The one-year anniversary of the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill protests, and Congress continues to drill down on the insurrection narrative. While I do not condone all the actions taken that day, there is something far more sinister than a fallacious, unfounded charge of insurrection sounding the events of January 6. As a social movement scholar, there’s quite a bit more to unpack from that day than the talking heads would lead us to believe. But what I think we need to focus on now is how the federal government played a part in orchestrating the January 6 riot, as well as the potentially unconstitutional ways in which Congress has dealt with the alleged January 6 participants.
FBI Informants Inciting Criminal Behavior
Revolver News began reporting on the scandalous FBI involvement in the planning stages of the January 6 protests, and now major news outlets like the New York Times are finally catching up to this breaking story. In summary, there is credible evidence that FBI informants and undercover operatives infiltrated some of the groups who participated in the January 6 incident during the planning stages of the protest. Not only that, several of these state actors participated in the January 6 incident, encouraging actual protesters to engage in criminal activities. Check this out.
Based on this reporting, it appears that federal law enforcement not only engaged in entrapment, but also incitement to potentially violate crimes. Couple this with verified recordings showing that some Capitol Police let protesters inside the Capitol as long as these protesters remained peaceful. These protesters agreed to these terms and staged a sit-in, a tactic deployed by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Some speculate that the lack of preparedness for January 6 despite reports, FBI informants, and undercover operatives suggests that the federal law enforcement, led by its ideologically captured higher-ups, set up the political right to justify a crackdown on conservatives. Sadly, anyone actually paying attention to American politics for the past six years shouldn’t be surprised that this is a possibility.
Flagrant Violations of American Rights and Trust
In light of this, how can Americans exercise their freedom of association (the 1st Amendment’s “freedom of assembly”) without fearing gov’t infiltration and interference? It’s one thing for the state to infiltrate a gang committing crimes on an ongoing basis. But when some in power do the same thing to peaceful, lawful groups advocating ideological positions to which the powerful are opposed, we’re all in trouble. The central point of the 1st Amendment is to protect our right to believe, think, practice, and express ideas that challenge the government and cut against majority sentiments. We have known for years that the NSA has been surveilling American citizens, and now it seems that some of the most powerful elements of the state may be willing to mobilize against Americans who don’t conform to an acceptable set of beliefs.
So, how can we trust federal law enforcement and intelligence if these institutions appear to be not only surveilling Americans with probable cause, but actually pushing vulnerable Americans into committing crimes for political purposes? The sad thing is that most people don’t operate with clear divisions of government power in their mind, so if law enforcement can’t be trusted at the federal level, that mistrust will likely trickle down to the state and local levels. This is not what we need in a swelling crime wave. For government to work, we need to trust in its institutions. Those institutions also need to be worthy of that trust.
Congressional Power Grabs
Federal law enforcement and intelligence aren’t the only institutions who are chipping away at their own credibility. Congress is doing a fantastic job making itself look like a partisan hack club with the ways in which it is seizing power to vindicate our democracy from the January 6 “insurrectionists.”
Congress is tasked to perform four major functions, which are making the laws, constituency service, representing the people, and exercising oversight over the executive branch. Part of Congress’ legislative function implies investigatory powers for the purposes of legislating, an inferred power that the Supreme Court has upheld for most of American history. These investigatory powers are not supposed to include inquiries into private citizens.
In the spirit of full disclosure, while I am familiar with basic congressional and constitutional scholarship, this is not my area of expertise within American politics. That being said, it seems odd that others aren’t discussing how it seems that Congress has overstepped its constitutional limits by establishing the National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack, which is comprised of members of the House.
The first problem is there is a clear conflict of interest with members of Congress investigating what they see as an attack on themselves. If judges should recuse themselves when they have personal ties (or even the appearance of personal ties) to a case, why on earth is Congress digging into the January 6 incident? I guess the good news is that they’ve dropped the illusion of an independent commission after Durham blew the lid off of the Mueller witch hunt. But that’s a pretty low bar for good news.
Secondly, it looks like Congress is stepping on the prosecutorial toes of the executive branch as well as the jurisdiction of the courts to hear cases. Investigating alleged criminal activities committed by private citizens who have already been charged by the DOJ doesn’t appear to have any legislative merit. That’s probably why most Democrats and some Republicans are calling January 6 an insurrection because that would give Congress a legislative interest in the incident.
Never mind that January 6 was the worst example of an insurrection. To my knowledge, only a handful of individuals who were in the general vicinity of the Capitol that day have been brought up on weapons charges.Furthermore, no one of which I am aware has been charged with treason or sedition; most of the charges concern trespassing and disorderly conduct. By that standard, almost all BLM protesters should be considered insurrectionists.
Congressional members of the January 6 Commission are reveling in the showy-ness of this show trial. Rep. Cheney (R-WY) looked ridiculous reading texts allegedly from Fox News hosts to former Trump chief-of-staff Mark Meadows to try to pressure the former to succumb to the demands of the commission. Apparently, those hosts urged the president to call out and calm down the January 6 riot… which he did. And Rep Schiff (D-CA) got caught lying when he presented fabricated evidence… again. I don’t say this about many politicians, but I’m pretty sure Schiff would break out in hives if he told the truth.
And when it seems that most members of Congress have already come to their own conclusions about January 6 before the establishing the commission, its validity is tenuous at best. Pelosism just may be the new McCarthyism.
Stay tuned for Guess Who Made the Naughty List, Part 2!