Tribune Editorial: Violence and threats of violence are not democracy

Utah and the United States suffer as reactionary armed thugs threaten our institutions.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A small group of the extremist Boogaloos, argue with Proud Boys gathered for a pro-Trump rally at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.”

— Abraham Lincoln

As we would seek the protection of our democratic institutions for ourselves, so we would protect those same foundations for others. This is our democracy. Whatever threatens this, political intimidation or brute force, is no democracy.

In Washington, a week that should be a celebration of representative democracy and the peaceful transfer of power will be less about the inauguration of a new president and more about whether there are enough National Guard troops billeted in the Capitol to ward off another violent insurrection.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., hand pizzas to members of the National Guard gathered at the Capitol Visitor Center, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in Washington. as the House of Representatives continues with its fast-moving House vote to impeach President Donald Trump, a week after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox has declared a state of emergency, and windows on public buildings are being boarded up, in response to a warning from the FBI that outbreaks of mob violence are being planned for all 50 state capitals.

Forty Utah Highway Patrol officers who were to join in what is usually the ceremonial safeguarding of the inauguration in Washington have been held at home. Public access to the Utah Capitol has been cut off, at least for the first days of the 2021 legislative session, which begins Tuesday.

The Make America Great Again nightmare of Jan. 6, 2021, is a threat that surpasses the attacks of 9/11 in its potential to ruin us.

Contrast that with the I Have a Dream of Aug. 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we celebrate Monday, led a peaceful march of upwards of a quarter of a million people, mostly Black, who came not to attack the foundation of America but to lay claim to it, to call on our nation to “live out the true meaning of its creed.”

Today our democracy is under very real threat from armed and violent reactionary forces — it is not fair or accurate to call them “conservative” — who seek to undermine our democratic institutions, reject the results of free and fair elections and bully their way into public buildings and the public consciousness.

Even if they stand outside the U.S. Capitol or any statehouse rather than bursting in and ransacking the place, these thugs force the transformation of our shrines of democracy into stark bunkers where no one feels welcome.

There is no room for both-sides-ism here.

Whether it is a football player on one knee or tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter demonstrators, the point is always inclusion and equality. Sometimes, as in the case of the summer Dance Dance 4 Revolution in Salt Lake City, the point is to inspire and uplift.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Protesters dance through the neighborhood in Rose Park, during the Dance Dance for Revolution protest for racial equality, on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. The protest was in memory of Jovany Mercardo who was shot last August by Ogden police by four officers, hitting his body sixteen times.

Violence does sometimes rise from those assemblages, but that is always a failure, caused by pent-up frustrations or over-reaction on the part of counter-demonstrations or law enforcement.

For the mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol, and the armed groups that have caused our Utah Capitol to lock down, violence and fear of violence is not a derailment. It is the point.

People who cannot express themselves without being decked out in a full kit of ridiculous Call of Duty video game characters are the polar opposite of the “well-regulated militia” envisioned in the Second Amendment. People who prepare for war with desert target practice and beat federal police officers with the pole of an American flag are the antithesis of patriots.

Our founders knew the difference. That is why they guaranteed, on the one hand, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” and, on the other, empowered the government to “suppress insurrections” and protect the states “against domestic violence.”

It is time for the people, the media and our elected leaders, particularly Trump supporters such as Utah Reps. Chris Stewart and Burgess Owens, to end the acquiescent silence that gives aid and comfort to our domestic enemies and instead stand against violent uprisings and the presidents who encourage them.