The Riot Concluded, the Threats to Democracy Grow

When Joseph Biden was inaugurated two weeks after the January 6 insurrection, the media widely framed the coup attempt as having failed. Yet one year later, the danger of losing our republic has grown, not receded. It’s now clear the acts of January 6th were not a one-off, but part of an ongoing strategy to overthrow democracy and subvert the will of voters.

On the anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, the UUA affirms, “​​As Unitarian Universalists, we hold democracy as a central principle for our faith. This is a time for true accountability and courageous action in pursuit of a more just, equitable, multiracial and pluralistic democracy.” We mark this anniversary by urging people to assess the danger and to advocate for urgent measures to protect democracy. Absent intervention by Congress to secure voting rights and election oversight, anti-democratic forces are well-positioned to seize power by subverting national election results.

Anti-democratic forces laid groundwork for such subversion in dozens of states last year, passing laws that disproportionately restrict voting among youth, People of Color, and poor people. Even more chilling are new laws and personnel changes shifting control of election oversight and vote counting to partisan officials.

Powerful people inciting insurrection employ unmistakably authoritarian and white supremacist recruitment tactics as they seek to reverse our progress toward a more equitable multiracial democracy.

Threats and intimidation are interwoven in the strategy of authoritarians. Two Georgia election workers, both Black women, faced incessant harassment and death threats due to fabricated claims of election fraud. They are among hundreds of conscientious civil servants victimized by opponents of democracy. Former President Trump himself helped incite terror against the Georgia women, naming and baselessly smearing one of them as a “professional vote scammer.”

Justice, equity and the democratic process are core principles of Unitarian Universalism, and our faith compels us to defend these values. Voter suppression is a tool of white supremacy, and those targeted by recently-passed state laws are largely young, poor, disabled, Black, Indigenous, or other people of color. One primary aim of our UU the Vote initiative is to protect the political rights of those whose voices already are under-represented in lawmaking at local, state, and federal levels and at every level of our courts.

While many of the rioters who perpetrated the violence at the Capitol on January 6 are being prosecuted, the insurrection’s architects -- including many elected officials -- continue to pit Americans against each other, scapegoating the most vulnerable, demonizing opponents, and glorifying violence.

Words, memes, and even assassination fantasy videos broadcast by anti-democratic leaders continue to incite violence. When faced with undeniable evidence of their harm, such as constant death threats against Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN), many high-profile leaders have refused to rebuke Congress members who call her a “jihad squad” member who “wants us gone.”

These actions follow a well-used authoritarian playbook: portray politicians of other parties, not as rivals, but as enemies who seek to destroy your way of life. Succeed, and your followers will accept crimes like election-rigging, intimidation, and even violence -- perhaps becoming active participants in committing them.

The violence of January 6 is thoroughly intertwined with the inflammatory actions of our elected representatives -- behavior that just a few years ago would have shocked and drawn stern rebukes from every political party. Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person and compassion in all our relations. We call on all people to reject the politics and purveyors of hate and join us in recommitting to building the America that, in the words of poet Langston Hughes, “never has been yet, and yet must be.”

To succeed, we must fully confront the depth of trouble we’re in. As a result of recent state voter-suppression laws and replacement of non-partisan election administration officials with loyalists, Donald Trump or his heir will likely be better positioned to subvert the 2024 election than he was in 2020. Failed coups often are practice runs for successful coups, and former U.S. Army generals warn us to remain vigilant.

We call on all people to reject the politics and purveyors of hate and join us in recommitting to building the America that, in the words of poet Langston Hughes, “never has been yet, and yet must be.”

Immediately after January 6, many GOP leaders expressed shock and dismay at the violence enabled by false “stolen election” claims. Many of us hoped the event, for all its horror, would catalyze a turn for the better. Alas, our hope was misplaced. Soon after, some Republicans began spinning the insurrection as a “normal tourist visit.”

Millions of Americans have become disillusioned by the march toward authoritarianism and lack of resistance from elected officials. But an opportunity emerges as a result. Only when stripped of illusions can we see clearly. It’s now apparent that leading our nation away from the abyss will depend on millions of people who lack official power to come forward and lead. As Unitarian Universalists, we will be among them.


Call on Your Senators to Preempt Election Subversion

Persuading the U.S. Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act is the immediate national imperative, followed by correcting the centuries-old disenfranchisement of U.S. capital residents via the Washington, D.C. Admission Act. See our recent update on these bills, which includes a link to immediately connect to your U.S. Senators’ office by phone to tell staff your views on these bills.

Republican Senators previously filibustered each of these bills. Senate majorities of each party have previously set aside filibuster privileges to enact their priorities. We must insist they do so again now.

Note: The Electoral Count Act also needs revision, but the preeminent danger of subversion lies at the state level, so ECA reform is a far lower priority.

For Reference and Further Reading

  1. Voting Laws Roundup: December 2021
  2. Fox News spent 2021 mainstreaming the white supremacist “great replacement” theory
  3. Two Georgia election workers sue far-right website over false fraud allegations
  4. Anatomy of a death threat
  5. Two Georgia election workers targeted by Trump sue far-right conspiracy site Gateway Pundit for defamation
  6. Despite Diverse Demographics, Most Politicians Are Still White Men
  7. Why state legislatures are still very white—and very male
  8. Racial, ethnic diversity increases yet again with the 117th Congress
  9. State Supreme Court Diversity: April 2021 Update
  10. The Gavel Gap: Who Sit In Judgement On State Courts? (PDF)
  11. Rep. Paul Gosar shared an anime video of himself killing AOC. This was her response.
  12. Ilhan Omar airs death threat and presses Republicans on ‘anti-Muslim hatred’
  13. Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes
  14. Opinion: 3 retired generals: The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection