Following an unprecedented breach of security in the U.S. Capitol Building Jan. 6, the JMU Center for Civic Engagement partnered with the Department of Political Science to host a discussion about sedition and insurrection on Facebook Live Tuesday.
Ryan Ritter, a sophomore history and international affairs major and SGA vice president, served as one of the moderators for the panel alongside Abe Goldberg, executive director of JMU Civic, and Carah Ong Whaley, associate director of JMU Civic.
Panelists included Melinda Adams, associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters and a political science professor, Rebecca Brannon, a history professor, Tim LaPira, a political science professor and Grace Wilson, an assistant professor and head of digital collections for JMU libraries.
Ritter opened the discussion by asking panelists about how they’d characterize the events of Jan. 6, how they fit into the context of American and global politics and how they impacted them on a personal level.
LaPira began by defining key terms to help listeners understand the nature of last week’s events.
“Sedition is conspiring to overthrow the government by force,” LaPira said. “It does not need to be successful to be committed. Insurrection is an armed uprising against an authoritative, lawful action of the government. The President of the United States committed sedition on Jan. 6 by compelling his supporters in a speech less than a mile from the Capitol to go to the Capitol and act violently against a joint session of Congress.”
Adams said she’d classify the events of Jan. 6 as an attempted self-coup or autogolpe.
“What characterizes self-coups is that they are led by the leaders themselves and that they seek to broaden their power by destroying democratic institutions and maintaining power after their constitutionally delineated terms,” Adams said.
Brannon said there were warning signs leading up to the Capitol riot, including President Trump’s unwillingness to accept democratic norms and traditions as well as his infatuation with autocrats.
“In terms of my personal response, I think I speak for a lot of historians when I say I was shocked but not surprised,” Brannon said.
Wilson said she also wasn’t surprised by the attack on the Capitol but thought that it was particularly disturbing as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.
“I did not expect to see Nazis in the capitol during my lifetime,” Wilson said. “I also am feeling almost pre-traumatic stress because we know there is most likely more to come and it will likely get worse before it gets better. We need to be resilient.”
The panelists also discussed the reactions of various parties including the media and international politicians to the attempted coup.
“Our traditional allies, leaders in places like Canada, the UK, Germany, very quickly and clearly denounced the violence,” Adams said. “But I think it’s also striking how they remarked on how this event has weakened our position as a global leader promoting democracy.”
Examining the responses of social media companies, Wilson said the way numerous platforms quickly restricted President Trump’s access demonstrates how they could’ve taken actions to prevent the spread of political falsehoods much sooner.
“We’ve placed our trust in private companies that frankly don’t deserve that trust,” Wilson said. “The profit imperative of corporate platforms drives so much of what we see. Private platforms are not public goods yet often we conceive of them that way. Not nearly enough time has been spent reckoning with it.”
The discussion came to a close with panelists offering insights on how American citizens and institutions can move forward.
LaPira emphasized the importance of immediate government action. He said that the first step should be the immediate removal of the president.
“The reason is not to punish President Trump but to protect the presidency, the congress and the separation of powers,” LaPira said. “The response to this unconstitutional and illegal act is constitutional and legal acts including the immediate removal of the president.”
Brannon touched on how big corporations could react to abuses of power using their financial influence.
“One valuable step is for the corporate donors to withdraw their support,” Brannon said. “If our norms and processes aren’t working, apparently our reliance on corp donations might be effective in reining in the worst abuses.”
As for individual citizens, LaPira said the American people need to stop and listen to each other and to recognize the humanity in those they don’t agree with.
“That starts with an open mind and a willingness to learn and accept differences with those we may not see eye to eye with,” LaPira said.
Contact Sydney Dudley at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.