thompson of Bolton, Mississippi, produced an 845-page report, which it released to the public three days before Christmas.

The report was very comprehensive, covering the period and events from weeks prior to the November 2020 presidential election through the immediate aftermath of the January 6th insurrection. It included the development of “the big lie” that the election was stolen and the strategies that followed: attempts to get several states to change the voting outcome by having officials change votes and/or certify Trump electors instead of those won by Joe Biden; sending “fake” electors to Congress and the federal archives; pressuring Mike Pence to refuse to count Biden electors from several states or to throw the election onto the House of Representatives; and finally, storming the Capitol to stop the counting of the electoral votes, enabling Trump to remain in office by declaring a national emergency.

Thompson and the committee were most meticulous and detailed in the investigation and reporting, using Trump’s own words and the testimony of numerous officials and staff members from the Trump administration. (Thompson had been selected to lead the committee because of his demonstrated skill and dedication over the years heading the Homeland Security Committee as well as the courage he had shown, being one of the first and only officials to sue Trump over the insurrection.)

 As a result of the investigation, the committee concluded that the insurrection was organized and led by Trump and his close allies, including Attorney John Eastman. Along with Trump, the committee recommended Eastman to the Department of Justice for prosecution. They were alleged to have obstructed an official proceeding, engaged in fraud, falsified information, and engaged in insurrection. The committee also referred four congressmen – Andy Biggs of Arizona, Jim Johnson of Ohio, Kevin McCarthy of California, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania – to the House Ethics for refusing to answer its subpoenas.

In addition to the referrals, the committee offered 11 recommendations and timed its release of the report with the hope that the report would motivate people to take whatever actions were needed, especially voting such supporters of “the big lie” out of office and pressuring public officials to act on the things recommended.

Along that line, Congress did, in fact, pass the Election Count Act this month. This act clarifies that the vice president cannot decide not to count certain electoral votes in a presidential election. His role is ceremonial only.

The committee further recommended that the 14th Amendment be used to prevent Trump and other elected officials involved from ever holding office in America again and that the Insurrection Act’s penalties be increased and more strictly enforced.

These actions require the skill of the Justice Department’s investigators and lawyers. They require the courage of Special Counsel Jack Smith and Attorney General Merritt Garland to make the necessary decisions to act on what many citizens already instinctively and concretely know. The 14th Amendment was used to deny offices to the former Confederates in the 1860s and 1870s. It can again be used now to help destroy the current threat to democracy. 

The committee recommended that Congress pass laws that would protect poll workers from intimidation and interference and that would make counting of the electoral votes a national special security event, enabling there to be more security at the Capitol during the count. Both of these were things that many citizens thought already existed. Had this been done during Reconstruction, much of the problem seen with the return of ex-Confederates and Confederate-types to office across the South could have been avoided.

On the other hand, the January 6th Committee recognized the need for but difficulty involved in the government trying to combat violent extremism among citizens, efforts to curb the destructive role played by the media in urging and organizing such violent extremism, and efforts to secure accountability from officials, their counsels, and staff.

The problem of dealing with violent extremism is exaggerated in America because it is steeped in white supremacy and the undying phenomenon called white nationalism. It is apparently difficult for many white citizens to reject the desire to possess and enjoy privilege, wealth, power, and advantages in every aspect of life. It is apparently much easier for them to support or at least go along with the tenets of white supremacy. History records the evil deeds of white American society as well as the effort to hide those deeds through miseducation. 

The FBI, Homeland Security, and other law-enforcement entities have known of the threat of violent white extremism from the days of abolitionism and slavery, Reconstruction and the rise of the KKK, and the twentieth century through 2021. Yet, such strenuous, effective action has not been taken against it as was immediately taken against Arab terrorists, the Communist Party, or even the Black Panther Party and the Republic of New Africa. White violent extremists continue to attack power stations, gatherings of citizens of color, and even institutions of government. Something has to give.

As was the case of the determined 1800s abolitionists, the 1860s and 70s post-Civil War congressional leaders, and 1960s northern civil rights volunteers, there has to be an army of conscious, white progressives joining courageous Black activists around the country to halt once and for all the likes of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and other extremists and their supporters. The January 6th Committee has documented the threat and the need for action to end the danger and the threat. 

Recognizing the truthfulness and the importance of what the January 6th Committee has uncovered, it is most critical that citizens, such as the readers of the Jackson Advocate, help spread the word and engage in the conversations that help pass the laws, pressure the Justice Department to prosecute the criminals, elect progressive officials, and otherwise advance true democracy. That part of what happens next is unpredictable. It is up to individual citizens and citizen groups.

On the other hand, what is predictable is that many Republicans and their supporters will do everything possible to undermine the work of the committee. Once they take control of the House, they will also retaliate against the members of the committee. There will be counter investigations and a seeking of revenge in the House against Thompson and the other members of the committee – Pete Aguilar of California, Liz Chaney of Wyoming, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Zoe Lofgren of California, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and Adam Schiff of California. (Chaney has already been defeated for her House seat but will face other challenges. Kinzinger decided not to run for re-election, but may also face other challenges.) As these congresspersons stood up for the country, we must be alert and willing to stand up for them in the Congress and in the courts, if necessary. 

Many in the Republican Party seem set on being in control no matter what and they have thus become supporters of violent extremism. As a consequence, this means that Americans who believe in true democracy have no choice but to organize and engage in the actions needed to protect the dream and experiment of democracy, using the report of the January 6th Committee and its recommendations as a guide and clear point of departure. 

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Congressman Thompson, January 6th Committee finish their work; What happens now? 

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
January 2, 2023