January 6 insurrection may only be prelude for what's to come, experts warn

A judge this week said Donald Trump's actions amounted to a 'coup'

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Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former US president Donald Trump and his White House aide, answered questions this week from the special panel investigating last year's assault on the Capitol.

He is the highest-ranking Trump advisor and the first family member to testify as the January 6 committee assembles a detailed account of the events leading up to the deadly attack and the plot by Trump allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

In terms of the daily news cycle, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed the insurrection from top billing, with Congress largely coming together in a rare moment of co-operation as politicians calibrate the US response to the war.

But with midterm elections looming in November, any semblance of civility is unlikely to last, and many are predicting more violence in America’s simmering political crisis.

Several retired US military officers have told The National they fear the events of January 6 only serve as a prelude to what will come next.

Paul Eaton, a retired army major general who taught Iraqi troops during the US occupation, said America narrowly dodged a coup in 2020.

“We view what happened on January 6 as a dry run for the main event, which we fear will come about in 2024,” he told The National, referring to what could happen if Mr Trump were to lose another presidential bid.

Just this week, US District Court Judge David Carter said Mr Trump had “more likely than not” committed a felony by "corruptly" attempting to obstruct Congress when he tried to subvert the 2020 election results and said his actions amounted to a “coup in search of a legal theory”.

Mr Eaton was one of three retired senior officers to voice their fears in a Washington Post opinion piece last year.

Fears have only grown in recent weeks as Mr Trump tours the country, continually ramping up his voter fraud rhetoric at his signature rallies.

In one speech, he promised to pardon those convicted for their part in the insurrection and urged supporters to take to the streets if prosecutors pursue charges against him — just as he did on January 6.

Retired army colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Colin Powell’s chief of staff, is also apprehensive.

He was one of a group of former officers and academics who, several months before the 2020 presidential election, “war-gamed” what could happen if Mr Trump refused to accept the result.

Their fears at the time proved well-founded, and Mr Wilkerson believes there is a serious danger of more unrest.

“I believe we are in trouble,” he told The National.

He pointed to growing rifts within the US military over Covid-19 vaccine mandates, with thousands of service members refusing to take the shot and facing separation from service.

“They are being discharged, but the problem is that they go home and foul the waters. They are coming from the richest recruitment areas like Missouri, Oklahoma and the interior of Maine, as well as abundantly from the states of the Old Confederacy,” Mr Wilkerson said.

According to a study by George Washington University’s Programme on Extremism, 43 of 357 individuals charged in federal court for their role in the siege had some form of military experience.

Most (93 per cent) were veterans and not serving in an active duty, reservist, or National Guard status and 44 per cent had been deployed overseas at least once.

More than a third had affiliations to domestic violent extremist groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, making them four times more likely to be a part of such groups than those without military experience.

Some of those held leadership positions in these organisations.

Highlighting the schism in the US military and American society at large, a group of 124 retired admirals and generals, calling themselves Flag Officers for America, have written an open letter questioning the 2020 election result.

“When you get 124 officers to write that sort of thing you have to ask how many others think the same way,” Mr Eaton said.

“The Defence Department and police agencies need to understand the scope and scale of the problem of those who challenged our system.”

James Hawdon, the director of the Centre for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech, says the rhetoric has ratcheted up in recent months.

“If there is another election which is hotly contested and there are allegations of fraud or undermining the system, the general confidence Americans have in the system is eroded to the point that people say, 'we don’t believe these results,'” he said.

“It is setting up a situation for the side that thinks they have been wronged to stand up and fight for democracy.”

Voter suppression

As nearly 40 per of cent the country enacts laws restricting voter access, Mr Trump called for ending early voting, "no more drop boxes" and limiting mail-in ballots to "only the military and the very ill who cannot vote in person", at a recent rally in South Carolina.

Ballots "are sitting around in storage areas for 20, 30, 40 days... because lots of bad things are happening to them because security guards are not doing their job," he said.

In spite of the fact that more than 60 lawsuits challenging the integrity of the results filed by Mr Trump’s legal teams and allies have all failed, his supporters still insist the election was rigged. A number of these lawsuits were decided by circuit court judges who Mr Trump himself appointed.

Even his own justice department headed by William Barr says that he lost the election.

In his new memoir, One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General, Mr Barr repeatedly excoriates Mr Trump, with whom he fell out amid his false claims of election fraud.

“He stopped listening to his advisers, became manic and unreasonable, and was off the rails,” Mr Barr writes.

“He surrounded himself with sycophants, including many whack jobs from outside the government, who fed him a steady diet of comforting but unsupported conspiracy theories.”

Mr Barr also writes that numerous Republican legislators had been contacting him in the lead up to January 6, with grave concerns regarding the conspiracy theories the president was peddling – the same officials that are now choosing to stand by his side.

However, concerns that Mr Trump might try to subvert the 2024 election if he runs may be moot.

He faces multiple probes and any sort of criminal conviction could bar him running again.

And if he does run, he might score a convincing win, negating the need to resort to the same sort of misinformation and lies he has pushed since his 2020 defeat.

President Joe Biden’s current approval ratings show him behind in most polls looking at a hypothetical face-off against Mr Trump.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Centre for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said apocalyptic warnings about the potential of a new civil war are overblown.

But the threat of significant violence is real.

“We saw Donald Trump stoking the fires. In America this is possible because guns, ammunition. and dynamite are readily available,” he told The National.

Updated: April 01, 2022, 10:31 PM
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