By Julia Conley
Posted: January 11, 2024
Noting that the violent insurrection that engulfed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 was “not the beginning of a fight and neither was it the end of a fight” for U.S. democracy, civil society leaders and progressive lawmakers last Friday marked the third anniversary of the attack by outlining the threat posed by right-wing extremists and why former President Donald Trump must once again be defeated.
The event was held shortly before President Joe Biden gave his first major national address of 2024 near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, asking American voters whether democracy is still “America’s sacred cause.”
Three years after the insurrection, said Biden, that question “is what the 2024 election is all about.”
On Capitol Hill, joined by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), advocates applauded the extent to which participants in the insurrection have been held to account, with more than 700 people convicted or pleading guilty to crimes ranging from misdemeanors such as trespassing and illegal picketing, to seditious conspiracy—a felony.
For his part, Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his alleged criminal efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power leading up to the attack, in which his supporters—some of them armed—marched to the Capitol and breached the building, sending U.S. House members into hiding when they had been assembled to certify Biden’s election victory.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments soon regarding Trump’s potential removal from 2024 election ballots, while a federal appeals court is scheduled this week to take up Trump’s attempt to have his charged dismissed, based on his claim of presidential immunity.
“The good news is that our system of justice is working,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “Donald Trump is in the midst of being held accountable for his crimes in the courts. The more stressful news is that it is 2024, so we are now less than a year out from the next presidential election. And reasonable people are justifiably worried about whether the will of the American people will actually prevail.”
While the courts are gradually holding some people responsible for January 6 to account, those at the Capitol Hill press event pointed out how Republican lawmakers across the country followed the insurrection with efforts to make voting less accessible and spreading false conspiracy theories about nonexistent levels of election fraud.
Meanwhile, Biden emphasized in his speech, Trump has made clear in his campaign, which the former president opened with a video of the insurrection, that his “assault on democracy isn’t just part of his past—it’s what he’s promising for the future. He’s been straightforward. He’s not hiding the ball.”
“The guy who claims law and order stands for lawlessness and disorder,” he added. “Trump’s not concerned about your future, I promise you. Trump is now promising a full scale campaign of revenge and retribution, his words, for some years to come.”
The U.S. Justice Department said in August that more than a dozen people have been charged so far with sending death threats to election workers since the Biden administration opened a task force to confront such threats. In 2021, a Reuters analysis found that Trump supporters, inspired by the former president’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, had sent threats to more than 100 poll workers.
“The Big Lie continues to this day,” said Dustin Czarny, elections commissioner of the Onondaga County Board of Elections in New York, on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5. “It resulted in decreased resources for Boards of Elections to do their job. I’m hopeful that we could see legislation in this next year in the states and in the federal government and resources directed, so that those boards of elections can do their job in a safe and accurate manner and deliver the voice of the American people to the ballot box and give them their choice in this election.”
Svante Myrick, president of People for the American Way, noted that advocates have “turned back hundreds of state [voter suppression] bills, but 56 of them have gotten through—12 in the last year alone have gotten through, pushed by far-right extremists to restrict people’s right to vote.”
“On January 6, I watched and it occurred to me that there are forces in this country that, left unchecked, could unravel everything that we’ve built,” said Myrick at the press conference. “If we fight through this year, in 2024 we can keep safe everything we hold dear, because our democracy is not an abstract thing. Our democracy is the key to keeping us all safe.”
Christina Harvey, executive director of Stand Up America, warned in a statement that a mass mobilization is needed to ensure Trump does not win a second term in 2024, which he is “desperately seeking… in the hopes of avoiding accountability for his crimes.”
“If Trump is reelected, he and other MAGA Republicans are already plotting schemes to pardon themselves, exact revenge on their enemies, and further undermine our democracy, rather than focusing on the needs of everyday Americans,” said Harvey. “The presidency isn’t a ‘get out of jail free’ card, and over the next year, the Stand Up America community will be mobilizing to ensure that Trump is held accountable in the court of law and at the ballot box.”
Part of the necessary work ahead of the 2024 election, said Gilbert, will be focused on pushing for the passage of far-reaching federal voting rights legislation.
“The truth of the matter is that in the three years since the insurrection, we actually have not done enough to protect our democracy,” said Gilbert. “We need real concrete action to fix that. We need to adequately fund our elections, we need to protect our poll workers and election workers on the ground. We need to fight against mis- and disinformation, including the new threat of artificial intelligence generated as misinformation. We need to continue to hold accountable the perpetrators of the big lie… And of course we need to pass all of this as legislation.”
“That comes in the form of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” she said. “Together we can all make sure that we don’t repeat these mistakes, and that we have a robust democracy that is blacked up by the confidence of the American people.”
In his speech, Biden warned that Trump has again refused to commit to respecting the results of the 2024 election.
“America, as we began this election year, we must be clear: Democracy is on the ballot,” said the president. “Your freedom is on the ballot. Yes, we’ll be voting on many issues and the freedom to vote and have your vote counted. The freedom of choice. Freedom to have a fair shot. A freedom from fear. We will debate, disagree. Without democracy, no progress is possible.”
“Think about it,” he added. “The alternative to democracy is dictatorship.”
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