One year ago today, the FBI and Department of Justice announced that it was launching an investigation “unprecedented” in scope and scale to track down and arrest the perpetrators of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol Building. The FBI/DOJ press conference on Jan. 12, 2021, was a major move to show that the main pillars of the government were united in the chaotic wake of the attack. Evoking themes of protecting the Constitution and democracy, the FBI promised that the foot soldiers and masterminds of the assault would be punished appropriately. But a year later, this pledge has not been fulfilled.
It is true that over 700 easily-identifiable civilian participants have been arrested for their role in the attack. But as of the beginning of this year only 71 have been sentenced. They have been treated with extreme leniency — only seven people have been given prison terms longer than six months. In a hearing yesterday, Senators publicly criticized FBI and Justice Department officials for their decision to not pursue domestic terrorism charges against the attackers. This sluggish approach stands in stark contrast to the more than 10,000 arrests made during the overwhelmingly peaceful movement for Black lives protests of 2020.
The events of Jan. 6 were the culmination of a long-term, coordinated, national effort by far-right civilians and government officials to overturn the result of the 2020 election. The failure of intelligence officials to prepare for an attack that was openly organized on the internet, the Pentagon’s refusal to authorize the deployment of the D.C. National Guard, and the lack of resistance put up by some members of the Capitol Police indicate the involvement of important elements of the state. Energized right-wingers from across the country flew into D.C. for the event, while others threatened organized takeovers of their state and local capitals in support.
The most glaring example of impunity is Donald Trump himself, who has suffered no legal consequences at all despite being the figurehead of the attempted insurrection. Trump publicly egged on the protestors in his address to the “Stop the Steal” rally that served as a staging ground for the assault.
Biden’s empty speech
Last week, Biden delivered a speech on the anniversary of the storming of the Capitol Building. The president repeatedly condemned the rioters as well as Trump for his role in orchestrating the events of that day. Biden correctly noted in his speech that the attacks were only made possible because political leaders, including Trump, pushed distorted far-right rhetoric and baseless claims of election fraud. However, his administration has shown no indication it will make a serious effort to bring Trump or his co-conspirators to justice.
Supporters of the administration have praised the speech as particularly strong, arguing that it showcases Biden’s forceful attitude towards protecting democracy. Biden asked in his speech: “Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people?” But the actions taken by the president have shown an apathy towards punishing the far-right mob and their organizers.
The violent extremism of the far right poses a serious threat inside and outside of the Capitol walls. The same people that Biden condemned for promoting the storming of the Capitol are still serving in the government and writing laws, which sends a message clearer than any speech that this behavior in fact will be tolerated. In the face of this inaction, it is up to the people to organize a movement to defeat the far right and the threat of fascism.