One Year On, No Prosecution of Anyone for Plotting Coup, Let Alone for Conspiracy or Treason

by on January 6, 2022 · 4 comments

in Election

Thoughts on the Capitol Riots One Year On

By Mat Wahlstrom

Most people respect authority because they believe it to be justified by objective criteria, such as scientific evidence, transparent electoral processes, or the rule of law. For them, reason is the basis of power. Only when authority is exercised in the absence of these principles do they question it.

The crisis we are in is due to a minority who demand obedience to authority in itself, even or especially when it lacks any objective justification, and for which they are willing to say or do anything to claim. For them, force and fraud are the basis of power, and they deny any appeal to something greater that would deny it to them.

This minority is acutely aware that they are a minority and their actions are poisonous to liberty. Which is why they falsely accuse those who oppose them of violating these principles, blaming the victims, in the hope that those unaware of what they’re doing will be confused just long enough for them to succeed.

There’s sadly no better illustration of this than what’s happened since this minority’s attempted coup on January 6, 2021.

Much has been written about this elsewhere, possibly none better than Barton Gellman’s “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun,” in the most recent edition of The Atlantic magazine. If you read nothing else to mark this awful occasion, let it be this.

But for those of you who read Gellman’s piece and think it either far-fetched or biasedly contrived and want to argue either way — or just want to stick with me here — I offer the following for your consideration.

In the years before this attempted coup disgrace, I’d been looking for analogous situations when liberty has been attacked from within by authoritarians and what the people in those other eras had written about them. And I kept coming back to William Hazlitt’s 1820 essay “On the Spirit of Partisanship.”

Like any man of that time, Mr. Hazlitt travels with unpleasant baggage: offhand examples of sexism, racism, and religious intolerance the size of steamer trunks litter the decks of his prose. But the one constant of human history is conflict, and through that point his connection to our era is unmistakable. Especially as he writes about domestic political not international strife.

There is usually only one passage from this essay found online:

They beat us in courage and in intellect, because we have nothing but the common good to sharpen our faculties or goad our will; they have no less an alternative in view than to be uncontrolled masters of mankind or to be hurled from high—

“To grinning scorn a sacrifice,
And endless infamy!”

They do not celebrate the triumphs of their enemies as their own: it is with them a more feeling disputation. They never give an inch of ground that they can keep; they keep all that they can get; they make no concessions that can redound to their own discredit; they assume all that makes for them; if they pause it is to gain time; if they offer terms it is to break them: they keep no faith with enemies: if you relax in your exertions, they persevere the more: if you make new efforts, they redouble theirs.

While they give no quarter, you stand upon mere ceremony. While they are cutting your throat, or putting the gag in your mouth, you talk of nothing but liberality, freedom of inquiry, and douce humanité. Their object is to destroy you, your object is to spare them—to treat them according to your own fancied dignity. They have sense and spirit enough to take all advantages that will further their cause: you have pedantry and pusillanimity enough to undertake the defence of yours, in order to defeat it. It is the difference between the efficient and the inefficient; and this again resolves itself into the difference between a speculative proposition and a practical interest.

Which is pretty damn good, as far as it goes — especially as the term ‘authoritarian’ didn’t exist before 1875. But it led me to hunt down the entire essay, to see what else it might say. And that brings us to the passage immediately after it. If you’ve had any trouble identifying which side is which until now, this should clear things up:

One thing that makes tyrants bold is, that they have the power to justify their wrong. They lay their hands upon the sword, and ask who will dispute their commands. The friends of humanity and justice have not in general this ark of confidence to recur to, and can only appeal to reason and propriety. They oppose power on the plea of right and conscience; and shall they, in pursuance of their claims, violate in the smallest tittle what is due to truth and justice?

So that the one have no law but their wills, and the absolute extent of their authority, in attaining or securing their ends, because they make no pretensions to scrupulous delicacy: the others are cooped and cabined in by all sorts of nice investigations in philosophy, and misgivings of the moral sense; that is, are deprived or curtailed of the means of succeeding in their ends, because those ends are not barefaced violence and wrong. It might as well be said that a man has a right to knock me on the head on the highway, and that I am only to use mildness and persuasion in return, as best-suited to the justice of my cause; as that I am not to retaliate and make reprisals on the common enemies of mankind in their own style and mode of execution.

In case it still isn’t clear why I quote this at length:

One year on, there’s been no prosecution of anyone for plotting this coup, let alone for conspiracy or treason — only mop up operations against the most feckless riot participants.

One year on, Republicans at every level of government unwilling to toe the authoritarian line have been purged from power. Conversely, Democrats at every level have proved incapable of countering the danger, at most offering empty statements of concern.

One year on, sixteen states have made efforts to limit voting rights and/or move election certifications to their legislatures, allowing them to overturn popular vote results, all while gerrymandering to ensure authoritarian majorities in those bodies.

One year on, we still don’t have the Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or the Protecting Our Democracy Act. All have been blocked in the Senate for no higher purpose than preserving the supposed sanctity of the filibuster, a extralegal procedure whose name comes from a term for pirates.

One year on, authoritarian disinformation is either platformed by openly partisan outlets or normalized by mainstream news sources with fatal notions of equal treatment.

One year on, the piling on and bullying in social and other media by authoritarian fellow travelers escalates against even the most timid expressions of concern at what’s going on.

And one year on, there are still some who delude themselves with thoughts that ‘it can’t happen here,’ that we are immune to the violence and instability we see in other countries on television. Because we’re already seeing it here: we simply refuse to recognize it.

Across the nation tonight there will be peaceful candlelight vigils marking this terrible milestone. If tomorrow isn’t followed up with incessant demands for action to secure our rights and mass demonstrations to counter this literal existential threat, then fully expect martial law to ban any such gathering in 2023.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mat Wahlstrom January 6, 2022 at 8:12 am

Here’s the link to tonight’s vigil here,


Frank Gormlie January 6, 2022 at 8:29 am

There’s also a vigil today, Thursday, at 1pm at the County Admin Building. See this


Helen Rowe Allen January 6, 2022 at 11:31 am

Right here right now, from state control to local paternalism, we’re suffering the tyranny of a minority, the self-identified righteous, the pie in the sky big brother ideologues. We are told from on high that every neighborhood must do its fair share e.g. trade in single family zoning for mega-units on small parcels, ignore the infrastructure problem, cramp the parking or red curb it away altogether, walk or ride the bus, trade parks for parklets, demo affordable housing stock and replace it with hyper-dense, high priced high-rises … San Diego? I hardly Know You


Mat Wahlstrom January 6, 2022 at 12:33 pm

Can’t disagree. But one dragon at a time.


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