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When the Threat Comes from Inside

States of Crisis with Dan Vock
When the Threat Comes from Inside
By Daniel C. Vock • Issue #29 • View online
Normally, I try to keep this newsletter focused on state issues. But I think it’s fair to draw some connections between the mob action at the U.S. Capitol this week, and related events that have played out in the states.
That’s the story this week, as we take a closer look at the events everyone’s talking about already, and which will likely have far-reaching implications for government officials in the future.
Welcome back to “States of Crisis,” where we try to give you a glimpse of what’s next in state policy during these tumultuous times.
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Onto the news…

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed the similarities between the takeover of the U.S. Capitol this week and the Michigan Capitol in April.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer discussed the similarities between the takeover of the U.S. Capitol this week and the Michigan Capitol in April.
Response to Escalating Threats Has Been Muted
This week showed that American democratic institutions are not well-equipped to handle existential threats from within.
While the truth has been on display all year, it was never more apparent than when the security forces at the U.S. Capitol were caught flat-footed by a mob of angry rioters who overran the citadel of American government.
The takeover would not have been possible without President Donald Trump, who, instead of faithfully executing the laws of the United States, encouraged others to break them.
Trump stoked the anger of a crowd gathered on the National Mall, repeating lies that the presidential election had been stolen from him and his supporters. The president encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol to stop the ceremonial count of electoral votes in Congress. The swarm quickly overwhelmed Capitol Police. Rioters tore down barricades, smashed windows, rampaged through offices and posed for pictures on the rostrum of the Senate chambers.
Members of Congress, their staff and journalists scrambled to safety – temporarily suspending the ceremony to recognize the incoming president – and couldn’t return for hours.
Not only did the president encourage the crowd to storm the Capitol, but he also apparently prevented law enforcement from containing the riot for hours.
Reports indicate that Trump was slow to activate the D.C. National Guard, which was 10 minutes down East Capitol Street from the turmoil. The president – not the mayor of the District – controls the National Guard in Washington, D.C.. (The Pentagon also apparently imposed tight restrictions on the D.C. Guard’s activities prior to the insurrection, as well.)
Meanwhile, Maryland’s Republican governor had his state’s Guard ready to deploy, but he couldn’t get authorization to send them to the scene. “I was actually on the phone with Leader [Steny] Hoyer who was pleading with us to send the Guard,” Gov. Larry Hogan said, referring to the Maryland Democrat who holds the No. 2 spot in the U.S. House. “He was yelling across the room to [U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck] Schumer and they were back and forth saying we do have the authorization and I’m saying, ‘I’m telling you we do not have the authorization.’”
Eventually, both Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam sent in Guard and state police units to quell the violence, when they received the green light.
Perhaps it will be a turning point. But the lead-up to the riot has been building for years, with momentum growing substantially since the pandemic has strained American political life. State governments, in particular, have been a testing ground for many of the tactics we witnessed this week.
Senator Dayna Polehanki
Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today. #mileg
Intimidation of Public Officials
“Anyone who was paying attention,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd on Thursday, “saw this play out in Michigan eight to nine months ago.”
She was referring, of course, to the armed protesters who took over the Michigan Capitol in April and May, demanding an end to COVID-19-related restrictions imposed by Whitmer. In October, FBI agents arrested six men on charges that they planned to overrun the state capitol and to kidnap Whitmer.
Trump stoked opposition to Whitmer and her coronavirus containment policies from the earliest days of the pandemic. He told Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor, not to call “that woman from Michigan.” Later, the president sent tweets calling for his followers to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, all states led by Democratic governors. (The Whitmer kidnapping plot was apparently hatched before Trump’s “liberate” tweets.)
Whitmer blamed Trump for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol this week, as well as many instances of intimidation of public officials leading up to it.
“We have a leader in our White House who has been egging this on, who has been encouraging and excusing this,” she said. “These same people that were threatening to kill me are who he tweeted were very fine people that I should negotiate with.”
“We didn’t see anyone in the Republican establishment stand up and say, ‘Domestic terrorism will not stand,’” she said on MSNBC. “Now we see some people standing up, and I’m glad that they are now, because whether I am the target or Dr. Fauci or the secretary of state in Georgia or our whole Congress is, it is wrong. It is anti-American. These people need to be held accountable.”
As Whitmer indicated, Trump supporters had also been targeting Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state who oversaw Georgia’s elections, after Trump lost the state to Biden in the November election. The president’s electoral failure became a major issue in two runoff elections for U.S. Senate spots in Georgia, with Trump and his supporters claiming contrary to all evidence that the election was “stolen.” The president eventually pleaded with Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” for Trump, and told the Georgia official he was “taking a big risk” of criminal prosecution if he didn’t comply.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a Republican who eventually lost his seat in the runoff election this week, stoked the controversy by calling on Raffensperger to resign. Raffensperger blamed Perdue for threats he and his family received in the wake of that action.
“Sen. Perdue still owes my wife an apology for all the death threats she got after he asked for my resignation,” the Georgia secretary of state told Fox News. “And I have not heard one peep from that man since.”
“If he wants to call me face to face, man to man, I will talk to him off the record,” Raffensperger continued. “But he hasn’t done that.”
Meanwhile, angry crowds have increasingly shown up at the private residences of government officials, including the Michigan secretary of state, Ohio public health director and the mayors of Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
“As my four-year-old son and I were finishing up decorating the house for Christmas on Saturday night, and he was about to sit down to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, dozens of armed individuals stood outside my home shouting obscenities and chanting into bullhorns in the dark of night,” Jocelyn Benson, Michigan’s secretary of state, wrote on Twitter in early December. The protesters were contesting Trump’s loss of Michigan in the November election.
And, of course, protests at several state capitol buildings this Wednesday prompted evacuations and lockdowns there, too, even as events were unfolding in Washington.
What is striking about the many instances of public officials being threatened or intimidated, in their workplaces or in their homes, is how rarely their political opponents condemned the actions.
“I called on Donald Trump. I … spoke directly to Mike Pence. I called on Republican leaders in Michigan: We have to bring the heat down,” Whitmer said. “The death threats were rolling in. And none of them did a darn thing.”
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Daniel C. Vock

A pandemic. Recession. Civil unrest. State leaders are grappling with several enormous crises all at once. We explore how they're responding.

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