Voting Rights, Seditious Conspiracy & the Big Lie
While Congress takes a step backwards in securing elections and democracy, Justice takes a step forward with new indictments against the crimes of January 6
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The Big Lie of election fraud is about getting and keeping power. More specifically, the Big Lie of election fraud was about keeping Donald J. Trump in power, despite the evidence that he lost the election by more than seven million votes and lost the Electoral College 306 to 232. Now that lie, which fueled the deadly insurrection of January 6, continues to be used in an effort to dismantle democracy and reinstall the proven loser.
The pressure this week by President Biden for Congress to change the filibuster and pass voting rights legislation—not only to secure voting rights access for all Americans, but also to push back against GOP state legislators bent on taking control of who counts the votes and who decides the results—ramped up with an energized speech in Atlanta Tuesday and a visit to the Capitol Thursday. "I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months,” the president said Tuesday. “I'm tired of being quiet.”
Yet yesterday’s Capitol visit was undermined by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s selfish, contemptuous decision to take to the Senate floor beforehand to reject a change in Senate rules, claiming her deep dedication to ending division. “While I continue to support these bills,” she said disingenuously, “I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country…We must address the disease itself, the disease of division, to protect our democracy, and it cannot be achieved by one party alone.”
While the increasingly urgent need to pass voting rights legislation—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised to bring a vote to the Senate by Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day—is facing an increasingly improbable Congressional path, the Department of Justice expanded its indictments Thursday by charging 11 people with “seditious conspiracy.” Chief among this extremist bunch that fattened up on the Big Lie is Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, the militia group that prioritizes the recruitment of current and former military, law enforcement and first-responder personnel.
In its statement, the DOJ explained these charges were the result of a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia. “The seditious conspiracy indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, Rhodes conspired with his co-defendants and others to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power by Jan. 20, 2021.”
And what is the criminal violation contained within this charge, employed yesterday for the first time in the case of January 6 and I hope far from the last time as the DOJ confronts the culpability of the plotters, funders and organizers? Seditious conspiracy involves two or more persons who:
“conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof….”
This—along with the tandem announcement of the January 6 committee to subpoena records of social media giants Meta (Facebook), Alphabet (Google and YouTube), Reddit and Twitter—represents real progress, an effort to not just focus on those who breached the Capitol on that horrific day, but on the efforts that preceded it and that happened subsequently.
Said Chairman Bennie Thompson: “Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps—if any—social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds to radicalizing people to violence.”
Said the DOJ about the grand jury indictments: “…the defendants conspired through a variety of manners and means,” which, in addition to plotting and organizing for January 6 and training with combat military tactics, involved “continuing to plot, after Jan. 6, 2021, to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power.”
As we look ahead to indictments still to come and the increasingly doubtful prospect of motivating Sens. Sinema and Joe Manchin to join their Democratic colleagues and do what’s necessary for voting rights, let’s not forget the collapse of the Republicans as legitimate participants in a democratic America. Let’s rewind a mere 16 years to recall how different the world was, a time and place when Democrats and Republicans voted 98-0 to pass the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Sixteen of those Republicans are still members of the Senate, all of whom along with every other Republican now oppose voting rights legislation. Consider what one of their number, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, had to say back in 2006.
“South Carolina has made great strides forward in terms of African-American voting participation and representation at all levels of state and local government. I’m proud of the progress that has been made in years past and those who made it happen. During some very turbulent times, they shed blood, sweat and tears to bring about major change in our nation. I owe them a debt of gratitude, like others in my generation.”
That Lindsey Graham not only expressed pride in what was accomplished, but also looked forward to further progress. “Just like every other part of the country,” he said, “we still have a ways to go. I hope twenty-five years from now it can be said that there will be no need for a Voting Rights Act because things have continued to change for the better.”
That Lindsey Graham now opposes voting rights and yearns for Donald Trump to regain the White House, even though he’s well aware of the deadly consequences of the Big Lie. Recall that on the night of January 6, Graham said, “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. But today...all I can say is, count me out. Enough is enough.”
By December, all was forgotten in a miasma of craven ambition: “When you look forward to this party, Donald Trump is the most consequential Republican in the entire Republican Party, maybe in the history of the party since Ronald Reagan.” And by this week, on Fox News, in the company of Trump propagandist Sean Hannity, “If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with President Donald Trump…It's his nomination if he wants it, and I think he'll get reelected in 2024."
It remains to be seen whether the charges of seditious conspiracy (or other such serious charges) will rise up the criminal food chain. But the consequences of not doing so will become increasingly grave. I leave you with this from Wednesday.
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