Don’t Trust the Response to January 6th

As the new Biden administration explores a legislative response to the January 6th insurrection that trashed the US Capitol, remember Loren Reed.

The fact that the insurrection even took place is a colossal failure of law enforcement. But there are only three problems legislation could fix:

  1. The insurrectionists did things that were legal but should be illegal.
  2. Law enforcement needed to do things that were illegal but should be legal (and for some reason didn’t do just them anyway).
  3. Something prevented law enforcement agencies from communicating things they knew.

None of these are the case. The actual problem is that law enforcement didn’t care, didn’t take the problem seriously or, in a few cases, were in on it. We knew this was coming. It was planned out in the open. Law enforcement didn’t use the tools that were available to them. And so the response is…to give them more tools?

Consider Loren Reed, a 26-year-old Indigenous activist from Page County, Arizona who is facing up to 10 years in prison based on federal charges for saying, in a private Facebook group chat, that he wanted to “burn down the courthouse”. Not that he had plans to burn down the  courthouse. Just that he was frustrated enough to want to. In the eyes of the law, that justifies making someone a felon and locking them away for a decade.

Reed was arrested in June of last year and since then has been left to rot in private prisons–which thankfully might be on the way out–without trial where he, like many, many incarcerated people, was infected with COVID-19.

(The Supreme Court has ruled that the right to a speedy trial can be ignored if there are extenuating circumstances. In this case, those circumstances are a pandemic that is infecting people because their right to a speedy trial is being ignored.)

In their investigation of Reed, police concocted a false identity, infiltrated a private Facebook group chat, and monitored it for months until Reed made a comment they could claim was a threat of violence. And yet law enforcement apparently had no idea right wing extremists were openly plotting on Twitter, on Parler, on Facebook, to attack the Capitol on January 6th.

It’s an old story. The government ignores right wing threats, reacts to right wing violence by curtailing civil liberties, and then uses these new powers to attack left wing activists while ignoring new right wing threats. (Indeed, January 6th could have been much worse if not for years of counter-organizing by those same left wing activists.)

In particular, keep your eyes on the protests against Line 3, where activists are already receiving draconian charges for trying stop an illegal pipeline. Expect that to get much worse.

The way to prevent events like January 6th is for law enforcement to stop playing favorites and do their jobs. No new expansion of police powers can make that happen. All it will do is make it harder for civilians to pick up the slack, pushing back against the same fascist tide that led to the invasion of the Capitol.

It won’t simply fail to solve the problem. It will make America a more dangerous place to live. Just ask Loren Reed.

About Austen Lethbridge-Scarl

Austen Lethbridge-Scarl (he/him) is the editor of the XRPDX newsletter. Besides climate issues, he focuses on racial justice, police abolition and antifascism.


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