NYT editorial board calls for ban on paramilitary groups: 'A well-functioning democracy demands it'
Coronavirus Demonstrators protest stay-at-home orders in Lansing, Michigan (Jeff Kowalsky:AFP)

The United States is tipping further into a spiral of political violence that could unravel democracy, but there's still time to reverse the slide, according to a new editorial.

Donald Trump accelerated the descent by stoking anger against his political enemies, which culminated in the violent Jan. 6 insurrection aimed at keeping him in power, but the recent attack on Paul Pelosi and continuing threats against public officials and their families show democracy itself remains under threat, wrote the New York Times editorial board.

"Yet the nation is not powerless to stop a slide toward deadly chaos," the board wrote. "If institutions and individuals do more to make it unacceptable in American public life, organized violence in the service of political objectives can still be pushed to the fringes. When a faction of one of the country’s two main political parties embraces extremism, that makes thwarting it both more difficult and more necessary. A well-functioning democracy demands it."

While conservatives have been targeted, including Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the vast majority of politically motivated violence has come from right-wing extremists and has been excused by mainstream Republicans and media figures.

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"The number and nature of the episodes aren’t comparable," the board wrote, "and no leading figures in the Democratic Party condone, mock or encourage violence in ways that politicians on the right and their supporters in the conservative media have done."

The editorial board urged Congress to consider a federal law prohibiting paramilitary groups and use existing laws to crack down on armed extremists operating with impunity to threaten government officials at every level, although they worry the Supreme Court's right-wing majority might strike down previous rulings that found such legislation constitutional.

"The American public is gradually and alarmingly becoming inured to the presence of this violence," the board warned, "but it is the duty of our lawmakers to take this threat seriously and to use the tools they have to stop it."